Napa Valley is one of the few New-World regions with the luxury problem that plagues so many of Europe's top production regions: space. In Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Montalcino and Bolgheri, production is limited by the geographical constraints of the landscape and the strict AOC/DOC/DOCG incentives controlling them. In the vast Californian plains, this isn't normally a problem: Mendocino, Central Coast, Lodi and the like have grapes to spare, vineyards for sale and, whilst water might be few and far between, the purchasing of land is both easy and, compared to Europe's most-beloved production regions, relatively cheap too. Only Napa in California breaks this rule: the average bottle of Napa is much higher than the Californian average and, when you consider that Napa counts for less than 10% of US wine production and around a quarter of wine revenue, you get a fairly accurate picture of the situation here, rising prices due to high demand in arguably one of the world's finest wine production regions.
Whereas many top Napa producers looked beyond this central Californian AVA, setting their sights on the above-mentioned regions of California, at least one chose its base overseas - a few thousand kilometers South on the Pan-American Highway: Argentina - more precisely Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza in the foothills of the mighty Andes.
Paul Hobbs is arguably one of the finest winemakers alive today. Not only are his top, single-vineyard Cabernets some of Napa Valleys' finest but his single-varietal wines sourced from Napa and Sonoma are some of the best-priced, most reliable wines on the market. Those who have been lucky enough to sample the latest few vintages of the (Beckstoffer) Dr. Crane and (Beckstoffer) To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignons know that they belong in the international red wine Hall of Fame - top wines from historic vintages in one of the world's best production regions. Don't just beleive me: google what the top critics have to say.
Let's face it though: these aren't wines for every day: I certainly don't have the cash to enjoy 150-300€ wines every day and thankfully there are some parts of the world where it is possible to make great wine for a great deal less: Mendoza for example. The rise and rise of Mendoza is unprecedented: no other region is improving in quality as quickly as Mendoza and, unlike the top regions in France, Spain, Italy, Australia and the USA, the wines remain entirely affordable....unless you wish for something more expensive and, certainly these days at least, that isn't hard anymore in South America. One of Argentina's pioneers: Catena Zapata also operates from Mendoza and some of its reds, particularly the Malbecs, often carry three figure price-tags. Viña Cobos, the name of Hobbs' operation in Argentina also producers high-end, luxury wines and yet the series is remarkably good throughout, from the entry-level Felino wines right through to the flagship "Cobos" sourced entirely from the best parcels of the fabulous Marchiori vineyard.
Below are tasting notes of a number of wines from Viña Cobos.
Getting hold of these wines where you live.
Lee Markham and Peter Stuckwisch
I am not at all secretive of that fact that I sometimes cheat on my favourite varietal Riesling. Like all chronic cheaters I have a whole series of mistresses I can contact: sometimes Chardonnay, sometimes Silvaner and sometimes even Sauvignon Blanc. My favourite mistress though is an Austrian specialty: Grüner Veltliner.
I particularly like Grüner Veltliner because of its fresh and robust character without a profound reliance on acidity: it rewards with refreshing drinking and none of the stomach-acid issues in the night. It also ages excellently losing its bright fruit and robust spice structure for absolute elegance: perhaps only Riesling and Chardonnay age better when it comes to white wine and yet Grüner Veltliner hardly ever shares the same attention. Not only is it a fabulous varietal on its own, just like Riesling and Chardonnay, it differs just as much according to where it grows: even the same river banks produce vastly different wines a few kilometres further downstream: Kremstal, Wachau and Kamptal might all be best known for their cultivation of Riesling and yet the Grüner Veltliner that emerges from the same vineyards is just as worthy of recognition.
Thankfully I share this opinion of Grüner Veltliner with Peter Stuckwisch: a good friend and fellow Austrian wine lover. A few weekends ago, he arranged a blind tasting of several young wines: different regions, different producers and different styles from classic, young, clean-cut Veltliner right up to Botrytis bombs and natural wines from some of Austria’s youngest winemaking talents. His tasting notes can be found here (German Language). Mine can be found below.
Getting hold of these wines where you live
Many of these wines are widely available in Germany and Austria. A handful are also available in the UK and USA. If you are interested in purchasing any of the above-listed wines and are having trouble locating them where you live, please get in touch and I will gladly assist you in getting hold of a bottle or two.
English fizz is no longer just an insider. Wine critics and journalists worldwide have handed victory in blind tastings to English bubbles often enough for us to realise that this definitely isn't simply a national gimmick anymore.
Why shouldn't it be good? With much the same soil, the same climate and, in many cases, the same know-how as that famous region a few hundred kilometres to the South-East, English sparkling wine is one of the wine-industry’s fasting-growing sectors.
Names such as Chapel Down, Ridgeview, Camel Valley and Nyetimber have brought these fantastic products into supermarkets where consumers often boycott their previously favourite Champagne brand for some fantastic British wine.
It’s diverse too. Whereas some producers have gone along the lines of creating wine as similar to Champagne as possible using the same varietals and similar production techniques, others have opted to create a new style of wine – a British sparkler that uses varietals grown (nearly) only in England to make unique and fabulous creations.
Although the production and retailing of English sparkling wine is popular, the Rosés from UK producers have been slower into the racks of your local grocer. It won’t surprise you but the Rosé is also very good. Many producers opt for the often more difficult job of allowing the grape skin to define the colour of the wine rather than (as is commonplace in most of the Champagne region) pouring a small amount of riper red into the final product for the pink hue.
Here are my favourite English Rosé sparkling wines.
Finding these wines where you live
All of the above-listed wines are widely available in the UK. Many of them are now available in mainland Europe and a select few in the United States. If you are having trouble finding the wines where you live, get in touch and I'll gladly assist you in finding them.