Calling all California wine lovers in the UK — find out the where to buy your favourite west coast wines, as Jane Parkinson rounds up the top wine shops supermarkets and online retailers...
This article first appeared in Decanter magazine’s California supplement 2017. It is currently featured on Decanter.com as part of a sponsored campaign with the California Wine Institute.
UK buyer’s guide to California wine
Wine has been notorious in the UK for its absence of middle ground pricing – roughly speaking, the £10-£15 mark. After years of being promised that California really does make wines in this range – and not just wines at rock-bottom or sky-high prices – we’re finally starting to see them break through onto the British buying scene.
Here are the best wine shops, supermarkets and online retailers to get your Californian wine fix…
Best wine shops
Butlers Wine Cellar
With an impressive haul of 150 Californian wines under its roof in Brighton, Butlers’ range is a case of seeing is believing. Notwithstanding the sexily priced heavyweights, such as various Peter Michael wines, it also sells fabulous ‘New Age’, low-intervention wines from the likes of Wind Gap, such as its Orra Grenache Blend at £24 (and the Nebbiolo at £40). There are plenty of reliable favourites, too, including the juicy De Loach Pinot Noir for less than £15. Overall, a great breadth and depth of styles and price can be found here.
This impressive, Scottish-based merchant has shops in both Edinburgh and Pitlochry and stocks a modest but well-chosen selection of 30-plus Californians, sourced from excellent importers. The offerings in the £10-£20 and £20-£30 price brackets are the strongest – and although classics, such as Ridge and Clos Du Val, occupy the pricier slots on its list, there are also excellent choices to be had for less than £15, especially Gnarly Head Petite Sirah and Moobuzz Pinot Noir.
Lea & Sandeman
It’s undeniable that this award winning London-based merchant is renowned for clever finds from the Old World – France and Italy in particular – and for offering value for money, too. But it has more than 20 Californian listings that are worth a peek. While there isn’t much under £20 and the top end is populated by Bacio Divino, the less expensive wines include winemaking legend Jim Clendenen’s labels Au Bon Climat and Qupé.
Run by a wine-loving husband-and-wife team in north London, Prohibition Wines can be commended for its representative ranges from individual Californian producers. For example, there’s a healthy collection of wines from the experimental Birichino, including its Jurassic Park Chenin, as well as an impressive collection of Ridge from Geyserville 2013 at £34.70 to Monte Bello 2012 at £119.30. It also lists the delightful portfolio of Sandhi wines from Santa Barbara and the Santa Rita Hills, priced between £30 and £50.
With two London stores, The Sampler was one of the first of the bevy of modern independent wine merchants that now grace the capital’s streets. It represents an eclectic range of Californian wines, including Mendocino’s Handley Cellars, Hoopes from Napa and Scholium, which is in seriously limited supply. Does The Sampler sell some of the cheapest Californian wines around? No, but it does sell some of the tastiest.
If you skip over the big-brand, entry-level sweet pinks, this awarded supermarket’s Californian range of about 25 wines is very appealing – albeit with some safe choices. Beneath the £15 mark there’s Bonterra’s organic Merlot, a Lodi old-vine Zinfandel and even a Monterey Pinot Noir; while Carpe Diem Pinot Noir tops the range at £32.
Best online retailers
Drowning in trade awards for its range of Californian wines, Roberson is now exclusively online. The secret to its Californian success is that it cleverly mixes old-school gems, such as Viano Vineyards, with new kids on the block, such as Broc Cellars. Within its 180-plus range, Roberson is about breadth of choice as much as it is about value for money. The supremely delicate wines of Arnot-Roberts from Sonoma are not to be missed – they remain value for money despite a high price-tag.
Stannary St Wine Co
This online merchant has two regional specialities: Burgundy and the US. This might seem like an unlikely combination, but there are some significant cross-overs, particularly Napa Valley’s Snowden Vineyards (Stannary’s first US listing). Diana Snowden Seysses is the winemaker for both Snowden and the Seysses family’s Domaine Dujac in Burgundy; she’s married to Jeremy Seysses. Another notable producer is Failla, and there are also quirkier listings like Skylark’s Pinot Blanc from Mendocino. Generally pricey, but the wines are befitting of Stannary’s high standards.
Like a museum where you can actually buy the artefacts, this retailer is the Mecca of top-end and rare Californian reds. Its penchant for the very best is evident on its website, where its most populated price bracket is £100+ a bottle. There are currently 36 listings within this lofty price range, including Peter Michael, Tor and Moone Tsai (a collaboration between former Beringer boss, Mike Moon, and the Tasi family) – as well as back vintages aplenty. To find that very special something from California, this is the place to shop.
Jane Parkinson is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, and a DWWA judge in 2017.