Wines from the sunshine state have long been a speciality of ours and we are very happy to have a few wonderful new wines that, like California, know how to party!
Once the epicentre of the California Gold Rush, El Dorado in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada is now home to a number of spectacular vineyards. The Skinner ranch traces its history all the way back to the earliest wine production in the area, first planted by Scottish immigrant James Skinner in 1861. When Mike and Carey Skinner took on the property in 2014 and learnt about their historical namesake they chose to plant the heritage varieties that would have been there 150 years ago - Zinfandel, Carignane, Mission and all three colours of Grenache. Grenache Blanc is a greatly underrated grape variety, often used as part of white blends in the Southern Rhone but rarely given the opportunity to shine on its own. This excellent white is fermented in neutral barrels to develop a rich texture, counterbalanced by bright acidity and minerality. Typical of Grenache Blanc it has hints of toast, beeswax and honeysuckle alongside ripe citrus and apricot fruit. Superbly versatile as a food wine, this would be equally at home with roast chicken or a seafood paella.
A stint in Priorat, Catalunya, sparked Helen Keplinger’s passion for Grenache and inspired her to start her own winery (alongside making wine for 3 of Napa’s finest estates). She has built up great relationships with growers across northern California, giving her access to some truly outstanding fruit. Vermillion is a blend of 58% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre 4% each Syrah and Petit Sirah and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma and Napa. The style balances great generosity with a light touch; it’s intense and aromatic with blood orange, strawberry, raspberry and black tea notes. The palate is full-bodied with silky refined tannins, subtle spicy notes and an incredibly long finish. A wine to get seriously excited about!
Head High is the latest project of California wine veteran Bill Price, partner in Kistler Vineyards and owner of some of Sonoma County’s finest sites, aiming to make fruity and approachable wines whilst raising more for ocean conservation charities. The name, and love for the ocean, come from a passion for surfing shared among the team led by talented winemaker Brittany Price. The Chardonnay is a bright and fruit-forward style, made without oak. It shows the delicious ripeness of coastal Sonoma with some tropical guava and pineapple notes and a soft peachy palate. This would be delicious with grilled salmon or, to go truly California style, shrimp tacos.
Paso Robles is the hottest part of California’s central coast, a former ranching town situated almost exactly halfway between LA and the Bay Area and half an hour’s drive from the Pacific. I experienced the heat there firsthand working a harvest in the region last year, we had nearly two weeks straight above 110F (43C). The lower eastern side of the region, where this bold and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon comes from, gets blanketed by coastal fog in the morning, giving the vines a little protection from the baking heat. The fruit undergoes a long cold maceration before fermentation, which extracts plenty of dark colour and flavour from the skins but with less of the powerful tannins which can make some young Cabernet unapproachable. Bold blackcurrant and blueberry fruit fills the nose with subtle dark chocolate and woody notes from 15 months of oak ageing. It is very hard to find good Californian Cabernet Sauvignon in this price range so we are delighted to add this to our range - make like a Paso Robles cowboy of old and drink this with something beefy!
The fog looking east from the higher western end of Paso Robles
Hobo Wine Co started in 2002 with just two barrels of Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. They now make around 1000 barrels each year from across northern California. They work to have the lowest environmental impact possible, farming organically, using renewable geothermal energy in the winery, using recycled materials for their packaging and donating to environmental causes through 1% For The Planet. The Camp wines are fresh approachable examples of California classics at an affordable price. The Chardonnay comes from great vineyards across Sonoma county, with the majority from the Lloyd vineyard in the cool Alexander Valley. Fermented and aged in a mix of stainless steel and used oak this is a quintessentially cool climate style (it clocks in at just 12.9%) with fresh white peach and citrus fruit, crisp acidity and fine minerality.
Monterey County may not be as famous as the regions north of the Bay but the cool valleys of Steinbeck country are ideal for growing great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Silva family of Poppy winery farm a number of vineyards around the county, with the majority of the Pinot coming from the Arroyo Seco valley and the base of the Santa Lucia mountains. The nose is bursting with ripe red fruit, raspberry and cherry with a hint of toast from a little French oak ageing. It has a round and velvety palate with supple tannins and balanced acidity redolent of cranberry.