Are you going to S.F.? If so, don’t bring me back any wine under $20 bucks*


“All the leaves are brown…and the sky is grey. I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day….”

Typical cold, drizzly, sun-goes-down-at-4pm-in-London-late November afternoon and I was walking to the Hoxton in Shoreditch for the  Wine Institute of California’s first official bloggers meetup. We were the guinea pigs of the evening. The Wine Institute of California were unleashing their California benchmark wines on us and the UK.

“I’d be safe and warm…. If I was in LA…”

My English friends ask me all the time why California wines don’t make it over here. Is it because of the cost? Is it because of taxes? Is it because California, like Australia has flooded the market with cheap and cheerful (I’m talking about you white zin) wine? Is it because we don’t export the truly good wines and British consumers don’t have the exposure to well made and enjoyable California wines?

“Stopped off at a church, I saw along the way….Well, I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray….”

The benchmark wines were on tasting to show that California can do mid-level (£8 – £15) wines. For a native Californian, all the usual suspects were there: Beringer, Gallo, Fetzer, Kendall-Jackson, Bonterra and a few lesser known (on this side of the pond labels) as well. Most of these wines I steer clear of when I’m home. Why? Well, they’re just not very exciting. Middle of the road, safe, predictable, supermarket wines. They could be from Australia, Chile, anywhere in CA. There was nothing special about most of them except that they were from California. Which is a shame as I know that there are plenty of very good mid-priced wines coming out of CA but nothing ever reaches these shores. Is it because of  price? Possibly. A decent bottle of wine costs around $20 in the States but translated here, once you get past shipping, taxes, etc, it’s more like £20 per bottle. $20 will get you a decent, interesting bottle of wine back home but in the UK £20 better be more than a decent wine.

“You know the preacher likes the cold…He knows I’m gonna stay…”

I went through the tasting not expecting any surprises but I did encounter one in the rosé section of all things! Not a white zin but a lovely dry offering from Fetzer.  A big supermarket brand back home, Fetzer had broken out of the sickly sweet white zin ghetto and produced a palate pleasing spicy rosé. What a relief. The FetzerValley Oaks Syrah rosé had an intense fruity nose which lead me to believe initially that it would be a sugar bomb but no, dry, raspberry tea-like flavours with a hint of peppery spice on the finish. I wasn’t the only one liking it. At the end of the evening I was lucky enough to snag it from under the nose of kristainlondon. This one is a steal at £5.95.

The Bonterra Viognier 2007 was also winning converts. My fellow blogger Wine90 was there and here are her notes :

Mid straw yellow. A really intriguing wine on the nose producing notes that make for a strange mix. Peach and lime intermingle along a tropical sugary theme with the lime flavours coming to the fore on the palate, strong finish, strong acidity making this wine a real QPR doozy.

Considering it is an organic viognier, I thought it was good value at £10 a pop.

Petite Sirah

The best wine was the last. An ’05 Petite Sirah from EOS in Paso Robles. Petite syrah is one of those uniquely California varietals that much like zinfandel has found it’s home in CA. Petite sirah is a French immigrant and goes by the name of Durif over there but in CA, it’s P.S. The ’05 had a bit of time to mellow and was smooth and silky on the palate. A nose brimming with ripe raspberries, blackberries, and black pepper notes. More of the same swishing around my mouth and a fabulous mocha coffee finish to it. Nicely balanced wine, a pleasure to drink and retailing for around £13 online.  

If only all the wines we tried that night we’re of this quality. But the price point is a sticking point. This one checked out at £13 not exactly a bargain but worth it. California wines, worth it but sadly not many of note here. Guess I’ll have to wait til my next trip home, until then I’ll be…..

“California dreamin’ …on such a winter’s day….” (“California Dreamin” by The Mamas and The Papas)

*Post Title courtesy of my good friend, the always amusing and entertaining wine blogger, Wine90


  1. While you were busy sampling CA wines, I managed to get my greedy hands on a bottle of Riesling from Oregon – very curious now and hoping that, overall, I will have more luck with this one than you had with the CA. Thanks for the write-up and I will keep my eyes open for the rose!

    • Can’t wait to hear what you think of the Oregon rieslings. I’ve had a few and although they are nothing like german rieslings, I do enjoy them. Hope you got a good one!

  2. I’ve got it! I will just send some CA wine to NYC, and then Vicky can ferry it over, giggle giggle

    • That is an excellent idea! I wonder if Vicky will mind bringing over a case. You did say a case of wine, right? 🙂

      • ha ha mayyyybe. Were you a good girl? Should Wine Santa really send you that much? :-p and will the nice boys in Customs look the other way wink wink

        • I think I’ve been a very good wineblogger this year 😉 I’m sure Miss Vicky would LOVE to bring back a case of CA wine but don’t know how much I’d actually get, haha! Hopefully, I’ll be making a trip home in the next few months and I’ll be sure to take a couple of days to visit Napa/Sonoma/Bay Area, might need more than a few days!

  3. To try to BRING a bottle to you Miss Sleuth… Any particular wish?

    • Interesting that you find it difficult to find any CA wines in NYC. It’s a conspiracy, I tell ya! 🙂 Thank you for the very kind offer, you are sooo sweet, but seeing as it’s proving difficult to find CA wines in NYC, I won’t ask you to run around town for me. I’m looking forward to your cru Beaujolais anyway. Have a safe trip back! xx

  4. Oh waw, can you even believe me if I tell you it is almost impossible to drink Californian wines in NYC wine bars. I’ll do my best to try a bottle.

  5. I am glad I found you via another wine blog…I am excited to see I can learn a lot from you guys on your blogs…been a while since I was in CA, so I am curious now…thanks for the information!

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m more euro wine-centric since I do live in London but I do get home now and then to sample what we’ve got there. I’ve got my CA wine connections to let me know what’s on the up and up. Cheers!

  6. zoharwine /

    All good with the mid of range etc wine but was the Rose Zin and the Petit Syrah the only drinkable wines that night?

    • The Bonterra viognier was good as well. The rest were just pretty forgettable, nothing inspired me and I would not chose them if I was in the shops. One of the chards (no names, please) smelled like Cif! and it wasn’t just me, it was the general concensus amongst the other bloggers as well. I just think that at the mid range level, not much exciting coming from CA at the moment. My friends in CA agree with this assessment. If only some of the smaller boutique-y wineries could get their stuff here. Until then, best to pony up the cash and pay for a quality CA wine.

  7. Great post Denise! As a CA girl, I know I am spoiled by the availability of reasonably prices ($15-30) terrific wines, and often wrinkle up my nose at the offerings that show up on shelves of other states – let alone other countries.

    We suffer the same fate as many other countries that are trying to import wines. We just don’t have the leverage to get the small production, great wines on the shelves of the international market. This is starting to change however, as many small brands become gobbled up by corporate conglomerates (but that’s another blog post entirely). They have the marketing budgets and the inclination to become a force on the international shelves. A great Aussie analogy would be Penfolds. For a long time we only had THe Grange (unattainable) and the Rawson’s Retreat (undrinkable). Now, we have several layers in between, ranging from $10-40.

    I wish you luck! In the mean time, please come home and drink with me 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments! I am a bit out of touch with what’s going on in CA but really hope that more interesting wines will be able to make it to the UK. I know there is some fab stuff in the mid range, it’s just getting it here. CA exporters, are you listening?? We’d love to get more interesting CA wines in the UK, people are wishing you’d send some over! The next time I’m in CA, will definitely come and drink with you:-D


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