There is something of a renaissance going on with the wines of the USA: a resurgence of interest in these fascinating wines and a buzz about ‘New California’. The funny thing is there has been no radical shift in winemaking recently, just more of a recognition that the big, showy style of wines is now history and that we have all been a bit slow in catching up!

Today the wines are clean, fresh and vibrant, as well as being approachable even in their youth. The best wines of California and Oregon are a match for any the world over – something we have known since the famous Paris Tasting of 1976. If you haven’t tried these wines for a while we urge you to give them another chance, they should confound and charm you.

California is by far the biggest producer in North America. Once you move beyond its gallons of semi-sweet ‘jug’ wine, the region produces some truly world class examples. The Napa is the most well-known region featuring famous producers such as Shafer in the Stag’s Leap AVA (American Viticultural Area) where Doug Shafer is famed for Cabernets, Merlots as well as Chardonnay grown in Carneros which bridges Napa and nearby Sonoma. In Sonoma the Swiss-owned Cuvaison Winery has been perfecting superbly elegant Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays for nearly 50 years, while based in the north of Sonoma, Rodney Strong vineyards has holdings throughout the area and carefully matches grape varieties to the soil type and microclimates to produce excellent examples.

Heading east from Napa brings you to the Clarksburg and Lodi AVAs, a great source of some excellent value wines and some different grape varieties. The Bogle Vineyard holdings run to some 1,600 acres but remain firmly in the hands of the family. The grapes are grown in a sustainable manner taking full advantage of the warmer climate.

Further south, down to the San Francisco Bay area which is inland from the eponymous city, you’ll find the Wente Family who have been here for over 135 years. The proximity to the Pacific provides cooling fogs which protect the vines from the intense summer heat giving more elegant wines. Heading south again, towards Los Angeles, takes you through Santa Cruz and Monterey but such is the scale of this country that L.A. is still over a five hour drive away! This far south the climate is noticeably hotter. This region is home to the ‘Rhône Rangers’: rich Syrah blends with Grenache and Mourvèdre which excel in the southern heat.

The wines from the Pacific North-West are good, sometimes great, but less widely seen than those of California. The wineries of Oregon are concentrated in the west of the state with the best wines coming from the Willamette Valley; here Willakenzie Estate use the more marginal climate to their advantage to produce a more delicate style of wine more akin to those of northern France. Further north Washington State has a wider roster of performers, all with more than a touch of class about them. The second biggest wine producer after California, most of Washington’s vineyards are found in the east of the state protected from the weather by the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains, giving a continental climate ideal for grape production.

The West’s success can almost be to the exclusion of the East Coast. The Finger Lakes and Long Island vineyards of New York State produce some super, edgy Rieslings, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs in a cool climate style. Virginia, just to the south has a noticeably warmer and more humid climate where Chardonnay, Cabernet and Petit Verdot are doing very well.

Dry White

Various Grape Varieties
The USA makes full-flavoured, elegant white wines from a wide variety of different grapes planted in selected sights to suit their individual needs such as Viognier and the Chenin Blanc, both of which give pleasure to sip on their own or equally to accompany food.

From the elegant Chardonnay of Carneros, to the bigger richer examples produced in the heart of the Napa, one can find complex, world-class wines. The cooling influence of morning fogs near San Francisco and those grown on fine chalk soils in Sonoma County all suit this most versatile grape.


The warm San Joaquin Valley, south-east of San Francisco, is home to the Muscat grape which ripens in ideal conditions to produce gently fortified wines.


The demand for easy-drinking rosé wines is undimmed with time, a testament to their friendly flavours and appeal. Zinfandel Rosé or White Zinfandel (or just ‘White Zin’) is a style of ‘blush’ wine made using the red Zinfandel grape but not allowing the skin to contact the wine, thereby leaving a pale pink rosé usually lower in alcohol and with a hint of sweetness.


Various Grape Varieties
Reds are richly spiced, full of warmth and flavour: great wines for big-flavoured foods. Rhône varieties, such as Syrah and Mourvèdre – sometimes called Mataró – are terrific value, benefiting from the warm climate and long hang-time on the vines. Similarly the warmer climate also suits more esoteric varieties such as the characterful Petite Sirah grape.

Zinfandel at its best is rich, tarry and filled with bags of character. Fantastic with red meats, spicy or barbecued meats, America’s ‘own’ variety can make serious wines. Careful handling in the vineyard and the winery ensures it doesn’t have to be all jammy fruit but is capable of both class and structure.

Pinot Noir
Elegant and ethereal, the Oregon Pinots are very reminiscent of red Burgundy while those of California tend to show darker fruit character but are equally appealing and complex with it.

Merlot & Cabernet
Despite the prejudices seen in the film ‘Sideways’, Merlot has always been historically strong from California, and looks to copy the Bordeaux ‘claret style’ as it is often blended with Cabernet, which is also equally good in its own right. From medium-bodied, easy-drinking wines to more full-flavoured, the top reds are elegant, structured wines that, though capable of ageing, give pleasure throughout their life. The best rival top Bordeaux reds.