Ask the man or woman on the 134 bus about North American wines and they’ll probably tell you, correctly, that they mainly come from California. They may also tell you that the style of wine is very fruit-driven, probably a little sweet and with high alcohol. While there is some truth in this, things are changing.
The reputation of American wines for being overbaked fruit bombs was perhaps deserved a few years ago but a new movement has emerged in California over the last few years. In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) is a group of winemakers trying (and succeeding) to make wines with elegance and finesse rather than big blockbusters. A prominent memberof IPOB is Jim Clendenen, owner and winemaker (or the “Mind Behind”) Au Bon Climat from California’s Santa Maria Valley. Jim hosted a wine evening at the shop for us earlier in the year which resulted in the busiest Friday night we have had. His top selling wine in our shop is Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2011 (£23.85): lots of soft juicy raspberry and Summer pudding flavours overlaying richer, darker elderberries. It’s silky with lovely acidity.California may account for 90% of all US wine production but wine is grown in all 50 states of the US. For quality, look to the coast, east or west. On the west coast,
California shares the spoils with Oregon. It’s a state better known for making elegant Pinot Noir but we’ve been rather taken with Trisaetum Ribbon Ridge Riesling 2012 (£28.65): layers of ripe creamy lemons, white flowers and a bit of ginger, off dry with a racy finish.
Heading further afield, in fact as far afield as you can get in the contiguous states of the US, is Virginia. Making wine in Virginia is not new. When Thomas Jefferson was Governor he tried making wine – with little success. Things have moved on since 1781 and Virginia is now home to some tremendous Bordeaux blends and, what some regard as its signature variety, Viognier. Veritas Viognier 2013 (£20.35): is a stunning wine with a beautiful texture. Orange zest, apricot, mango and butterscotch, creamy with a long finish, this works well with seafood or spicy Thai food.
Heading north to New York State, Finger Lakes is known for its Rieslings but we are also fans of the wines from Long Island, such as Channing Daughters Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (£21.15): This isn’t obviously Sauvignon owing to the inclusion of Friulano which takes it to a different place. Hay, hawthorne and a bit of baked apple and guava. The cool climate of this region produces elegance and subtlety, far removed from the common perception of US wines.