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Tasting notes of wines from the USA


(Prices and stockists in the UK are listed in brackets; as a rough guide £1 = US$1.60. Date of tasting is indicated at the end of each note as month/year)

(See also: Visiting Napa Valley, Visiting Oregon's wine regions. Pacific Northwest tasting: the wines of Washington State and Oregon, Bibendum tasting: fine wines from USA and Australia; Wine travel: Sonoma and Santa Ynez)

Featured producers:

Marmesa Vineyards Hollister Peak Chardonnay 2005 Edna Valley, California
Unusually for California, this is an unoaked Chardonnay, aged on its lees to add complexity. It’s rich and boldly fruited, with a warm, buttery, broad character balanced nicely by citrussy, stony freshness. Imagine Chablis, taken up a couple of notches in richness, ripeness and weight, and you’ll be close. Unoaked Chardonnay runs the risk of being boring, but this certainly isn’t. 89/100 (£9.99 Oddbins) 06/08

Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay 2006 Sonoma Coast, California
Full yellow colour. Nutty nose has a fresh minerality to it, as well as a hint of lemon. The palate shows nice balance between some buttery softness and some firmer, slightly bitter citrussy notes. The overall effect is of a fairly sophisticated, well balanced and food friendly wine that doesn't show too much of that broad, fat, slightly blowsy personality that's the besetting sin of Californian Chardonnay. I'd be happy to drink this in a high-end restaurant with richer seafood dishes, and if it wasn't for the slight hint of bitterness on the finish I'd rate it higher. 89/100 (£14.99 Waitrose, Majestic, but will be promoted in both soon at £9.99) 07/08

Qupe Roussanne 2005 Central Coast, California
Really intense, nutty and broad with notes of vanilla and toast. Thick textured and bold – a bit oily even? Viscous, rich and structured. 90/100 (09/08)

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
This comes from an organic vineyard in a cool part of the Russian River Valley just 10 miles from the coast. 4000 vines/hectare planting density is high for California. With some bottle age, this is quite a serious, mineralic-yet-rich Chardonnay, offering a complex herby, toasty, mealy nose with some lemony freshness. The palate is quite powerful and structured, with warm toasty, bready notes alongside grippy, spicy savouriness and fresh, clean fruit with good acidity. Unlike some California Chardonnays, it doesn’t descend into a buttery, oaky, tropical fruit blob, but keeps its minerally, acidic edges. Complex, powerful stuff that would work well with food. 91/100 (US retail $28) 07/08

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California
Cherry red in colour, this has an attractively sappy nose with some subtle herbal notes alongside the ripe cherry and raspberry fruit. There are secondary notes of tobacco and undergrowth. The palate is smooth and quite elegant with the sweet red berry fruit complemented by some spicy, forest floor notes, as well as a hint of meatiness. Ripe but nuanced. 90/100 (US retail $35) 07/08

EOS Reserve Petite Sirah 2004 Paso Robles, California
An inky dark purple black colour, this is a bold, intense red wine of real character, although it won't appeal to everyone. It's bursting with rich blackberry and raspberry fruit, together with some bitter dark chocolate notes, as well as a bit of earthiness. I'm even getting a hint of rubber here. All this is underlain by some firm spicy tannins. Not at all shy, but savoury and dense enough to stop it being just another sweet, over-ripe, over-cooked new world red. Hard to score such a distinctive wine. It's edgy, imperfect, but interesting. 89/100 (£9.99 Co-op) 06/08

Cline Syrah 2005 California
A distinctive wine, showing ripe plummy, berry fruit along with some meatiness, a touch of olive character and a hint of herbal greenness. It's ripe, sweet and accessible, but there's a savoury meatiness that reminds me a bit of some South African Syrahs (although this isn't meant to be taken negatively). My only criticism is that it's tending towards the medicinal end of the spectrum. 86/100 (£7.99 Co-op) 06/08

The Magnificent Wine Co. 'Steak House' Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Nicely packaged, and billed as a steak wine, this is a bright, quite refined Cabernet that is light in style. There's some bright red fruit here, but also a complex, earthy, spicy, slightly phenolic quality that makes me suspect a bit of brettanomyces. Fresh and quite European in style, this is attractive and food friendly. 87/100 (£7.99 Co-op) 06/08

Parducci Pinot Noir 2006 California
Mendocino-based Parducci are these days riding the sustainability wagon (I haven't used the perjorative term 'bandwagon' here) - see www.parducci.com/sustainability. I remember Oddbins used to stock a Parducci Charbono a few years back; now they are stocking this Pinot Noir. By Californian standards this is an inexpensive wine, and it certainly tastes like Pinot, although at this price point it's facing strong competition from the cheaper NZ Pinots. The nose is quite sweet, with bright berry and cherry fruit, but there's also a savoury green herbal streak. The nicely balanced palate has a bit of this sweet and savoury thing going on, with sweet berry fruit countered by a spicy herby savouriness. It's not quite elegant enough to be a must buy, but it's certainly acceptable at this price, and avoids being confected and forced. Reminds me a bit of the Cono Sur Pinot. 86/100 (£8.49 Oddbins) 03/08

Loredona Pinot Grigio 2006 Monterey, California
I’m not sure about the packaging: it comes in a clear-glass, Alsace-shaped bottle that doesn’t flatter the wine at all. But the juice itself is quite nice. It has a grapey, fresh nose that’s a little spicy – it reminds me a bit of Muscat. The palate has a bit of herby freshness and a slightly rounded texture. An attractive wine. 87/100 (£8.50 Bibendum) 02/08

Hess Select Chardonnay 2004 California
A fat, buttery Californian Chardonnay that’s rich and broad with thick tropical and figgy fruit. There’s also some sweet vanillin butteriness. It’s a seductive, immediate sort of wine whose obvious charms tire a little quickly, but if you like fat Chardonnays you’ll love this. Very good+ 85/100 (£8.49 D Byrne, Handford, Wine Society, Oxford Wine Co) 01/07

Ridge Geyserville 1996 Sonoma County, California
Really lovely sweet, evolved nose of seamless sweet red fruits with earth and spicy undertones. The palate is soft, ripe and nicely mature, with savouriness and sweetness at the same time. Drinking well now. Very good/excellent 91/100 02/06

Honeywood Sauvignon Blanc 2005 Lodi, California
Nasty green herbal character here. 65/100 (£5.99 Tesco) 07/06

