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Californian Premium Wines 2

by Tom Cannavan, 10/01

A selection of top Californian wines from Oddbins Fine Wine store. The quality of these wines was very high across the board, though the prices on the Chardonnays surprised me. It was a blind tasting, and my guess at the prices of the three Chardonnays was consistently only 50% of the actual price. By contrast, I found the reds to offer the quality I expected; my guesses at price were in the right ball-park on all of them. Though I guessed the Chardonnays in the right order from cheapest to most expensive, I do find it hard to reconcile what I tasted with the actual prices: the latter two wines are priced in very serious white Burgundy territory. The Peter Michael is wonderful: a truly complex, refined wine, but the best part of £50 isn't a bargain. Of the reds, there were a couple of cracking quality/price ratio wines for me: the Renwood Barbera is aromatically stunning, and the Wing Canyon Bordeaux- blend is a bit of a steal with a fiver off - for drinking now or over the next three to five years.

Prices from Oddbins Fine Wines in pounds sterling. This was a double-blind tasting. We were asked to guess grape variety and retail price. My notes are exactly as written during tasting.

White

Babcock (Santa Ynez Valley) Grand Cuvee Chardonnay 1997- £17.99
Deepish buttercup yellow with a hint of green. Nutty nose. Lots of malolactic character; yeasty, buttery, slightly rancid. Old oak, if any at all, and modest pear fruit. Hints of Jack Daniels. Palate is better. Rich and spicy with orange , peach and pear. Nuttiness again with rather raw alcohol and slightly rasping, unintegrted acidity in the finish. Moderate length. Fair. Guess: £9.99 Chardonnay.

Mount Eden (Santa Cruz Mountains) Chardonnay 1997 - £34.99
Vivid golden Yellow, hint of emerald green. More subtle than previous wine. Soft vanillin oak and quite luscious with ripe pear, apple and a hint of honey. Palate has some new oak influence, toasty and high quality, but this is much juicier and much more fresh with really good acidity. Citrussy notes of orange, lemon and some apple acidity. Again, a slightly over-alcoholic nature, but this is much better balanced with a hint of minerality and good length. Very good. Guess: £14.99 Chardonnay.

Peter Michael (Sonoma) "Belle Cote" Chardonnay 1999 - £47.99
Very bright primrose yellow. Clean, crisp mineral nose with lightly toasty oak influence, lemon, sherbet, a hint of honey and that lovely minerality running through. Could this be a white Burgundy ringer? Quite full-bodied and with a gorgeous texture that sets this apart from previous two wines. Dry, with mineral flavours, grapefruit some nuttiness and herbal nuances. Punchy and juicy. It has good length with just a push of toasty oak and lovely acidity lengthening the finish. Very good indeed. Guess: Possible oaked Grand Cru Chablis? £24.99 Chardonnay.

Red

Clos La Chance (Santa Cruz Mountains) Pinot Noir 1997 - £19.99
Pale ruby/tawny colour, more depth at core. Big, fat berry and new oak nose. Lots of earthy, undergrowth aromas but mostly just full-on super-sweet berry fruit. Loads of spicy oak on the palate, which is flooded with sweet, fudgy, perhaps slightly cloying fruit and oak. Notes of strawberry, peat and autumn berries. Hints of tobacco and briar. Powerful, and just slightly raw alcohol into the finish, but quite long. Good, not really my style. Guess: Pinot Noir £12.99

Renwood (Amador County) Linsteadt Barbera 1997 - £16.99
Opaque crimson, almost black at core. Very rich, juicy, mint and berry nose. Highly aromatic with tarry, slightly medicinal notes, toffee, fig and ripe berry fruit. Lovely. The palate is quite full and rich with masses of raspberry and sweet plum fruit. Slightly baked quality, but loads of concentration, spice and lip-tingling tannins. Good acidity here and balance. This tastes Italianate to me, or maybe a Zinfandel? Powerful, fresh and delicious. Very good indeed/excellent. Guess: Nebbiolo or Zinfandel £18.99.

Tria (Dry Creek Valley) Zinfandel 1997 - £12.99
Deep, rich, crimson. Very sweet, vibrant berry nose. Quite a plummy depth. Merlot? Plenty of ripe berry and plum fruit, a little chocolaty note and an overlay of toasty new oak. Smooth on the palate, full-textured with lots of lush, creamy, sweet black fruit. Very ripe tannins with an edge of plum-skin bitterness and juicy, tangy acidity. Spicy oak pushes through and bolsters a long, fruit-driven finish. Very good. Guess: Merlot £22.99.

Wing Canyon (Napa) Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 - £13.99 (was £18.99)
(Also has 8% each of Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Dense crimson, showing a little age. Big, slighty dank, vegetal, claret-like nose. Leafy, damp aromas and a cedary oak background. Quite firm on the palate this has plenty of tannic grip to damson plum fruit. Serious liquorice quality with blackcurrant and lots of savoury depth. Powerful and quite complex wine with plenty of grip and a long, powerful finish. Wouldn't be surprised if this was a 95 or 96 Cru Bourgois and very good. Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon blend £25.
I tasted this three years ago and wrote: "Slightly dank, vegetal nose. Leafy blackcurrant fruit. Toasty oak too, tastes expensive. Palate has ripe black fruits and a touch of savoury, cedar-wood flavour. Well balanced, though prominent acidity dominating for now, but integrated tannins are ripe and there is a core of blackcurrant fruit that persists into a long finish. Nicely sour and chewy, this shows promise and probably needs 5 years".

Matthews (Washington State) Yakima Valley Red 1998 - £27.99
(53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc). Very dark and deep; quite black at core. Nose of concentrated black fruits: blueberry, blackcurrant, plum and a peppery quality. Dense and quite closed at present. The palate is rather closed too, and is quite hard work with a tight, liquoricy grip. Very tannic, vice-like grasp on dark, glossy plum fruit. Good acidity and good length, though remaining tight and struggling to escape the tannic structure. Cellaring potential, and a serious style, but I have a niggling doubt if it will every really blossom. Very good. Guess: Cabernet Sauvignon blend £40.