Top Californian wines tasted and rated

A tasting put on by the Wine Institute of California in London. I made a particular point of tasting Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and some more “off-beat” white wine varietals for California. An indication of retail prices is given in pounds sterling.

White wines

Peter Michael Winery Belle Cote Chardonnay – £20+
These wines will actually retail at over £50. This has a fine nose, with luscious, honeyed nuances to fat, peachy fruit. On the palate loads of power and oomph, with striking depth of fruit and good length. Very good indeed.

Peter Michael Winery La Carriere Chardonnay – £20+
A touch more lean minerality about this (which works well), with a good quality of ripe orchard fruit. Terrific verve onto the palate, with great concentration and a streak of citrus and mineral acidity cutting through packed, ripe fruit. Excellent.

Williams Selyem Hirsch Chardonnay 1999 – £20+
Sweet oak dominates with mint humbuggy character. Lots of caramel and toast too. The palate has a sweet, fudge-like sub-text, but there is a weight of ripe, sweet, forward fruit and huge concentration. Lots of juicy, palate-filling textured fruit dramatically cut-through with fine acidity. A huge wine, but mighty impressive. Excellent/outstanding.

Gary Farrell Russian River Chardonnay 1999 – £20+
Nice vegetal, rich, overripe character with sweet oak and pear fruit. Impressive quality and concentration on the palate, with more pear fruit and a cool, melony quality. Good acidity. Very good indeed.

Martinelli Charles Ranch Chardonnay 1998 – £20+
Big, full, cabbagy nose of overripe fruit. Background oak. A little more restrained than some on the palate, with svelte, savoury fruit and good length. Very good/very good indeed.

Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay – £20+
Bags of toasty French oak. Fat, buttery and honyed, with butterscotch character. On the palate good weight and gorgeous depth of orange and nectarine fruit. Hints of green fig and powerful character which is rounded yet supported by good acidity. Very good indeed/excellent.

Brewer Clifton Sweeny Canyon Chardonnay 2000 – £20+
Huge, nutty, leesy, very creamy nose of caramel and malt. Massive concentration on the palate; deep and full. Packed with spice, butterscotch and vanilla. Very powerful style and a big, big wine – maybe just too much so. Very good indeed.

Brewer Clifton Mount Caramel Chardonnay 2000 – £15 – £20
Slightly less daunting, with a nose that still is massively oaky and charry, but toned down to reveal a bit of fruit. Good quality here; a fine, flavoursome Chardonnay with good balance and although 14.9% alcohol, seems much less formidable. I prefer it. Very good indeed.

Cuvaison Carneros Chardonnay 2000
Lovely, big, butterscotch and lemon nose, with toast and sweeter, peachy fruit. Smoky and deep, the palate has fine acidity and plum and peach stone fruits. Concentrated and very rich, this is a touch overbearing, but very good indeed.

Clos du Bois Chardonnay 2000 – £7 – £10
60,000 cases of this “basic” Chardonnay are produced. It has a nicely balanced nose with rich, ripe fruit, and a nutty background. The palate is peachy and well-balanced, with decent length. Very good.

Clos du Bois Calcaire Chardonnay 2000 – £15 – £20
Production of this wine is 11,000 cases. It is aged in around 20% new oak barrels and the fruit is all from the Alexander Valley. Inviting coffee bean, woodsmoke and vanillin aromas over soft, yielding fruit. It has a a light- to medium-bodied palate with a hint of flowers and good fruit. Good length. Very good/very good indeed.

Clos du Bois Flintwood Chardonnay 2000 – £20+
4,000 cases of this single vineyard wine are produced. It has a fine character on the nose, with the oak profile meeting more resistance from punchy lemony fruit. Lovely palate, with lots of lemon and a savoury, dry texture with good balance and length. Very good indeed.

William Hill Napa Chardonnay 2000 – £10 – £15
From Carneros, this has a savoury citrus and mealy nose. Structured on the palate, with quite complex vegetal and mineral components along with good fruit and a bit of length. Classy and very good indeed.

Alban Vineyards Viognier 1998 – £15 – £20
Big, oaky, nutty, toast and butter nose, but packed with tangy fruit too. Lots of limpid pear and peach on the palate, with downy-peach skin aromatics emerging. Full, rich and good, with sufficient acidity. Very good indeed.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Riesling 1999 – £7 – £10
Nice petrolly nose with waxy lime fruit. Lovely waxy sweetness of fruit on the attack. This is tasty and balanced, and quite full, though the acidity is a little raw and unintegrated. Very good.

Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling 2001 – £10 – £15
Lurid pink synthetic cork and capsule. Sweet floral notes dominate, with lemon sherbet and lime aromas. Dry and savoury palate. Plenty of juicy fruit, and much better definition, with crisp acidity and a long, pure finish. Very good indeed.