CMS by Hedges Cellars 2003 Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA
This is quite interesting: it’s a midweight, drinkable red with some personality. Nice open berry fruit nose with a nice meaty edge. The palate has really nice bright meaty fruit. It’s nicely poised with refreshing acidity and a bit of spice on the finish. Quite old world in style. Very good+ 89/100 (£11.49 Noel Young Wines) 05/06

Saintsbury Garnet Pinot Noir 2003 Carneros, California, USA
A brilliant, accessible Pinot with real character. Forward nose of sweet cherry and red fruits with a lifted, spicy, savoury edge. The palate has a nice balance between the sweet cherryish fruit and the spicy, slightly tarry savouriness. Good structure; rich but well balanced. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£10.99 Majestic) 05/05

E&J Gallo Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2001 California
Sweet, smooth ripe dark fruits nose showing notes of chocolate and undergrowth with a subtle herbiness. The palate is subtle, open and herby with sweet black cherry fruit. This is likeable stuff in a soft, smooth, sweetly fruited style. Very good+ 88/100  07/06

Frog’s Leap Zinfandel 2003 Napa, California
76% Zinfandel with 19% Petite Syrah, 4% Carignan and 1% Napa Gamay. Cold soaked before fermentation and aged in American oak. This has a deliciously open nose of ripe red fruits with a herby, tobbacoey edge. Ripe and rich. The palate is lively with lovely vivid open fruit and some nice spicy structure. A delicious wine that is sweet, full and quite complex, and carries its 14.9% alcohol well. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£20 Waitrose Inner Cellar branches) 04/06  

Bonterra Vineyards Chardonnay 2005 Mendocino, California
Lots of flavour here, but it's not overdone: I'm getting baked apples, pears and a hint of lemony freshness, together with some spicy, toasty oak which adds richness. Quite broad shouldered, but not as fat as I remember previous releases being. Very good+ 88/100 (Waitrose £8.99 although I think it is currently on promotion at a bit less) 12/06

Marimar Estate Dona Margarita Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 Sonoma Coast, California
From a 12 acre organic vineyard six miles from the Pacific, with 2340 vines per acre (high density) trained low. 62% Pommard clone and 38% Dijon 115 clone. Aged in a mix of half new and half one year old French oak barrels for 11 months before being bottled unfiltered. This wine has a deep colour, with a nose of sweet dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with a bit of spicy oak. It needs a bit of time to open out. The palate shows lovely savoury dark fruits with a firm spicy structure. It's fresh, purely fruited and focused with some elegance, but it is currently quite primary and tannic, with a bit of high class oak evident. There's some nice earthy complexity, together with the faintest hint of rhubarb. There's some real potential for development here: quite a serious, full-on expression of Pinot Noir, albeit at quite a high alcohol level (14.5%). I'm impressed. Very god/excellent 92/100 11/06

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Gold Label Chardonnay 2004 Monterey County, California
Alluring nose is rich, buttery and fat with tropical fruit notes. The palate is broad and fat with rich peachy fruit and a touch of oak. There’s some acidity keeping things in balance and it’s not as grotesque as some Californian Chardonnays. Actually, it’s quite tasty. Very good/excellent 90/100 07/06  

Marimar Estate Don Miguel Vineyard Acero Chardonnay 2005 Russian River Valley, California
Aromatic and fruity, this well balanced Chardonnay shows quite rich tropical fruit/pineapple notes countered nicely by some lemony acidity. There's plenty of richness, but it's not at all overdone: balance is maintained. Unoaked, and probably better for it. The alcohol level, at 13.5%, is pretty sane for a Californian Chardonnay, too, which suggests that they got the balance right on the vine. I like this. Very good/excellent 90/100 12/06

Hess Select Chardonnay 2004 California
A fat, buttery Californian Chardonnay thatfs rich and broad with thick tropical and figgy fruit. Therefs also some sweet vanillin butteriness. Itfs a seductive, immediate sort of wine whose obvious charms tire a little quickly, but if you like fat Chardonnays youfll love this. Very good+ 85/100 (£8.49 Wine Society. Oxford Wine, D Byrne, Handford) 01/07

Kendall Jackson Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir 2005 California
From the North Coast, Monterey and Santa Barbara; aged in a mix of new and old French and American oak. This is quite a pale cherry red colour, which is reassuring, and it has a sweet nose of cherry and red berry fruit with a spicy, slightly roasted vanilla oak overlay. The palate is soft with sweet ripe fruit complemented by some spicy vanilla from the oak. It tastes like Pinot and has some elegance, but might be better with a touch less oak. Still, a nice wine. Very good+ 89/100 (UK retail c. £10) 05/07

La Crema Pinot Noir 2005 Sonoma Coast, California
Quite a dark colour, but fortunately not too intense or inky. The nose shows quite sweet cherries, with a bit of spice. The palate has a lovely smoothness to it, with bright but seamless red fruits and a bit of spicy warmth in the background. Texturally, it's smooth without being heavy. It's ripe but not over-sweet. There's a bit of tannin to give balance to the fruit, and the alcohol is a sane 13.5%. Enjoyable stuff, and quite food compatible. Very good+ 89/100 05/07

Château Leoville Las Cases 1985 St Julien, Bordeaux
From magnum. Just fantastic. Perfumed open nose is complex and rich, with a lovely evolved earthy minerality. There is some richness and sweetness of fruit on the palate – it still tastes quite youthful – but there’s lovely savoury, balancing acidity, too. Quite dry and savoury on the finish. A lovely wine. 96/100 11/06

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Chardonnay 2004 California
Yellow/gold colour. This is a rich, evolved fat buttery Chardonnay that’s quite complex given its fatness. Bready, buttery and fat, but could work with the right sort of food. 81/100 (£6.99 Tesco, Somerfield) 02/07

Waterbrook Mélange 2004 Columbia Valley, Washington State, USA
Smooth, soft and approachable with red berry fruits dominating, together with just a kiss of vanilla oak. Very soft and well mannered, this is a suave chat show host of a wine. 89/100 (£10.45 Philglas and Swiggot) 05/06

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 California
Beautifully packaged, but unfortunately the contents don’t quite live up to this. A cherry red colour, this medium-bodied wine has a modest berry fruit nose, and this leads to a sappy palate showing some sweet red berry fruit but not a lot else. Rather disappointing. 14.5% alcohol. 83/100 (£8.99 Majestic, Oddbins, Thresher) 10/07

