California Soul: USA Container Tasting 2020

…perhaps of interest to the greatest number of the world’s wine lovers, especially now that Burgundy prices have gone through the roof, is the impressive quantity of fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay now being produced in a state once thought too warm to do so. JANCIS ROBINSON

Once again I was struck by the sheer quality and diversity of the wines I tasted in Sonoma County. At three times the size of Napa Valley, Sonoma County is home to a dizzying array of terroirs, microclimates and grape varieties. Across the ‘border’ in Mendocino County, Anderson Valley continues to impress with an ever-increasing number of noteworthy wines. Against that backdrop, today’s generation of young, emerging producers are taking risks and making compelling wines in all styles. In short, there can be little doubt this is a fascinating moment in the evolution of California’s rich viticultural and oenological history. ANTONIO GALLONI

It is probably generally not appreciated that the US regularly makes more wine than any country other than France, Italy and Spain. Wine is now produced in every state including Alaska but it would be hard to argue that California, as a whole, dominates most wine lists and most people minds when they think of American wine. With an ideal Mediterranean climate, California produces nine out of every 10 bottles of American wine with only Washington and Oregon following closely behind.

Now, as the consumer consciousness matures in the US, the industry continues to evolve at a rapid rate. The days of over hyped wine labels, ‘Parker Point’ winners with super-charged fruit and oak to match are ending, the focus shifting to quality conscious producers and the discovery and understanding of ‘better’ terroirs. Many of the wines now been produced are starting to show the real finesse, complexity and depth, to be expected from such a diverse range of growing regions and climates.

Producers like Littorai and Peay have been at the standing wave of this charge. From the outset they have sought to uncover and express the single sites of the California Hills and misty, Sonoma coast. With a focus on single vineyard Pinot and Chardonnay (among other varietals) they have searched out and identified the best sites worthy of the production of fine wines that challenge the Napa-centric view of the American wine industry with a nod to a more European sense of style.

However, it would be amiss to not look back to what put American on the international wine map: Napa Cabernet. One of the innovators responsible was Ric Forman and while much of the changes that have occurred industry-wide have also made their mark on this ‘classic’ American AVA, Ric has never wavered far from his wine-making roots. His wines have always been wonderfully crafted examples of great Napa Cab that not only capture the warmth and vitality of the region but do so with fine structural elements and layered complexity that rival the best examples of Cabernet, anywhere in the world.

The future of the American wine industry is certainly bright, and we are only beginning to see the potential from what is ultimately one of the most diverse, single wine producing countries in the world. While things are shifting it’s a shame that in general terms the perceptions of Californian and American wines in general still seem to be dominated by cheap supermarket plonk that fail to express any of the state’s diverse terroirs. When looking at wines from producers like Forman, Littoria and Peay however, you start to understand that nothing could be further from the truth.