Wine: the American grape

15 February 2019

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SADLY, one of the abiding images of last year, for me, is of the tray-loads of Big Macs being taken into the White House. It appears that they were for the visit of a victorious college basketball team; so they were probably accompanied by that “great American drink” Coca-Cola. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to enjoy better American food and drink than that apparently relished at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

While wine, of a sort, is now produced in every American state, it is California that dominates. The grapes for the big brands, such as Blossom Hill and Barefoot, are mainly grown in the Central Valley. The vineyards with the highest reputations and the highest prices lie closer to the Pacific coast, in counties such as Napa and Sonoma.

There are many interesting wines to be found, however, by looking further inland. Some of the Zinfandels from Amador County, for example, come from vines that are more than 100 years old. They are rich, full-bodied wines that can support the heartiest winter dishes. Such a wine is the Sobon Estate Rocky Top Zinfandel 2016 (The Wine Society, £16). Another wine from the Sierra Foothills is the Omen Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Oddbins, £20). And, from the neighbouring Contra Costa region, Cline Cellars Ancient Vine Mourvèdre 2016 (Tanners of Shrewsbury, £19.95).

At the top end of the Central Valley is the historic vineyard region of Lodi, south of the city of Sacramento; again, this is reputed for its old vine Zinfandels, such as Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 (Waitrose, £14.99), and Bogle Vineyards (Great Western Wines £14.95.) This company also stocks from the same winery a Petite Sirah at the same price, and the interesting Phantom (£20), which is a blend of 49 per cent each of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel: the balance is made up of Mourvèdre. Other wines from the region that I can recommend include Peltier Ranch Pinot Noir 2017 (Wine Society, £7.50), and the flavoursome white wine McManis Family Viognier 2016 (Wine Society, £11.50).

Finding interesting white wines from California outside the basic Central Valley or the classic regions is more difficult, but here are two to look out for. Majestic has a 2015 white at £13.99, from the Edna Valley, where the climate is influenced by the cooling fogs rolling in from the Pacific; and Waitrose has an organic barrel-aged Chardonnay, with hints of tropical fruit salad on the palate, from the Bonterra Winery (£12.49) in inland, northern Mendocino County.

For those who just want a taste of California, Bargain Booze has the Barefoot range, including a Merlot, a Pinot Grigio, and a White Zinfandel, at £12 for two bottles. Waitrose has a Gallo Family Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 and Chardonnay for £6.19.

President Trump is recorded as having said, “I’d be a mess as a drinker,” although it is somewhat surprising that, in his pre-presidential days, he did not put his name to a brand of wines. Let us hope that this is one field in which he chooses not to meddle.

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