Calera Chardonnay 2000 Central Coast, California
Quite a deep yellow gold colour, this has a full, complex nose with malty, buttery, toasty tropical fruit combined with a hint of coffee and honey. This probably sounds a bit too much, but the palate is quite well balanced with rich figgy, toasty, butterscotchy fruit backed up by good acidity, together with some fruit sweetness. This is a wine that would work really well with rich seafood or lobster, and while it's certainly towards the end of its peak drinking window (I'd have probably preferred it a couple of years back), it's still very much alive and offers a complex, rich, buttery expression of Chardonnay. I'm enjoying it, although I feel a but guilty about this - we're supposed to scorn Californian Chardonnay, aren't we? Very good/excellent 91/100 (£12.99 Waitrose, on offer at 7.99 until 24 September) 08/06

Ernest & Julio Gallo Pinot Noir 2001 Sonoma County, California
This is a nice wine, but I can’t hep feeling it tastes more like a warm-climate Grenache than a Pinot Noir. The nose displays sweet cherry and dark fruits with a distinctive herbiness in the background. The palate shows sweet, generous fruit that’s verging on the jammy. There’s a herby tang on the finish. There’s a bit of that new world Pinot ‘sweet and sour’ character. Likeable, but not a typical Pinot. Very good+ 88/100 12/04

Fetzer Valley Oaks Syrah Rosé 2004 California
Very deep colour for a rosé: almost a light red wine. Very full, weighty nose with lots of bright cherry fruit. The palate is fresh, fruity and rather appealing. A big, fruity rosé. Very good 83/100 (Available widely: Oddbins, Thresher, Unwins, Asda, Sainsbury, Somerfield, Tesco, Waitrose) 05/05

Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder Syrah 2000 Napa, California
A California garage wine made by retired UC Davis professor Carole Meredith and Steve Lagier. The first vintage from this tiny 4 acre Mount Veeder vineyard was as recently as 1998, and fewer than 400 cases are currently produced. It’s a deep coloured wine with a seductive but not showy nose of intense ripe black fruits. The concentrated palate is bold and spicy with a good depth of fruit and smooth but firm fine-grained tannins. Good balance. Not cheap, but probably worth it. Very good/excellent 93/100 (£41 American Wine Merchants, www.americanwinemerchants.co.uk) 02/04

Ojai Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah 2002 Santa Barbara County
A striking Californian Syrah, oozing character. Inky red/black colour. There's a lovely savoury, spicy intensity to the pure fruit. Alluring. The palate shows a bold, chewy, spicy structure to the lovely rich, pure fruit. Great concentration here. Very good/excellent 94/100 (£25 Amercian wine merchants, www.americanwinemerchants.co.uk) 01/04

Kistler Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2000 Carneros, California
One of California's most sought after Chardonnays. Savoury, creamy, nutty nose. The palate shows a good concentration of savoury, nutty fruit with good balance and a hint of butterscotch. Firm, savoury finish with good acidity. Goes a bit malty and caramelly after a while. Very good+ 89/100 09/03

Beaulieu Vinyeards George de Latour Private Reserve 1970 Califonia
It's a rare treat to be able to try an old Californian classic like this. Sweet open spicy nose with some herby fruit showing a savoury, spicy, earthy/meaty edge. The palate is soft and spicy with some American oak still showing. Tarry and sweet with some evolution in the glass. Very nice, this historical old wine. Very good+ 88/100 09/03

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 California
Rich, slightly tarry nose with sweet berry and black fruits, together with spicy oak. The palate is quite well balanced with spicy fruit character and some structure. Almost Australian in style and quite appealing; drinking well now. Very good+ 88/100 12/03

Bonterra Chardonnay 2001 Mendocino, California
Lovely ripe enticing nose of tropical fruit, fig and spice with some coconutty oak notes. The palate is viscous and rich with a sweet edge to the ripe fruit. Very Californian in a full-on style, but appealing nonetheless. Very good+ 88 (£8.49 widely available) 05/03

Venge Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 Oakville, Napa, California
Dense, rich sweet nose with herb-tinged fruit at the forefront. Lovely density on the full, rich palate with spicy tannins and massive fruit. Open and forward with almost a decade of age, and showing lots of character. Very good/excellent 90/100 09/03

Joseph Phelps Insignia 1995 Napa, California
A blend of all five Bordeaux varietals, this is superb. Alluring sweet, ripe, open herby nose dominated by smooth, tarry blackcurrant fruit. The palate shows lovely sweet fruit with a great sense of balance: a very forward wine, but with deep, chocolatey complexity and smooth refined tannins giving depth. Very good/excellent 94/100 09/03

Peter Michael ‘Les Pavots’ 1996 Knights Valley, California
From a single vineyard, planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It’s a refined red with quite a minerally, spicy nose showing a good intensity of fruit. The palate is concentrated, spicy and savoury with rich, slightly tarry fruit and firm, elegant tannins. Lovely balance here. Very good/excellent 92/100 09/03

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 Washington State, USA
Deep coloured. Elegant minty, herby nose is quite dense with lots of ripe blackcurrant fruit. Some alcohol is apparent. The palate is soft with a lovely intensity of sweet, pure fruit. It’s immense and almost elegant in its purity, and would rate higher if only the considerable alcohol wasn’t so apparent. Very good/excellent 90/100 09/03

Duckhorn Decoy Migration 1998, Napa Valley, California
Sweet ripe herb-tinged fruit on the nose. Rich, chewy berry fruit on the palate with an attractive rounded texture and a herby edge. Very good+ (£18.75 Waitrose) 10/02  

Château St Jean Chardonnay 2000 Sonoma County, California
Quite a deep yellow colour, this has a slightly sweet honeyed edge to the toasty, appley fruit on the nose. The palate is crisp and tight with a brown sugar edge and some citrussy, appley fruit. There’s a tiny bit of bitterness on the finish, but otherwise this is appealing. A well mannered Californian Chardonnay. Very good ($12.99 in a wine shop in Baltimore) 10/02

