History was made in Paris in 1976 when a now-infamous blind tasting pitched California’s top Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays against the First Growths of Bordeaux and the finest white Burgundies. In each case the Californian wines came out on top, awarding them instant cult status and global recognition.
The US is now the fourth largest wine producer in the world and, with the results of the American election now thankfully clear, I would imagine their wine is in particularly great demand across the pond.
This week I’ll round up some of the all-time American greats – both reds and whites… And don’t worry, none of them are orange!
Au Bon Climat
Following a stint in Burgundy, Jim Clarendon returned to California on a mission to create world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is fair to say he exceeded his goal, with his wines capturing the elegance and restraint of Burgundy while adding a unique Californian character and flair. They’re not cheap, but are still just about affordable compared to some of their peers in the region. I find their ‘Isabelle’ Pinot Noir a wonderfully consistent wine, perfect with roast chicken or on its own, while the famed ‘Wild Boy’ Chardonnay from Santa Barbara is opulent and rich and never fails to delight.
£25.50 – buy it here.
Most people who love wine have a Eureka bottle that changes their relationship with the drink forever. For me it was the Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon blend I tried in 2010. It was another level, with all elements of the wine working in harmony to create a glorious symphony in the glass. I have loved this winery ever since.
One of the cult producers who beat their French counterparts in the 1976 Paris tasting, they have continued to enjoy legendary status. The estate leads the way with Zinfandel, Syrah and of course Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from the flagship Monte Bello vineyard nestled on the northern reaches of the Santa Cruz mountain range.
While the wines seem to increase in price every year, the Lytton Springs is just about affordable and illustrates a mastery of the luscious Zinfandel varietal (the same grape as Primitivo) and if you ever fancy pushing the boat out, you can’t go wrong with the Monte Bello!
£46.99 – buy it here.
Playing a crucial role in establishing the Napa Valley as a centre for world class Cabernet Sauvignon, Louis Martini has been producing in California since 1933, just after prohibition ended. Their top wine “Lot 1” has won critics over time and time again, with the 2013 vintage winning a rare 100 points from the renowned Robert Parker. Thankfully their range has varying entry points and we can explore the skill of their winemakers with their Signature Cabernets range. These are elegant wines that are worth every penny, maintaining restraint and sophistication where other Napa Cabernets at this level can present as obvious and over the top.
£20 – buy it here.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
It was Stag’s Leap who led the way against the French vignerons in the 1976 blind tasting in Paris with their 1973 S.L.V Cabernet Sauvignon. Probably still the best known of the Californian greats, their prime vineyards are located in the heart of the Stag’s Leap District of the Napa Valley.
Two adjoining vineyards make up the prime offerings from the ‘first growth’ estate named S.L.V and Fay Vineyard, but thankfully for us mere mortals we are able to sample their winemaking prowess with some entry level wines: Artemis and Hands of Time.
Always leading the way and setting an example in American winemaking, the style of the house has been described as an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. Their wines offer softness, restraint, structure, exceptional beauty and a long life. Whilst Trump is pondering how he could have lost the presidential election, perhaps he could learn a thing or two from this all American great.
£29.99 – Buy it here.