Montevina Pinot Grigio 2001 – £7 – £10
Huge, sweet, confectionery nose with flowers and candy – perhaps a touch too confected, with notes of love-hearts and jasmine. The palate is dry and flavourful, with hints of straw and lemon fruit. Dry finish. Very good.

Seghesio Pinot Grigio 2000 – £10 – £15
Adds a peachy depth of fruit that is downy and soft, to floral and subtle lemon aromas. dry, savoury palate with medium body and quite a powerful concentration. Good balance. Very good indeed.

Red wines

Wente Reliz Creek Pinot Noir 1998 – £10 – £15
Nose is rather fiercely oaky, with not enough fruit to overcome big vanillin aromas. It comes good on the palate, where a silky texture supports plenty of fine, warming, earth and berry fruit and firm tannins. Good weight, and a bit of oaky spice in the finish. Very good.

Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2000 £15 – £20
This has a nice, bright, forward nose that is fragrant with cherry and confectionery notes, and an undertow of soft, strawberry fruit. Lots of sweetness of fruit on the palate; really quite sumptuous. Easy drinking and delicious, with good balance. Very good indeed.

Au Bon Climat Le Bauge Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
More animal nose with a fine earthy quality; lots of damp forest-floor and sweet fruit. On the palate this is very fine, with good acidity and savoury balance. Very good indeed

Au Bon Climat Rosemary & Rincon Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Lovely sense of minerality shines through here, with fine cherry fruit and toasty oak nuances. Silky on the palate with lots of finesse. Charming, ripe, sweet fruit that is soft and creamy, with ripe tannins and lovely balance. Excellent.

Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Sweet, fragrant, quite “sauvage” nose with cherry, strawberry and notes of caramel and minty oak. Lots of berries and sweet, spicy fruit packs the palate, with silky texture and lovely ripeness of tannins and fruit. Good length, and excellent.

Williams Selyem Hirsch Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Rich, deep berries and fudge. Warm and inviting. The palate is terrifically sweet, and solidly packed with concentrated berry fruit, yet it is composed and complex, with a tight, mineral focus and a long finish. Excellent/outstanding.

Williams Selyem Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Big, sweet and impressive again, with fruity elements on the nose edged with that caramel fudge and hints of floral character. Toasty warmth on the palate with tobacco and woodsmoke over ripe berry fruit. Good, crisp cherry acidity adds an edge. Good length. Excellent.

Gary Farrell Russian River Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Smoky, sweet, red cherry and schisty nuances on the nose. Quite floral. Good fruit on the palate, with medium-body, very fine, crisp fruit quality and good finesse. Balanced and quite elegant. Very good indeed.

Martinelli Reserve Pinot Noir 1998 – £20+
Nice nose that is quite ripe and alluring. Tangy, crisp fruit and acidity on the palate, with big tannins drying the mouth and quite a firm character. Given that it is already four years old, I wonder if it has enough fruit to overcome the tannins and extraction? Very good.

Miner Family Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999 – £20+
Sweet, silky, new oak and tobacco nose. There is plenty of crisply-defined cherry fruit on the palate with briary notes into the finish and lovely length and balance. Very good indeed.

Babcock Vineyards Mount Caramel Pinot Noir 2000 – £20+
Earthy and deep, with plummy fruit and berries, but lots of schist and earth, briar and woodsmoke, Very complex nose. Savoury and full on the palate, this has plenty of fruit but terrific poise, with oak filling in the finish. Good quality here and excellent.

Wente Syrah 1999 – £7 – £10
This has a lot of class with plenty of powerful, thick, ripe black fruit, pepper and a certain earthy underpinning. Silky and mouthfilling, it has savoury depth and good quality of fruit and tannin. Very good indeed.

Atlas Peak Sangiovese 1999 – £7 – £10
Atlas Peak is one of the Antinori family’s estates, and cuttings for this vineyard came directly for Antinori in Tuscany. The vineyard is planted at altitude, with cool evening temperatures. The nose is gorgeous; very ripe and full, with clove spice, leather and bright cherry fruit. Lovely quality of fruit on the palate too, with an underpinning of tobacco and spice and nice medium-bodied texture. Balanced and very good indeed.

Clos du Bois Alexander Reserve Tempranillo 1999 – £20+
80% Tempranillo with 20% Merlot, this has a lovely sweet plum and coffee nose. There is plenty of concentration, but the palate is smooth and fruity, with earthy qualities, spice and soft acid/tannin structure. Lots of warmth and drinkability, but perhaps lacks a little complexity at the price. Very good indeed.

Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot 2001 – £10 – £15
Massive, deep, spicebox aromatics brimming with clove and deep, ripe, berry fruit. Sumptuous. Enjoyably deep and dark on the palate too, with dusty blue/black berry fruit and big, dry tannins. A big, powerhouse wine which lacks a little finesse, but is muscular and impressive. Very good indeed.