Firestone Chardonnay 2000 Santa Barbara County, California
This is remarkably cheap for an estate-bottled  Chardonnay from California. Savoury, classy nose showing grapefruit, pineapple and mango with a savoury leanness to it. The palate shows good concentration and is nicely restrained with smoky notes backing up taut lemony fruit. Really nice weight and structure, and good acidity too. Avoids being fat or blowsy. Very good+ (£4.99 Waitrose) 08/02

Lockwood Chardonnay 1998, Monterey, California
Quite a deep golden colour. Evolved, slightly sweet honeyed nose with caramel and coffee character. Rounded palate is quite smooth and rich. Not over the hill, but would have been nicer in its youth. Sweet and caramelly. Good (Majestic £3.99) 01/03

Hedges Fumé Chardonnay 1999 Columbia Valley, Washington State
Rather aggressive vegetal tinned pea character on the nose suggests physiological unripeness. I can’t drink this. Poor 01/03

Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel 1998, California
Interesting stuff. The herby, leafy, tobaccoey nose shows some spicy character. The palate is mid weight with leafy, spicy notes and brambly, raspberry fruit. Not at all sweet and overblown, like some expressions of this grape variety. Quite thought provoking, with some complexity. Very good+ (£5.79 Majestic) 01/03

Macrostie Chardonnay 1999 Carneros, California
Nicely packaged, this classy Californian Chardonnay has a seductive, powerful nose of sweet peach and mango fruit. It’s intense, and the new French oak is very much in the background. The palate is very rich and tropical fruit-driven with some spicy complexity. Highly concentrated but quite elegant. Sophisticated. Very good/excellent (£17.50
Wannop Wines) 08/02  

Chelalem Pinot Noir ‘Rion’ Reserve 1999, Oregon
(Tasted blind, note as written) Deep coloured. Really attractive nose of rich, herby cherry fruit with a liquoricey edge. The palate is rich and quite modern with a bit of spicy wood and nice acidity. An interesting, forward interpretation of Pinot Noir. Very good+ 06/02

Ridge Lytton Springs 1996, Santa Cruz Mountains, California
From one of the leading practitioners of Zinfandel, the Lytton Springs is a traditional vineyard blend. Although it’s mostly Zinfandel, there are some other grapes, including a dollop of Petite Syrah, and is aged in air-dried American oak, of which 15% is new. It shows a fairly complex, savoury, herby/spicy nose with a leathery, herbaceous edge. Dry, savoury tannins dominate the palate, with lots of herby spiciness. The fruit is just beginning to dry out a little, so I’d be tempted to drink this sooner rather than later. Still quite tannic though. A lovely savoury food wine, and a far cry from some of the sweet, alcoholic interpretations of Zinfandel common in California. Very good+ (On offer at Edencroft for £12.50; normal price is usually about £20) 02/02

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa
92% Cabernet and 8% Merlot primarily from the Stag’s Leap and Rutherford Bench regions of Napa. Very deep colour with a lovely chalky edge to the rich cassis fruit on the nose. Very classy. Lovely density of minty, chalky fruit on the palate with good intensity. Nice balance, with some tannic structure. Very good/excellent (£35 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa
Slightly muted nose with some herb-tinged fruit. Midweight, balanced palate shows good density: a very restrained style. Very good+ (£25 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Stags Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa
Lovely forward minty, menthol-edged to the nose, which is very complex and expressive. The palate displays sweet forward fruit with a slightly roast-coffee edge to it. Good density. Very good/excellent (£60 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Stags Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Napa
Quite classy herb-edged fruit here, with a roasted edge. Lighter than the 1998. Very good+ (£60 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Sequioa Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa
Deep coloured. Herby edge to the rather muted nose. Juicy fruit on the palate. Sweet and accessible but a tiny bit simple. Very good (£18 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Stonestreet Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, Sonoma
Part of the Kendall Jackson empire. Sweet menthol and herb edged cassis on the nose leads to a palate showing juicy, chewy fruit. Good tannins and medium bodied. Quite restrained. Very good+ (£25 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 1999 California
Nice midweight Cabernet with some herb-tinged fruit. Nice if not terribly concentrated. Very good (£12 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Joseph Phelps Le Mistral 1998, California
A Rhône-style blend of 51% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 9% Mourvèdre, 7% Alicante, 7% Zinfandel, 3% Carignan and 2% Petite Syrah. Intense, spicy/herbal nose with a sweet edge. The palate shows lovely sweet-edged spicy herbal flavours with some strawberry and red berry fruit. A lovely forward Rhône style wine but in a very Californian mould. I like it. Very good/excellent (£22 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Alban Vineyards Reva Syrah 1998, San Luis Obispo
Wonderful expressive nose showing sweet roasted fruit: rich, spicy and toasty. Lovely dense spicy, savoury palate with a pronounced roasted edge. This is a distinctive, concentrated red wine. Very good/excellent (£30 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Alban Vineyards Lorraine Syrah 1998 San Luis Obispo
Opaque red/purple. Really full-on rich nose: sweet and liquoricey with a roasted edge. Hugely concentrated palate is rich, lush and fat, with sweet berry and cassis fruit with a firm spicy edge. Impressive in a very ripe style. Very good/excellent (£28 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Alban Vineyards Viognier 1998 Central Coast
Remarkably forward herby, spicy edged nose is very vivid, with some peachy tropical fruit notes. The palate is very lush textured and soft, with good concentration. Impressive wine in a very rich style. Very good/excellent (£23 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Stags Leap Sauvignon Blanc 1999 Napa
Fresh but very ripe nose is quite full on. Rich herby palate shows good concentration. Very ripe and lush. Very good+ (£15 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Cline Los Carneros Syrah 1999 Sonoma
Very deep coloured, this wine has a brooding, savoury herbal nose with liquoricey fruit. The palate is very dense, spicy and shows intense fruit. Really interesting stuff with great concentration and a spicy finish. A rich, new world style – almost Australian. Very good/excellent (£14 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Cline Viognier 2000 Sonoma
Rich herbal edge to the peachy, pear fruit nose. The palate has a nice texture with good acidity: quite fat, but stays fresh. A nice Viognier. Very good+ (£13 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Sanford Pinot Noir 2000 Santa Barbara
Cherry/herby nose with a medicinal edge. Juicy, vivid fruit on the palate, which shows great density, good acidity and some spicy oak. Impressive in a fuller style. Very good+ (£22 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Sean Thackrey Pleiades X, California
A non-vintage blend with grapes from just about everywhere: Napa, Sonoma, Monterey and Central Coast. Remarkable nose is vivid and arresting, with very sweet fruit and bizarre herbal and liquoricey elements. Midweight palate is sweet and herby, with striking medicinal notes. A remarkable, forward wine. Very good/excellent (£25 Wine Treasury) 05/02

