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DWWA 2014: USA & Central America insights

Hear from our USA & Central America Regional Chair Jon Bonné on which wines to buy, which wines to leave on the shelf and what to keep an eye on from this year's Decanter World Wine Awards....

This was a triumphant year for the Pacific Northwest, which captured our Three Trophies and one Gold, with Washington taking the spoils over Oregon. This is a moment to acknowledge the hard work done in these two great regions, but to me the results are as much a sign of the soul-searching for which California is long overdue. There is soaring quality to be found elsewhere on the West Coast, and consumers are taking note that Oregon and Washington have both been on a roll in recent vintages. For each hard-earned Silver awarded to a Cabernet, California’s supposed sweet spot, we encountered many overpriced wines that left us cold. Consider this, then, a sign that the rest of America’s wine industry is catching up with the Golden State.

What should we buy from here?

Washington Cabernet, clearly, along with Oregon Pinot Noir. Both frequently outshone their Californian counterparts. The rise of Oregon is no secret, given the recent investments there by big names, both foreign (Louis Jadot) and domestic (Kendall- Jackson). It is worth noting that all three of our top red wine winners hailed from the frigid 2011 vintage. While this was a tough year for Pacific Northwest winemakers, the best wines show an extraordinary nuance to their fruit – one that wasn’t lost on the judges. In California, some affordable Cabernets such as Clos du Val and Louis M Martini remain solid, wellknown names. But buy with care. And while Washington Riesling has stiff competition around the world, it’s proving its worth in a global context, particularly Chateau Ste Michelle.

What should we leave on the shelf?

Expensive Napa Cabernets, which were hard to endure in their monotony, doubly so for the price. As one of our panellists put it: ‘These are blunt instruments.’ Californian Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were similarly tough – although there are some ever-improving examples to be found if you look carefully. And while Oregon Pinot Noir is on the rise, be wary of California’s growing sea of inexpensive versions. They do no credit to that grape. (Nor, honestly, do many of the pricier versions.) While we had high hopes for our sole Colombian entry this year, it appears there’s more work to do there on quality.

What should we keep an eye on?

Virginia. We’ve mentioned it before, and the wines keep getting better – particularly its rising stars of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. And while the red wines from Mexico could still use some quality control (Vega-Manchón a honorable exception here), a Bronze medal for Casa Madero’s Chenin Blanc, from Coahuila’s Parras Valley south of Texas, marked a big step forward for the country’s white wines – doubly so for its affordable price.

Written by Decanter

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