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Madly expensive or sold by the jug: the extremes of US wine

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First published in the Irish Times, Saturday, November 18th, 2017

US president Donald Trump doesn’t drink alcohol, which may explain a lot, but what wine will he serve to guests at his Thanksgiving dinner? Quite possibly his own, from the Trump Winery in Virginia which is run by his son Eric. I have never tasted the wines and I understand they are not available in Doonbeg, at his hotel in Co Clare, so we will have to look elsewhere for our Thanksgiving wines.

 As political commentators bemoan the lack of a middle ground in US politics, they are only reflecting what wine critics have been saying about American wine for years. To borrow another political term, it is not so much a squeezed middle but the absence of one. Wisdom has it that the US (for which read California) delivers very well at the top end, with a range of high-end wines, usually rich, powerful Napa Valley Cabernets, costing anything from €80-€300. The Golden State is also well represented at entry level with bucket loads of inexpensive jug wines that constitute a surprising 7 per cent of the Irish market. And between the two extremes? Very little up to now, with only a few wines less than €50, and virtually nothing in the key €10-€20 range. This may be about to change.

 On a trip to California earlier this year, a local sommelier lined up an amazing series of wines, featuring everything from Gamay to Ribolla Gialla, all in that elusive middle price range. The reason we haven’t often seen them here before is simple. California, with almost 40 million inhabitants, is happy to lap up all that is on offer.

 However, at €20, or a little more, you can find a decent range of wines in Ireland. Marks & Spencer probably has the best range of inexpensive American wines including New York, Oregon and California. The Underwood Pinot Noir for €20.50 is pretty good as is the Shiraz below. O’Briens have a new range of Californians on their shelves, and JNwine has always had a very good range from the US.

California and Oregon further north produce very good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The best come in at around €50, hardly give-away, but certainly competitive against similar wines from elsewhere.

 The two Love wines below are from an urban winery in Berkeley, the home of alternative America. Two delicious liberal wines with which to celebrate Thanksgiving? I am sure we will be talking turkey again in the coming weeks, but if you are celebrating Thanksgiving Day, the traditional bird is a great way to show off your best red or white wines. Try to avoid anything too tannic, but a rich white wine, or a soft red of any kind will do very nicely, as will all of the wines below.

Murphy Goode Chardonnay 2015, California 13.5%, €17.95


Medium-bodied with plump ripe peach and pear fruits, and a hint of smoky oak. Perfect with turkey and pumpkin pie. Stockists: O’Briens

Marks & Spencer Paso Robles Shiraz 2015, California 14%, €15


Rich and rounded with smooth dark fruits and a touch of vanilla oak.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer

Love White 2015, Broc Cellars, Berkeley, California 13.5%, €25


Really enjoyable off-beat wine with luscious concentrated pinepapples, lemon and peaches. Stockists: Green Man Wines; The Corkscrew; 64 Wines.

Love Red 2015, Broc Cellars, Berkeley, California 13%, €27


Made from an eclectic blend of Carignan, Valdigue and Syrah. Juicy and lively with lots of liquorice and dark fruits too. Medium-bodied wine with real character and style. Stockists: Green Man Wines; The Corkscrew; 64 Wines.

Posted in: Irish Times

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