Caymus Conundrum 2000, Napa
A blend of Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Muscat! Very striking herb-edged nose with lemony fruit and spicy wood. Rich, full textured, lush palate with a vanilla edge. Very striking style with lots of richness. Works really well in a fat, full-on style. Very good/excellent 05/02  

Barnwood Vineyards Syrah 1999, Santa Barbara County, California
Sweet, spicy and quite oaky, with nice chunky berry fruit. Good concentration. Very good+ (£12.45 Berry Bros) 04/02

Château Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley, California
Quite a restrained nose showing firm, spicy  berry fruit with some minerality. Palate shows restraint: nicely balanced, displaying blackcurrant fruit, spice and firm, fine-grained tannins. Quite impressive but horridly overpriced. Very good/excellent (£69.95 Berry Bros) 04/02  

Andrew Murray Syrah Les Coteaux 1999, Santa Ynez Valley, California
Striking nose showing pure raspberry fruit and rich, caramel-tinged oaky notes. Tightly focused bright fruit on the palate with a touch of meaty complexity beginning to emerge. Needs time. Very good+ (£15.67 Bibendum) 11/01

Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay 1998 Arroyo Grande, Central Coast, California
With a super-rich nose of ripe, buttery, figgy fruit this is tasty stuff. There's a lovely rich nutty character on the palate, which is impressive and full-on. Quite rich, alcoholic finish. Very good+ (£13.71 Bibendum) 11/01

Ric Forman Merlot 1998, California
This is an impressive yet nicely restrained wine. Quite an expressive nose with bright blackcurrant fruit, classy oaking and an attractive herbaceous edge. The palate is quite claret-like, showing nice, deep, bright fruit with good acid and well-integrated oak. Classy stuff, somewhere between the normal California style and right bank Bordeaux. Very good/excellent (£19.58 Bibendum) 11/01

Durney Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 Carmel Valley, California
This cut-price Californian (I'd expect normal retail to be nearer £10) has a spicy woody nose with some seductive, creamy blackcurrant fruit. The savoury palate is drying out a touch with some assertive, dusty tannins, but there's dense fruit and spicy complexity. A substantial wine and much more serious than you'd expect at this price, but a bit woody. Brilliant value. Very good+ (£4.99 Majestic) 12/01

Durney Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Carmel Valley, California
Very surprising to see a reasonably serious Californian Cabernet with seven years' bottle age selling at such a low price. It's a deep coloured wine with an attractive open nose showing tarry, spicy oak influence. Palate is mature with drying tannins and coffee and spice notes. It's drying out a little, and certainly won't get any better, but for current drinking this is a tasty, rich, fairly serious wine with a rather austere, savoury edge to it. Super value. Very good+ (£4.99 Majestic) 11/01

David Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard 1998, Carneros, California
Ramey has an impressive track record in California, having made wine for some of the biggest names. He's recently started releasing Chardonnay under his own label from two vineyards, Hyde and Hudson. His philosophy is to use wild yeasts and a natural malolactic fermentation, fermented in 85% new oak and matured in barrel for 18 months. A light yellow colour, this has a complex, restrained nose with nutty, creamy character. Delicious rich, savoury palate is quite elegant with some citrus notes. Impressive and quite classy, but expensive. Very good/excellent (c. £30, UK importer Morris & Verdin) 05/01

Bonny Doon Rousanne 1998, California
There's an interesting story behind this wine. In short, Randall Grahm imported these vines himself but was mistaken about their identity: they have subsequently been shown to be Viognier. In the meantime, a vine nursery had aqcuired some and sold them to other growers, who weren't too pleased to find out some time later that they'd been selling mislabelled wines. This wine has a really bold nose showing herby-edged floral fruit. Lovely rich-textured palate that's slightly spoiled by an odd herby/vegetal edge. Very good (c. £12, UK importer Morris & Verdin) 05/01

Peter Michael Chardonnay La Carrière 1999, Knights Valley (Sonoma), California
British-born Peter Michael makes some of California's moste revered Chardonnays. Rich, elegant, toasty nose leads to a bold, classy, rounded palate with figgy fruit, a touch of spice and great length. Expensive at around £35. Very good/excellent 05/01

Peter Michael Chardonnay Belle Cote 1999 Knights Valley (Sonoma), California
Rich and ripe nose with complex tropical fruit and figgy notes, with a bit of nutty oak underneath. Complex ripe fruit on the palate: spicy, figgy, concentrated and quite classy. Again, expensive at around £35. Very good/excellent 05/01

Williams Selyem Pinot Noir 1999, Sonoma County, California
This Russian River Valley producer has a cult following for its Pinot Noirs. This, their most basic wine, is a surprisingly pale pink/purple colour. Pronounced pungent cherry fruit on the nose, with pure herby fruit on the palate, together with a touch of sweetness. A distinctive, light style. Very good+ 05/01

Firesteed Pinot Noir 1996, Oregon
A relatively pale colour with a brick-red rim, this Oregon Pinot has an evolved herby nose with some undergrowth notes. The palate displays dry, herby cherry fruit with good acidity; it's light bodied and quite elegant, but a bit simple and 'new worldy'. Reminds me of the Cono Sur Pinot Noir from Chile in character. Very good. 08/01

Fetzer Eagle Peak Merlot 1999, California
There's a blast of primary fruit on the nose (blackcurrant and black cherries) with a leafy edge. The palate shows leafy-tinged fruit with a chocolatey richness and high acidity. It's all about the vibrant fruit here. Very good (£6.99 Majestic) 10/01

Fetzer Zinfandel/Shiraz 2000, California
An odd mix of grapes, and to be honest this is a pretty unconvincing wine. The fruity nose has a slightly rough edge. The palate is rather harsh and there's an unpleasantly herbaceous edge to the primary fruit. Good (£6.99 Majestic) 10/01

Fetzer Chardonnay/Viognier 2000, California
Rich nose of peach, vanilla and tropical fruit, leading to a lush, ripe, full flavoured palate with a soft texture and quite a fat, alcoholic finish. Quite a successful crowd pleaser in a very rich style. Very good (£5.99 Majestic) 10/01

