California raising the bar
Published by Paul Williamson on 11/05/2018
As the current holders of both the International Wine Challenge USA Specialist of the Year and the Decanter Specialist Wine Retailer of the Year for USA awards, we are evidently doing our bit to promote the ever-improving wines from across the Atlantic.
Since 2009 we have been importing from some of the most exciting and ground-breaking winemakers in California, and today many of them are still continuing to break through into new quality frontiers with each new vintage. The attention and praise from the wine critics is starting to snowball and we’ve recently seen the highest ever scores awarded to some of our Californian producers.
While we’ve known it for a long time, it appears more and more people are starting to realise that the quality from some top Californian producers is really challenging the European fine wine establishment.
Mayacamas is one the most historic and iconic wineries in all of California. Located at the top of the awe-inspiring Mount Veeder (which has its own AVA within Napa Valley), the quality and longevity of Mayacamas’ wines are a product of the terroir on which the grapes are grown. The combination of altitude (550-750m above sea), complex volcanic soils and dry farming, yields concentrated berries that give wonderfully structured and complex wines full of pure blackcurrant and raspberry flavours.
Incredibly, winemaking has been practiced on this site since 1889, but it was Bob Travers who brought real world class quality here in the 1970s, with the 1971 being included in the famous Judgement of Paris tasting alongside the likes of Ridge, Stag’s Leap and Heitz Cellars.
2013 is a benchmark for the estate, not only because of the great 97-point Galloni score, but it marks the beginning of a new era for Mayacamas with a new winemaking team who are taking the quality to even better heights, proven by the barrel samples of more recent vintages. The heights they are achieving are firmly putting them in direct competition with First Growth Bordeaux and cult Californian wines which cost multiple times that of Mayacamas.
Those of you who have been following the great wines of Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte since we started importing them 5 years ago will have witnessed the incremental quality improvements vintage after vintage. They set the bar high with the 2011s, but it seems now they are firmly hitting their stride, making wines of international class to rival top cru Burgundy. Those of you who have yet to experience these unique wines have no more excuses. It was a high bar to begin with but the 2015s are potentially the best they've created to date. Now is the time to get involved.
William Kelley, formerly of Decanter and now the Wine Advocate, has recently published a glowing report of the latest wines from dynamic duo Raj Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman, and reinforces the belief that this is the best vintage yet from them. With quality and scores now rivalling Grand Cru Burgundy, yet prices remaining a fraction of what they achieve, Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote provide incredible bang for your buck.
Graham Tatomer’s reputation is such that wine cognoscenti on the U.S. west coast speak his name in hushed tones. First, out of the respect they hold for this extraordinary, specialist producer of cool climate grape varieties; second, because his production is so tiny that they certainly don't want any extra competition when it comes to buying his wines.
So enthralled was Graham with the cool climate varieties of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, he strived to learn from the very best in order that he could make his own in California to the highest standard. Where else would he go other than the home of Gruner, Wachau in Austria, and who else better to do an apprenticeship with but the legendary winemaker Emmerich Knoll. Amazingly Tatomer’s wines are beginning to garner scores that rival and even surpass those of Knoll’s. Getting 90+ points for Californian Gruner Veltliner is certainly breaking into new frontiers, the apprentice may be outgrowing the master.
Jamie Kutch’s Pinot Noir’s were the very first Californian wines we started importing back in 2009. A former Wall Street banker, Jamie was making wine in his spare time in his New York home until he realised his true calling was to be a full-time winemaker, and we are glad he took the plunge! Meticulous in his approach, Jamie uses as natural processes as possible: hand picking, only free run juice used, small batch fermentation with hand (and foot) punch downs and indigenous yeasts. The result is stunningly pure, elegant and balanced expressions of the Pinot Noir grape and the cool climate terroir with a distinct spicy complexity from whole cluster fermentations.
With each successive vintage that Roberson has imported since 2009, the wines have improved markedly year-on-year. Initially they were good; then in 2010 and 2011 they started to become better as Jamie tweaked his style – now the wines are truly excellent as he has perfected his craft. We have no doubt he is set to join the ranks of California's very best Pinot Noir producers. Don't just take our word for it, the critics are glowing about these wines too.
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