First published in The Irish Times, 22nd June, 2022
To celebrate July 4th, here are some interesting American wines. Wine of some description is made in every US state, although the vast majority comes from California. Washington state, Oregon and New York state also produce significant quantities. Hats off to David Whelehan of Whelehan’s Wines in Loughlinstown, in Dublin, for importing a range of wines from New York state. I have included one of the wines here.
As mentioned a few weeks ago, you could also try the excellent Finger Lakes Riesling (Whelehan’s, €39) or the Washington State Château Ste. Michelle Riesling is very good value from O’Briens at €16.95. O’Briens, which offers a comprehensive range of US wines, also has a Syrah (€17.95) from the same producer.
California can take credit for introducing a generation of Irish people to wine. At a time when few people understood complicated French names, producers such as Paul Masson offered inexpensive carafes of easy-drinking wine, with labels written in English. Some even featured the grape variety — a novel idea at the time. The flip top lid meant no corkscrew was required, and once used, the carafes could be used to store pasta, rice and other kitchen staples.
Inexpensive Californian wine is still very popular here, but there are plenty of very high-quality wines available too. Sadly, many are eye-wateringly expensive. California has the fifth-largest economy in the world and a population of almost 40 million, so there are plenty of consumers happy to pay top dollar for the local produce. That said, the wines certainly compete with Bordeaux and Burgundy in terms of quality. The difficulty has always been finding mid-priced wines — those in the €15-€30 price bracket. From trips to San Francisco, I know they exist, but again most are snapped up by local consumers and rarely find their way to Ireland.
Californian wines have a reputation for being full-bodied, oaky and alcoholic, but not all are big and powerful. With more than 1,300km of coastline, and countless valleys and mountain ranges, there is a wide variety of soils and climates. Classics include rich, cassis-laden Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, fragrant exquisite Pinot Noir and elegant Chardonnay from the Sonoma Valley and various cooler coastal regions, and Zinfandel from a variety of regions.
Moving away from California, Oregon is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Domaine Drouhin, Sokol Blosser and La Crema are all available here. In addition to O’Briens, JNwine.com has an excellent range of American wines, as does Mitchells.
As for food matching, full-flavoured Californian red wines go well with barbecued red meat, including burgers, steaks, and barbecue sauce, as well as vegetables such as peppers, and aubergines. Barbecued hot dogs and sweetcorn might be better with a Riesling, rich Chardonnay or a well-chilled American IPA craft beer.
Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, California
From the largest winery in California, this is a light wine with sweet plum and raspberry fruits, a touch of vanilla and a rounded finish. Try it with the July 4th barbecue — hot dogs, burgers sweetcorn and ribs.
From: Widely available from most supermarkets
Dr Konstantin Frank Cabernet Franc 2018, Finger Lakes, New York state
Medium-bodied with cool plum fruits, an attractive spicy, earthy note and fine-grained tannins on the finish. Try this with grilled pork or roast mushrooms.
From: Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown
Ridge Geyserville 2019, Alexander Valley, California
From one of the great names of California, this is a beautifully crafted full-bodied wine with opulent plums and cassis. There is a lovely savoury touch and fine structured tannins. Enjoy with duck, pulled pork or a very posh barbecued burger.
From: jnwine.com; 64wine, Glasthule; La Touche Wines, Greystones; Baggot Street Wines, D4; Blackrock Cellars; Terroirs, D4. Northern Ireland (£45): Crafty Vintners; The Vineyard, Ormeau Road; Kilkeel Wine Merchant
Journeyman Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2019, California
Rich layers of textured peach, pear and pineapple fruits offset nicely by some toasty new oak and a seam of acidity. For a real treat, enjoy it with lobster slathered with butter.
From: Baggot Street Wines, D2; Avoca, Ballsbridge and Rathcoole; Terroirs, D4; wineonline.ie