Bonterra Chardonnay 1999, Mendocino County, California
An organic wine. Huge, coconutty, toasty nose showing ripe fruit character. Lush, creamy vanilla-tinged palate. It's a full-on, new world style of Chardonnay, and while this may be too oaky for some I quite like it: I don't think it's too overdone. Very good+ (£8.49) Majestic 10/01

Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir 1996, Carneros, California
Quite pale in colour. Evolved nose is subtle with herby, spicy, cherry fruit and a sweet edge. The palate is warm and soft, with some spicy oaky notes. Quite classy, but drink soon because the alcohol is poking through a bit on the finish. Very good+ (£8.99 Majestic) 09/01

Fetzer Echo Ridge Viognier 2000, Mendocino, California
The attractive, perfumed nose is floral and sweet. However, the tart palate is a bit confected and has a harsh finish. Good (£7.99 Majestic) 10/01

Foxen Chardonnay 1999 Santa Maria Valley, California
Just a short drive from the lovely coastal town of Santa Barbara, the Santa Maria Valley (along with neighbouring Santa Ynez) is a happening place. Foxen is one of the leading producers here, and their Chardonnay is a bit of a sexy beast, with a gorgeous, toasty, buttery nose. The palate is quite rich, but has a lovely savoury edge to it and is kept lively by good acidity. There's just a tiny tinge of herbacousness on the finish. Very good/excellent (£11.49 Majestic) 10/01

Renwood Sierra Series Zinfandel 1999, California
Attractive fruity, spicy nose with a bit of an acid lift. Lush, sweet, ripe fruit on the palate with good concentration. Very accessible and more-ish. Very good (£9.99 Majestic) 10/01

Foxen Pinot Noir 1999, Santa Maria Valley, California
Bright nose of ripe, herby fruit with an attractive spicy edge. Full, herby, cherry palate with good acidity and a spicy finish. A riper style of Pinot Noir. Very good+ (£15.99 Majestic) 10/01

Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 1996, Carneros (Sonoma)
Carneros is a premium cool-climate region in California's Sonoma region, known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Gloria Ferrer is a sparkling wine producer owned by Spain's Freixenet: this is one of the table wines they produce. It opens with a rich, nutty, spicy nose showing honey and butterscotch notes. The palate is full textured and smooth, but is now showing a fair degree of oxidation: as well as caramel and butterscotch notes, there's also a bit of volatile acidity. Just about drinkable if you don't mind oxidised flavours. Was probably quite a tasty wine in its youth. (£5.99 Majestic) 07/01

Mill Creek Chardonnay 1997, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
Fermented and aged in French and American oak, 20% of which is new, and weighs in at 14.5% alcohol. The rich, evolved, buttery/toasty nose with shows background butterscotch notes. The creamy, buttery fruit on the palate is starting to dry out a bit, and the high alcohol is prominent. A very rich, perhaps over-ripe style, but not overoaked. I quite like these big Chards when they're young, but this really should have been drunk up a year or two ago. Good/very good (£5.99 Majestic) 07/01

Kenwood Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 1997
This is a nicely made, tasty Zinfandel. It's not my favourite grape, but this is quite nice: with some plummy fruit, spice and vanilla on the nose, the palate is sweetly fruited with ripe chocolately berry fruit and undertones of herbs, vanilla and spice. There's some tannin holding things together. Dry finish suggests you shouldn't hold this much longer. Very good+ (£5.99) 07/01

Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 Sonoma County
Quite an evolved, oaky red wine that reminds me of a new wave Rioja in character. There's bags of sweet berry fruit and spicy, vanilla-laced (American?) oak, with good concentration and a spicy finish. Quite tasty and sophisticated, if a little oaky. This crowd-pleaser is a bargain. Very good+ (£4.99 Majestic) 08/01

Dry Creek Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
Just 2000 cases made. The nose is very sweet and open, with herby, cedary notes and a core of blackcurrant fruit. It's a little less appealing on the palate, with cinnamon spice, dry tannins and plenty of oak. A bit disappointing for what is obviously a fairly ambitious wine, but still very good. 05/01

Storrs Petite Syrah 1998 Santa Cruz Mountains, California
From old, hillside vines this is a rich, spicy, concentrated red wine of great appeal. It shows a sweet, herby, spicy nose and warm, rich flavours on the palate. There’s certainly plenty of oak, but it’s pretty much in balance with the dense fruit. Very good+ 1/01

Storrs Rusty Ridge Zinfandel 1998, Santa Clara County, California
From two old vineyards, one in the Santa Cruz mountains and one in Santa Clara County, this is a delicious example of Zinfandel at its ripe, sweetly fruited best. It is ripe, rich and bursting with sweet, chocolatey berry fruit flavours. Great balance between the new oak and the fruit; luscious and lovely ‘hedonistic’ wine. Very good/excellent 1/01

Gallo Chenin Blanc 2000, California
I actually found this rather unpleasant. It's a grapey sweet wine with cloying residual sugar: are Gallo aiming for the same market as Liebfraumilch? Interestingly, the label on the back of this wine is also in French and German, so Gallo are clearly targeting traditional European wine making countries. Poor (Widely available at about £4) 05/01

Blossom Hill Winery 'Soft Fruity Red Wine ' NV, California
Plonkish and industrial stuff, but just drinkable, with a nose of bright berry fruit and a simple, fruity palate that has a tart, grapey finish. OK (£3.99 Sainsbury) 05/01

Yorkville Cellars Petit Verdot 1997, Rennie Vineyard, Mendocino, California
It's rare to find varietally bottled Petit Verdot, so I was keen to try this example from organic producers Yorkville. It's a fairly serious wine, with an opaque purple colour and deep extraction. There's an exotic nose of herbs and olives, which is followed up with a firmly tannic palate showing licqouricey fruit and a dusty, chalky texture. It’s a very attractive, powerful red which wears its new world origins on its sleeves. Tasty stuff. Very good + (Waitrose £8.99) 10/00

Durney Vineyards Chardonnay 1996, Carmel, Monterey, California
Lovely nose of toast and fresh-baked bread gives way to a broad palate of ripe, buttery fruit with a touch of spice and good acidity. Normally I'd be wary of a new world Chardonnay of this age, but this winery seems to make examples that age well. Very good+ (Majestic £3.99) 12/00

