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Some thoughts on Californian Wine (from Across the Pond - Guest Post)


Following is a guest post from Andrew Barrow, the brains behind the venerable (and excellent) wine & food site Spittoon.biz in the U.K. While we North American wine bloggers were toiling (aka drinking) away and working hard this week at the first NA Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, I asked Andrew to provide a different perspective on the California wine scene than what we typically experience (good or bad) here in NA. Check out Andrew's thoughts bellow - it's a much different, and enlightening, scene than you might be used to here in NA - and check out his excellent writing (and superb photography) at Spittoon.biz. Cheers!

As I write I’m sipping a glass of Californian red – a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 to be precise...



It’s fairly typical of the type of Californian wine readily available in the UK. Following the 1WineDude's request for some foreign thoughts on Californian wine, the Woodbrige is ‘research’. A day or so ago, more research, with a bottle of Zinfandel – the only interesting Californian red available in the UK’s largest high street chain of off-licences.

Both wines display a certain richness, demonstrate varietal characters and are both very drinkable on their own.

"I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK."

I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines but they will certainly be eclipsed by the likes of Gallo White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc etc. There is no escaping these critic-derided wines. They sell at basic prices by the case load. The vast majority of Gallo drinkers wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care where they come from. How ever much we deride them, they are the bedrock of California wine in the UK – both in terms of style and in sales. Drinkers of these are highly unlikely to trade up to the Mondavi or the Zinfandel.

I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.

We are blessed with a multitude of specialist wine merchants in the UK – many are holding their own against the supermarkets and the high street chains. Only a couple though offer a decent range from California. And don’t even begin to look for Arizona or Long Island, although a smattering of wines from Oregon and Washington have found their way to these little islands. But those specialists are offering the wines at eye-wateringly high prices. You have to ask why would anyone bother – the range of wines readily available from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa often provide much better value for money [in the U.K.].

"[The CA wines available in the U.K. lack] texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades."

With my evening meal I switched to the Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006. This retails at about £7.50 [roughly $12 USD]; the average price of a bottle of wine is half this. The wine is lightly oaked, again highly drinkable but lacks texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.

And that about sums it up really – you CAN get various Californian wines in the UK but they come at a price that doesn’t often stack up well against similar wines from elsewhere. And those Gallo wines, at the cheap end of the scale, must be enjoyed by someone. You can’t really be saying they are brought solely on price can you?



6 comments:

Morton Leslie said...

It seems like the closer one is to a wine region, the more competitive that region is in your market. Part of it is you know those wines better, but often you simply get better wines. For example, the Woodbridge 2007 is available here in California for less than 2/3 of what you paid for the 2006, but if you shop for any comparable (big volume, widely sourced, no terroir) Australian Chardonnay the price is about the same but you are drinking a 2006 wine that is 18 months older than the competition and showing it. If you are willing to step up from $7 to $15 U.S., well there is a lot to chose from. We can find some decent French and New Zealand Sauvignon blanc here, but in price, quality and freshness they don't compete with local products. If you like Burgundy you would have a lot of fun with Pinot Noir from the American west coast. I buy European imports from the East Coast via the internet because I get better prices and a better selection. I find the Eastern U.S. market Bordeaux is often a better deal than California Cabernet. I would expect it even more so in the U.K.

Anonymous said...

Great post dude. I love the heck out of wine.

Rus
www.WineSells.com

Peter May - The Pinotage Club said...

Comparing the price of wine between two countries, as Morton does, is fraught with difficulty.

The UK price quoted included all taxes -- and in the UK there are three taxes on wine; duty and wine tax and then VAT at 17.5% is levied on the cost including the first two taxes. I suspect the US price quoted did not include US sales tax. Remove the UK taxes and the prices would probably be close. But another factor is the exchange rate.

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Vinogirl said...

Being English, but living in Napa, my yearly trip back to Blighty is quite a wine challenge. Looking for a Ca. Zin to go with my bro's homemade chili was a nightmare...ended up with a Ravenswood Vintners blend for about $13. My favourite shop in Chester only had Sonoma wines. Working at a winery gives me an insight into the intricacies of shiping wine great distances and keeping those wines in tip top condition, not to mention the customs and excise implications.

Morton Leslie said...

In the U.S. if there is a state sales tax it doesn't matter whether it is a domestic or foreign wine, you pay it. So a shopper just compares price and taste and we generally find better value in wines grown closer to home.

The exception is European wine on the East Coast where I find that in addition to better selection and pricing, not being charged sales tax when buying wine online often pays for the shipping.