Cool nights, misty morning and hot afternoons are what give the grapes on the US west coast the prolonged ripening season that not only increase sugar levels while retaining the acidity but also packs the fruit with flavors. In an exclusive soiree at the ITC Grand Central, the US department of Agriculture (USDA) along with Sonal Holland the beverage honcho for the ITC hotels hosted a west American wine knowledge session, of course complete with tasting some very good wines.
Sonal took the audience through the evolution of American wines and certainly in the entire scheme of things one couldn’t rule out the role of American root stocks in the wine world. For those who are still wondering, the American rootstocks are resistant to a dreaded vine disease called Phylloxera which wiped out the whole of Europe in the late eighteenth century, the louse is still a threat if not for the American rootstocks. Speaking of America crossing the chasm, my knowledge goes back to the historical 1976 Judgment of Paris, where the American Meritage blend Stag’s Leap wine cellars trounced the Bordeaux first growths.
Sonal then spoke about the robust wines from the more inland Napa valley to the distinctive Sonoma ones and not to forget the bouncy Pinot Noirs from Carneros. She also discussed some gems from Oregon and Washington state up North and some elegant and some strong pours coming from as south as Santa Barbara. Remember the movie Sideways, anyone!! The 1100 km of Californian coast practically grows every prominent grape variety. They have a classification called the AVA (American Viticultural area) equivalent of the European PDO however their regulations are more liberal encouraging winemakers to express their creativity given their understanding of the terroir and winemaking techniques. The first wine we tasted was a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Honig (RS 4200) a produce of Rutherford, Napa Valley, which showed lot of chalky minerality with generous but restrained underlying fruit and crisp acidity, frankly wouldn’t have guessed it as old world if I were to taste it blind. The 2011 Patz & Hall Chardonnay from Sonoma was typical American with powerful oak and tropical fruits; it was very well balanced with good acidity and a super long finish. Probably that explained the price tag of Rs 9200
Zinfandel an indigenous grape variety from the USA which Italy claimed to be theirs, they call it the Primitivo and some time ago Croatia asserted it originated there. It did not matter much to us as we sipped on the spicy medium bodied 2011 Zinfandel from the house of Kendall Jackson ( Rs 3600) a known producer; I loved the wine but thought it had a short finish. The 2011 Pinot Noir again from Kendall Jackson (RS 3600) a produce from the Mendoncino, was extremely fruity with some wet leaf aromas to begin, it was light with minimal tannins and the palate confirmed the nose. Nowadays at many international tastings the order of whites before the reds Is withering and we had a superb Oregon Pinot Gris by Erath poured just after the Zin, pronounced aromas reminiscent of flowers and honey, this wine was terrific and almost off-dry and was easy on acidity. We ended with a Washington State, Columbia Crest Merlot (Rs 2000) the cheapest wine for the day, now on reading cheapest some of us may have already passed a judgement but I strongly believe that quality is not the only factor that affects price. This wine may have seemed lackluster after the wines that preceded it, but it had good fruit and structured tannins albeit with a short finish and to be honest the 2008 wine put up a very brave face.
Last words, Indians have had their share of French and Italian and still continue to, Chilean and Australian wines are making their presence felt, Can America take a share of a the pie? Only time will tell but they surely have the potential to woo the Indian palate!!