Durney Chardonnay 1996, Carmel Valley (Monterey), California
This inexpensive Californian Chardonnay (it would be interesting to know why Majestic have managed to get this so cheaply) is beginning to show some signs of age (palate softness and drying out of fruit), but is still very much alive. It shows soft, rounded flavours of buttered toast and smooth, nutty fruit. Quite classy, but the alcohol is starting to show as the fruit dries out a bit. Very good (£3.99 Majestic) 1/01

Murhpy Goode Zinfandel 1998, Alexander Valley, California
Quite light coloured but still full flavoured, with sweet, ripe berry fruits. Very good, in an approachable style. Perhaps a little overpriced? (Adnams £10.95) 11/00

Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Cabernet Franc 1997, Santa Ynez, California
Concentrated red/black colour. Sweet, exotic nose of ripe, leafy fruit. On the palate it is soft, sweet and full, with ripe fruit combining nicely with prominent oak to make a tasty wine with immediate appeal. Very good + (£16.99 Majestic) 10/00

Foxen Santa Barbera Merlot 1997, Santa Ynez, California
A deep, concentrated wine: an enticing, sweet ripe nose is followed by a soft, luscious palate. Very forward, and perhaps a little bit sweet. Very good+ (£15.99 Majestic) 10/00

Foxen Tinaquaic Vineyard Chardonnay 1997, Santa Maria Valley, California
From a single vineyard of 10 acres, this estate wine is barrel fermented in new oak and spends a further 18 months maturing in barrel. It has a full, rich, barrel-ferment nose and shows great concentration, but it is very, very, very oaky. For hardened California Chardonnay lovers only. (£18.99, Majestic) 10/00

Chenin Blanc 1995, Durney Vineyards, Monterey, California
It's unusual to see a cheap Californian Chenin being sold with five years' bottle age. Soft, ripe and a little sugary with mild oxidation character. Still intact though. Odd, but worth a try at this price. (Majestic £2.99) 10/00

Chardonnay 1991, Durney Vineyards, Monterey, California
Majestic have a range of vintages for this wine spanning 1991 to 1996, all suprisingly cheap. This, the oldest, shows a toasty, butterscotch nose and soft, part-oxidised palate. This has aged quite nicely -- most new world Chardonnays will have died a death by now. I'd opt for the more recent vintages, but this is just a matter of personal taste. Time for a vertical? (Majestic £3.99) 10/00

Fetzer Private Collection Chardonnay 1997 Limited Release, Mendocino, California
I can't make my mind up about this wine. On the one hand, it doesn't fall prey to the worst excesses of premium Californian Chardonnays, with their blowsy fruit and opulent oaking: instead, this is restrained yet powerful, almost in a Burgundian mould. On the other hand, this wine is a rather angular and disjointed, and I'm not sure I actually like the result: it has good components that don't quite fit together. Subdued, nutty, honeyed nose with a touch of smoke. Restrained on the palate with lean, savoury complexity, high acid and great concentration. The high-ish alcohol makes itself known on the finish. A sophisticated effort, perhaps let down with the finish. Very good. (£9.99, Oddbins) 9/00

Fetzer Barrel Select Chardonnay 1997, Mendocino, California
Quite evolved, with a toasty oak nose. On the palate this has begun to soften, and is attractively creamy and oaky. Overall, it is quite a tasty Californian Chardonnay that needs drinking up soon. (Majestic £7.99) 8/00

Fetzer Pinot Noir 1997, California
Light coloured, herby wine with cherry fruit and a coca cola-like edge to it. There's some varietal character, but it is a bit simple and tart for the price. OK. (Majestic £6.99) 8/00

E & J Gallo, Sonoma County Chardonnay 1997, California
You may be surprised to see me praising a wine from Californian giants Gallo, but in addition to their mass market wines they produce much smaller quantities of premium wines from leading vineyard sites in Sonoma. This is the lesser of the premium Chardonnays they produce, but it has real class at a bargain price. Now mature, showing rich buttery fruit with complex notes of melon, spice and tropical fruit, together with some mineral notes. Great concentration and much better than other Chardonnays in this price bracket. (£5.99 Bentalls) 5/00

Fetzer Bonterra Zinfandel 1997, Mendocino County, California, USA
I've been quite impressed by the full flavoured, fairly priced wines from US giant Fetzer. Richly flavoured, spicy wine with ripe red fruits and noticeable American oak. A lovely, full flavoured, easy drinking wine with real personality. Very good. (Oddbins £7.99) 6/00

McDowell Syrah, Mendocino, 1997, California
Red/black colour. Initially there is a big, candied nose with liquorice, herbs and a sweet floral element. This blows off after a while to reveal Syrah-typical aromas of earth, bacon fat and violets. On the palate the wine is clean and fruity, but underneath this rather simple façade hides some tannic structure and complexity. Juicy acidity wraps up what is a good French-styled Syrah that is fair value for the sale price of £5.99. (normally £7.99, Sainsbury) 2/00

Fetzer Viognier 1998, North Coast, California
Yellow gold colour. Lovely nose of peach, grapefruit and apricot, with an esoteric floral element. On the palate this is full and rich, with plenty of fruit (mango and apricot), some spice and a touch of oak. Very strongly flavoured, bold wine. Slightly sweet finish. Very good. (£7.99 Tesco) 2/00

Fetzer Dry Gewürztraminer 1998, Mendocino, California
Strong nose of nuts (in particular, coconut!) with some spicy elements. Very distinctive, powerful palate, with more of the nuttiness, some litchee and some floral notes. A dollop of residual sugar gives this a lovely fat texture. Interesting stuff, but quite odd. Good. (£6.99 Tesco) 2/00

McDowell Valley Vineyard Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, Mendocino County
I'm always a little bit apprehensive pulling the cork on a 22 year old Californian Cabernet: you just don't know whether the wine will still be alive or not. But this example is still full of life. Beautiful, exotic nose of cedar, herbs and sweet fruit. The palate is still well balanced, with notes of vanilla, spice and tar backed up by still-assertive tannins. It is not dried out as some older wines can be. Sensationally good! 1/00

