There's an array of affordable and delicious Californian wines on UK shores, says Jane Parkinson, who picks the best places to buy Californian wine.
Where to buy Californian wine: London & nationally
Scooping numerous awards for its West Coast wines, including the 2015 Decanter Retailer Awards accolade for Americas Specialist, Roberson Wine is a wine merchant that champions California like no other. It proudly and actively disregards old-fashioned, big, alcoholic, point-scoring Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, favouring modesty and elegance instead.
Although Roberson sells directly to customers (online only after its shop in West London closed at the end of August 2015), it also supplies restaurants with its range of cutting-edge wines, helping to spread the message about what Californian wines can offer today, throughout the UK. Roberson’s latest initiative, to supply wines on tap to UK restaurants, perfectly illustrates why it is in the vanguard of Californian wine here.
In north London, Muswell Hill’s newest independent store Prohibition Wines already has a neat portfolio from California, including classics such as Chardonnays from Hess, but it has esoteric options too, such as Tatomer’s Kick-on Ranch Riesling from Santa Barbara. The store’s affable and knowledgeable owner Paul Shanley is always on hand to offer tailored advice.
Once you’ve bought your wine, store it well with our guides to wine storage.
Both the South Kensington and Islington branches of award-winning merchant The Sampler are good destinations for those who want to taste leftfield California wines; Birichino’s Malvasia or the Scholium Blowout, a blend of Verdelho and Grüner Veltliner, are good examples of its approach. While it also has great-value Zinfandels, perhaps most interesting are the smaller parcels of older reds they pick up, such as one from Treana in Paso Robles sourced at auction.
With American owners, it’s hardly surprising that the Californian wine range in Wholefoods Market is worth exploring. Although its stores list tried-and-tested, reputable wines, it does so at reasonably sensible prices. That said, it has a few playful bottles on its shelves as well, the traditionalmethod sparkling wine made in New Mexico by the Champagne family Gruet being a good example and definitely one to try.
If independent stores prove difficult to get to, the pick of the high street is Majestic. Ravenswood’s Lodi Zinfandel is still hard to beat on price-to-quality ratio, although Majestic also has a great value Pinot Noir from Edna Valley on the Central Coast (it’s not often you hear the words ‘value’ and ‘Pinot Noir’ in the same sentence). For those shopping for names, Majestic also sells Ridge.
Where to buy Californian wine: Outside London
While both the Drinkmonger stores in Edinburgh and Pitlochry have a well-thought out and interesting range that nearly tops 60 in number, there is a larger selection online. The Gnarly Head wines show decent complexity for their £11–14 price-tag, while the Moobuzz Chardonnay is a local staff favourite.
Drinkmonger also sells the Roederer Estate Quartet Brut when available, one of the Golden State’s benchmark traditional-method sparkling wines.
D Byrne & Co in Clitheroe, Lancashire, is famous for its vast library of wines and its back catalogue of older vintages. This also applies to Californian wines, which exceed 100 in number, and include vintages dating back to 1997.
Amps Fine Wines in Oundle, Northamptonshire has become such a supporter of the West Coast of America that it has created a local Californian food and wine festival. The shop itself focuses on a select group of producers, with many wines priced at under £15 a bottle.
The Guildford Wine Company has a comprehensive range which might play it somewhat safe as styles go, but is certainly affordable. It also stocks halves, bottles and magnums of Ridge.
Even further south, Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton has an exclusive range including wines from Donelan and offerings from the Peter Michael winery.