North American Wines
The first Europeans to land in America called it Vinland because of the abundance of grapes they found there. Now we are biased, but we kind of wish this had stuck. Although it would have been potentially confusing (what with Finland and all) it trips of the tongue somewhat more easily than United States of America. Like most things in North America, the wine industry is big. They are the fourth largest producer in the world and California alone produces twice as much wine as Australia. Not only are the volumes big, but the wines are big too; you’ll find very few shrinking violets here. However, in truth, you can find almost anything you want in America...
The American wine industry is one of polar opposites, those who do it for love and those who do it purely for business, huge operations and tiny family run wineries, what we would describe as cheap and nasty all the way to some of the world’s finest wines commanding over £100 a bottle, classic Bordeaux blends to the downright crazy, it's all here. Sorry if you came here looking for a concise “American wines in a nutshell” explanation, it simply can’t be done, we recommend biting the bullet and diving in.
One thing we will say before we go though, is that although California is king, watch this space because we have some incredible wines from New York’s Finger Lakes and Long Island coming soon...
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£6.50It’s a happy little chappy is this wine. Like a gregarious mate, you can take it anywhere and it’s guaranteed to quickly raise a smile with its easy charm and its bright, sunny character, full of the blissful Californian sun. Its ripe yellow plum and cantaloupe melon flavours would buddy up easily with a spicy vegetable stir-fry, ideally with a bunch of old friends, a comfy sofa and a Shirley Valentine DVD.5Light Full bodied6Dry SweetSuitable For VegetariansSuitable For Vegans
£10.25For the brilliant price tag - especially given its grape and country of origin - this wine is soft, gentle, smooth, curvaceous... Probably time to stop with that metaphor. Anyway we're talking hallmark Pinot Noir character here with coquettish red berry fruit and just a waft of soft vanilla. A wonderful wine to tuck into after a long week on a relaxing Friday night and a great example of Pinot Noir that’s easier on the wallet without the associated risks of too much acid and not enough fruit.Pinot Noir (100%)Oak:5Light Full bodied3Dry SweetSuitable For Vegetarians
£19.50Cannonball – a winery of high repute, making delicious, finely crafted wines – write of this 2010 Chardonnay that it “offers a sophisticated nose of lemon custard”, which paints a rather silly picture. If anyone would like to send us their depiction of what “a sophisticated nose of lemon custard” looks like, we’d be most interested. Anyhoo, back to the wine. It’s gorgeous. It balances zesty Granny apple and peaches with a vanilla pod creaminess, with a hint of buttery short crust pastry. Yowzer.Chardonnay (100%)Oak:5Light Full bodied3Dry SweetSuitable For Vegetarians
£22.00The winemaker at Wolffer Estate Vineyards, Roman Roth, not only produces wines like this classy black cherry and cedar driven Merlot, that’s quite like a decent Saint-Émilion on steroids, but he also sings to his wine. Yup. This Hamburg-born vintner can often be found serenading his wines in the barrel room, in a booming tenor voice. We don’t know if Mr Roth believes this to be beneficial to the wine or, like a little blackbird, whether he does it for the sheer joy of it, but we think it’s rather lovely.Merlot (85%), Cabernet Franc (9%), Cabernet Sauvignon (4%), Petit Verdot (2%)Oak:7Light Full bodied4Dry Sweet
£26.50‘Good things come to those who wait’, as the saying goes. But sometimes you just don’t want to wait. This is exactly how the eagerly enthusiastic folk at the Duckhorn Wine Company feel about their Decoy range. They wanted the wines under this label to be capable of expressing their full charm and complexity whilst they are young and Oddbins say they’ve got it bang on the money. Flush with youth, the 2010 Cabernet shows fragrant, lifted aromas of mulberry, raspberry and currant with hints of rhubarb and mocha and an engaging spice complexity.Cabernet Sauvignon (96%), Merlot (3%), Petit Verdot (1%)Oak:8Light Full bodied3Dry Sweet
£27.50Oregon, “the beaver state”, has 26 official emblems. These include a crab, a predatory sea snail called the Oregon Hairy Triton, a square dance, milk, a rock called thunderegg and the Oregon-grape. Common sense would say that this last one should be Pinot Noir, seeing as how Willamette Valley is on the same latitude as Burgundy and its wines have beaten French rivals in blind tastings. But it’s not, it’s a shrub used to make jam. Oregonians are clearly bonkers. This wine is so good it should run for Governor of this crazy state.Pinot Noir (100%)Oak:5Light Full bodied1Dry Sweet
£30.00Pinot Noir is to Californians what equations were to Einstein. They were just born to do it. So how do you go about choosing Pinot from The Golden State? Well, one way we do it is to go for producers who just have it in their blood, like the folk at the family-run Schug Carneros Estate. Founded in 1983 by Walter Schug, who was raised on the Staatsweingut Assmanshausen, one of Germany's top Pinot Noir estates, it is his son Axel, who now runs things. And what does all that history taste like? Why, it tastes like a rich bouquet of cherries, berries, black cherry and hints of spicy new oak and a long, silky finish.Pinot Noir (100%)Oak:4Light Full bodied3Dry Sweet
£31.00Hailing from old Zinfandel vines in the historic Lytton Springs vineyard, which are planted with complementary Petite Sirah and Carignane vines, this is a mighty, juicy, robust, decadent beasty, bursting with flavours of raspberry, black pepper, liquorice and garrigue. The palate has rich, black fruit and is gorgeously full and viscous. It has well-coated tannins and a long, voluptuous finish. Sorry, this is a rather straight-laced tasting note. The wine isn’t though, don’t worry. It’s a raucous bundle of joy.Zinfandel (71%), Carignan (6%)Oak:8Light Full bodied4Dry Sweet
£35.50Jonathan Maltus has his feet in two camps: one at Château Teyssier, where he found fame as an avant-garde, ‘garragiste’ winemaker, and one in the Napa Valley, where he makes the stonking World’ End wines, which have a discernible French lilt, like Little Sister. This Cabernet Franc has gorgeously rounded corners, and has oceans of sweet raspberry, coffee and mocha flavours and a structure to put the Golden Gate Bridge to shame. Californian heaven.Cabernet FrancOak:8Light Full bodied3Dry Sweet
£35.50If Jonathan Maltus made Merlot, it would probably be the best Merlot in the world. Oh, wait, he does… and some people might think it is. Made in some of the best vineyards in California, by Mr Maltus, who is hailed as a ‘visionary’ by critic Robert Parker, it is a fleshy, luscious Merlot, with nuanced plum, damson and black cherry fruit and an interesting green olive twist. Put it this way: if you put us in a room with a bottle of this and a slab of decent mature cheddar, you wouldn’t see us for a long, long time…Merlot (100%)Oak:8Light Full bodied3Dry Sweet
£36.00Here at Oddbins, we like Randall Grahm, the winemaker at Bonny Doon and we think you’ll like him too. He’s like the lonely hearts ad that sticks out and makes you leap up, shouting “hang on, he sounds alright!” He has good taste in wine, good taste in art (like Oddbins, he has commissioned the work of leftfield illustrator Ralph Steadman). He’s got a GSOH and we think you WLTM him. Mr Grahm’s 2007 vintage of Le Cigare Volant is a lifted, bright and beautifully gamey wine with earthy, pomegranate overtones and is the perfect tonic for jaded lovers.Grenache/Garnacha (60%), Shiraz/Syrah (31%), Mourvèdre (5%), Cinsault (4%)Oak:7Light Full bodied1Dry Sweet