Topolos Old Vines Alicante Bouschet 1993, Sonoma County, USA
Alicante Bouschet is an example of a 'teinturier' variety: grapes which not only have coloured skins, but also coloured flesh, resulting in highly pigmented wines. Apparently, in the USA during the prohibition years this variety was highly valued to the extent that vineyards were guarded by machine guns, because wines made from it could be extensively diluted without anyone noticing. This is a deeply coloured, almost opaque red/purple wine, with an attractive fruit and spice nose. On the palate there is sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit combining nicely with some vanilla oak. It is perhaps a little coarse, but the bottle age has softened the tannins nicely, and it is drinking well now. I tried a little experiment: taking a small pour, I diluted it roughly fourfold with water to make a good glassful of wine. The result? Despite the rather extreme dilution, the wine still had plenty of colour, but was a little flat on the nose and palate. None the less, this would pass as a respectable table wine in a modest Italian bistro. You would easily get away with cutting this wine 50/50 with water, I suspect! 1/00

J Fritz 1996 Late Harvest Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, USA
35° Brix at harvest; 6° Brix residual sugar. Late harvest Zin is a remarkable style of wine I've not encountered before. This wine leaps out of the glass with sweet raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, backed up with piercing acidity. It is sweet, still tannic, and chocolate-laced, but overall perhaps lacking real complexity. 1/00

Ca' del Solo 'Bloody Good White' 1997 Bonny Doon, California white wine
Golden colour and tired, honeyed palate indicate that this wine had died and gone to heaven. Completely oxidised. This malvasia-based wine should have been fresh and aromatic, which it would have been on release. Moral: technology driven new world whites should be drunk up within a year or two of the vintage, or there' s a danger that you'll encounter an example that is well over the hill. (£4.99, Oddbins -- it was £6.49 not so long ago: I suspect someone must have realised this is past its sell-by date.) 1/00

Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1990, Napa Valley
Youthful purple/black colour. Spicy nose of French oak, herbs, mint and cassis. On the palate it is still pretty tannic, without the over-the-top sweet fruit and rich texture characteristic of many high end Cal cabs. Instead it is pleasantly savoury and has firm acidity. I really like this wine: it is not a big blockbuster, but is complex and the new oak is well integrated. After a while in the glass it opens up nicely with some cedar and mint notes. Very good. (Kind gift of Walt Carpenter, St Louis, MO) 11/99

Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1990, Napa Valley
Beautiful wine with rich, herby, spicy nose and sweet fruit and oak combining nicely on the palate. It is a big wine that still has some tannic structure, but it is currently drinking very well. Full and complex. 11/99

Ridge Lytton Estate ATP 1996, California (not available in UK)
60% Zinfandel/35% Petite Sirah/5% Carignane 14.6% ABV, less than 20% new American oak.
Distinctive Zinfandel character with ripe berry fruit, chocolate and cherry notes and fine tannins. This is a nicely textured wine underlaid by subtle but noticeable oak, and ending in a warm finish. Very good, and quite sophisticated for the style. 5/99 (Kind gift of Tom Troiano.)

Bonny Doon Vin de Glaciere 1996
Both bottles I have had of this wine have been kind gifts from online pals Jim Dove and Tom Troiano: as far as I know, this is unavailable in the UK at present. My second time with this wine, I must admit that I think I underrated it the first time I had it (this is easy to do when your dessert wines are usually taken at the end of a long meal). Anyway, it has a powerful and appealing nose and palate of marmalade, apricot, spice and grapes, with huge concentration, massive sweetness, and assertive acidity to balance it out. It is amazing that a wine can be this sweet and intense without seeming fat and heavy. Very good to excellent. 6/99

Muscat Vin de Glaciere 1997, Bonny Doon, California (not available in the UK)
An oddity made with artificially frozen grapes in the Eiswein style. Huge nose of sweet, grapey and spicy muscat fruit. On the palate this is super-concentrated and viscous -- like a souped up Baumes de Venise. Oily textured, and with sharp acidity, it is very good. A tooth-rotting 19% residual sugar!

Sean Thackrey Taurus Mourvedre, California 1989
Thackrey is a superstar wine maker who specialises in Rhone-style varietals. He is best known for his sensational Orion Old Vines Syrah, which now sells for around $60 per bottle on release. This less well known bottling is now mature, with minty, chalky American oak and soft fruit. Pleasant, but this would probably have been better a few years ago when the fruit was more upfront. A slight disappointment. 5/99

Ravenswood Napa Valley Zinfandel 1995
Not one of the more sought-after single vineyard bottlings, but the generic Napa Valley Zin: nonetheless, this is super stuff from one of Zinfandel's most acclaimed proponents, Joel Peterson. Cherry colour with a slightly volatile, porty nose. Attractive ripe cherry and blackcurrant fruit, backed by a huge tannic structure and a touch of oak. High acidity, a bit ‘tarry’ and with a hot finish. Overall, and attractive, serious wine that is quite thought-provoking. (£9.99 Oddbins) 5/99

Edmunds St John Syrah 1996, California
I'm impressed with the interesting and well priced (by US standards) wines coming from this producer. Huge nose of herby, earthy fruit. Rich palate with very ripe fruit and a slightly rubbery edge. Sweetly fruited, no obvious oak and delicious, if a bit unusual. High alcohol (14.5%). (£11.99 Oddbins Fine Wine) 4/99

Edmunds St John l’Enfant Terrible Mourvedre 1995, California
Rich, medium bodied. Slightly earthy, meaty, smoky fruit. Complex and very French-style. This is a very attractive terroir-driven wine, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to try something a bit off the beaten track. (£8.49 Oddbins Fine Wine) 3/99

Steele Zinfandel 1996 Pacini Vineyards, Mendocino
Smooth and soft with concentrated, ripe, nicely textured fruit, spicy oak and a sweet finish. Good. 2/99

Bonny Doon Framboise -- "Raspberry medicine"
Not strictly a wine, this is a raspberry wine fortified with the addition of grape spirit. It is astonishing, thought provoking stuff, to be had only in small doses. Huge nose of raspberries that has to be smelt to be believed. On the palate, sweet, fruity and well balanced with fresh acidity. A useful dessert match, I like it, especially at this price. However, it makes Fiona feel very ill: when she was a child, she (and her brother and sister) had a case of worms. The medicine they were given was raspberry flavour, and since then she has had an aversion to this fruit. She takes one sniff and exclaims "Raspberry medicine"! (£3.99 half, Oddbins) 9/99