The whole of the wine world has been rocked by the Coronavirus outbreak and many upcoming trade tastings have been cancelled or postponed. One of the last large trade tastings in what will probably be quite a while was Essential California – and our noses are still a little freckled from the Californian sunshine.
The California Wine Institute hosted this major tasting on Thursday 12th March at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. Located high up across several rooms, the view of east London was fantastic; the sky was blue and the sunlight beamed through the floor to ceiling windows, setting the scene perfectly for a slice of the Golden State.
There were 500 wines to taste from 50 AVAs, all under £50. The idea was to help change perceptions about the high price points of quality Californian wines and show that, actually, there are plenty of excellent Californian wines out there that are also incredible value.
Masterclasses and seminars were held throughout the day and I was fortunate enough to attend a session on Sonoma with Honore Comfort, Vice President of International Marketing at the California Wine Institute.
During the ‘Spotlight on Sonoma AVAs’ presentation, we tasted six classic varietals from six incredibly diverse AVAs. Formed by the San Andreas faultline, the landscape of Sonoma County is wild and rugged, with a myriad of volcanic and marine soils beneath. This wide variation of soil types and climatic factors means the same grape variety can taste completely different from one part of the region to another. For instance, one kind of Sonoma County Pinot Noir does not exist – it might be rounded and ripe if it’s from Russian River Valley, but racy, saline and linear from Carneros on the coast.
Around eighty-five per cent of Sonoma County is open space – farms, vineyards and forests – and this untamed beauty is reflected in the wines, especially now the region is 100% sustainable. A commitment to environmentally sound, economically feasible and socially equitable practices has made this possible for Sonoma.
We began with a ripe and tropical 2017 Knightsbridge Sauvignon Blanc from Knights Valley, the warmest AVA in Sonoma County, then headed to Russian River Valley for a very classic Burgundian-style 2017 Ramey Chardonnay. Wind-dominated Carneros gave us a 2018 Schug Pinot Noir full of bright vitality, followed by a cool climate Syrah (2017 Arnos Roberts) from Sonoma Coast. I really enjoyed the velvety 2016 Ferrari Carano Vineyard Merlot from Sonoma Valley (extremely well-priced at £27.62 from James Hocking) and the 2017 Heritage Zinfandel from Dry Creek Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, which was the first vineyard to plant vines post-Prohibition.
The Zinfandels from all over California were such a treat to taste and compare with one another, especially when you throw into the mix Zin made from 130-year-old vines. Very classy stuff, indeed. It would be fair to say that we ended the tasting season on a high, in true Californian style.
Lead photo credit: http://www.sonoma.com