Some of my favourite wines come from California, but good ones are hard to find in the UK because the Americans tend to keep them for themselves, so when we do get them they tend to be at two extremes, gorgeous but pricey, or just plain rubbish. When Marlow Wine Society invited me to join their Californian tasting I jumped at the chance to find a new gem. The tasting was hosted by the delightful and insightful David Rittenhouse.
We started by sampling some Chardonnay, ooh yum! I loved the Saintsbury Chardonnay from Carneros. Bright lemon hue, with butterscotch and vanilla on the nose. Yummy and buttery with medium acidity and notes of brioche on the palate. £22.99 from Majestic, which I think is pretty reasonable for a wine of this quality.
The room disagreed with me, they much preferred the apple and soft bread aromas of Kirkland "Signature" from Russian River. Russian River is normally my go to region for Californian Chardonnay, but this was poor quality - the wine was unbalanced and simplistic. At £11.50 from Costco I felt this was overpriced.
After a disappointing Pinot Noir from Saintsbury (it's hard to impress me with a pinot!), we were introduced to a Merlot that had far more complexity than we were all expecting. With blackcurrant, cherry, plum, liquorice, vanilla, black pepper and tobacco, Redwood Road have done a great job producing this wine, Bravo! At £11.49 from Laithwaites its a great buy. The film Sideways may have given Californian Merlot a bad name, but I think its time for a comeback.
The Liberty School Syrah (Old Butchers Wine Cellar £16.99) was quite nice with warming hot cross buns and blackcurrant jam flavours, but the Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel won the room over with its beautifully balanced tannins and acidity, full body and complex flavour profile. Black plums, leather, cigar smoke, caramel and pancakes with a hint of brandy. Everyone was surprised by the price - £17.99 from Majestic this was voted wine of the night. I was really pleased they like it because I serve Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel at my Princess and the Pinot pop up wine bar in Marlow.
To find out more about Princess and the Pinot and our pop-up wine bars please visit www.princessandthepinot.com