Star Spangled Wines, The Young Americans
By Onshore Cellars, Rosie Clarkson MW in training
The names on the centre stageChoosing wine for your yacht charter is an important part of planning any trip. Yet with such a wealth of memorable and collectible bottles to choose from, it can seem hard to know where to start.
So what is it that makes some wine better than others? Quality, yes. Winemaking, terroir, vintage, of course. But does this explain why some regions are firmly at centre stage when it comes to fine and iconic wines? Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne have long been regions to look to for special bottles and superstar wineries. Was this by chance? Not necessarily. Bordeaux benefitted from the 1855 classification, Burgundy was the choice of French Kings and Champagne filled the cellars of Parisians thanks to it’s location and the efforts of the infamous Dom Perignon to produce a sparkling style of wine to hide the fact grapes historically would not ripen this far north.
California also has its own story
The late, renowned wine merchant and writer Steven Spurrier organised a wine tasting in 1976, which changed the course of American wine forever. The Judgement of Paris was a blind tasting competition which lined up the best wines California had to offer against France’s créme de la créme from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Top Californian Chardonnay was tasted against Bâtard-Montrachet, Cabernet Sauvignon blends against Mouton-Rothschild. The panel of mainly French judges declared the Californian wines top in each category, which served as the best PR exercise that a region could have ever hoped for. The wine world sat up and looked west to the States for collectible bottles, whilst Californians had a new found faith in their wines and winemaking, with small cult wineries popping up across the region, producing iconic and limited edition wines. This was the perfect platform for Robert Parker to start his career, introducing the world to his 100 point scoring system for wine in 1978, which is now considered the standard across the industry.
This boom also lead to foreign interest in the region. Opus One was founded in 1978 as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Château Mouton Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. The aim was to produce a single Bordeaux style blend which would become a world class red of superlative quality. Try the 2016 vintage (which incidentally scored 98 points from Robert Parker) to be wowed by the sheer depth and quality Napa is capable of - this is a stunning wine which is full-bodied, super concentrated and packed full of black fruit with fine, ripe and finely grained tannin.
Another show stopping Cabernet Sauvignon is Caymus Vineyards Special Edition, from Napa pioneers the Wagner family. Caymus was founded in 1972 and has since then consistently gone on to produce great quality wines, that for many are the benchmark Cabernets of the region. The Special Edition Cabernet is one of very few wines worldwide to have been listed as Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator magazine twice and both Charlie and Chuck Wagner have been awarded the Wine Spectator’s ‘Distinguished Service Award’ for their contributions to the American wine industry. The 2016 vintage, described by Parker himself as a hedonist’s dream, is well worth ordering for your next charter. With an abundance of cassis and plum fruit, laced with notes of mocha and a plush structure carrying through to an exceptionally long finish this is the perfect wine for long meals onboard.
One of the region’s cult producers to look out for is Aubert, a small Chardonnay and Pinot Noir estate founded in 1999 making wine from single-vineyard sites in Napa Valley and Sonoma. The first vintage of Aubert was 2000, which saw the estate launch a Russian River Chardonnay that quickly received worldwide acclaim for it’s full-blown and opulent style, closely mimicking the top wines of Burgundy, which was pivotal for their success. The whopper 2016 vintage of Aubert Hudson Chardonnay from Carneros, given 98 points from Parker, is just the sort of wine to make any charter meal memorable. Full-bodied, rich and decadent yet with a beautiful balance and freshness, intermingling beeswax and honey with salted almonds and a long mineral finish.
Kistler Vineyards is another of California’s cult wineries, producing just 35,000 cases a year, which due to their big fan club means that these wines can be difficult to get your hands on. Founded in 1978 and still family run today, Kistler built its reputation around its buttery Chardonnays. The Les Noisetieres Chardonnay 2014 is well worth treating yourself to - the tell tale aromatics of roasted hazelnuts (after which this wine was named) give way to citrus notes, honeysuckle and a hint of tropical fruit.
Other Notable USA Wines Perfect for your holiday this August…
Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2016, Oregon €39.00
Another outstanding example of French investment in the States (Joseph Drouhin of Burgundy fame), this wine well over delivers on its price tag considering the 96 points it was given by James Suckling. Complex and expressive on the nose, with an abundance of dark cherries and plum. On the palate, notes of dark cherry are at the core, with ripe, well-integrated tannins and a graceful structure.
One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Shafer Vineyard, Stag’s Leap €132.00
This wine got glowing awards from all the critics for the 2013 vintage, with 96 points from James Suckling. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest a blend of other varieties, this soft and supple wine also treats drinkers to a strength and sophistication with an intensity of flavour that commands attention. Blueberries, dried herbs and spice on the nose, with a medium bodied linear palate that is full of energy and leads through to a finish that lasts for minutes.
Duckhorn Merlot 2014, Napa Valley €56.40
A classic expression of Californian Merlot, with intense notes of ripe cherry and plum underpinned by leather and cedar. Structured yet supple, with vibrant acidity and velvety tannins supporting layers of raspberries, black cherries and hints of chocolate.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2017, Sonoma County €31.20
Full of classic Zinfandel blue fruits, with spice and cedar from ageing in a mixture of American and French oak. Soft and generous, this wine is all about pleasure, with leather, tobacco and coffee on the palate leading through to baked black fruit and a plush finish.
Crossbarn Pinot Noir 2016, Paul Hobbs, Sonoma Coast €42.00
Dubbed as the Steve Jobs of wine, Paul Hobbs is a consultant oenologist in both the States and South America. From cool Sonoma Coast vineyards, this Pinot Noir is balanced and elegant, with a vibrant palate full of bright fruit and complex earthy notes.
Flowers Pinot Noir 2016, Sonoma Coast €146.40
Ethereal notes of red currants and cranberries on the nose are complimented by pretty floral aromatics of rose hips. The palate is equally elegant, seamlessly combining refreshing acidity and a herbal lift around a frame of fine grained tannins.
The WhitesDuckhorn Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Napa Valley €55.20
A blend of 82% Sauvignon Blanc and 18% Semillon this is a superbly elegant summer wine, with enticing aromas of grapefruit, melon and lime. The palate is juicy and bright, with refreshing acidity complimenting zesty citrus and subtle notes of baking spices.
Newton Vineyard Unfiltered Chardonnay 2016, Napa Valley €72.00
100% barrel fermented Chardonnay using wild yeasts and bottled unfiltered so as not to lose any nuances of flavour. A favourite of Decanter Magazine, who gave this vintage 96 points, describing the wine as incredibly refined, powerful and sumptuously smooth with notes of nectarine, apple custard, oyster shell, smoke and a touch of butterscotch.
Chloe Chardonnay 2014, Du Mol, Russian River Valley €132.00
The belief here is that good wine is made in the vineyard, with very little done in the winery that would mask the beauty of grape variety, terroir and vintage. Russian River Valley is a cool climate region and the Chloe Chardonnay is elegant and fresh as a result, yet with real depth and extract. Orange blossom, peach and melon intermingle with oyster shell minerality. Honey and baking spices on the palate lead to a long and layered, yet clean and crisp finish.
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