The smarter way, from the US of A


It’s Independence Day! (Stating the obvious.) Which seems like a fitting moment to highlight the rather delightful stateside goodies available from Virgin Wines at the moment, to lift the lid on some exciting developments in the pipeline, and (last but my no means least) offer a recipe for a rather nifty star-spangled cocktail.

Andrew Baker and I have been doing rather a lot of work on American wines since 2011. At that point, there was relatively nothing Californian in the range, a response to the traditional poor quality-value ratio of these wines. Areas such as Napa and Sonoma boast some of the highest vineyard land-values on earth, and these hefty costs are often reflected in wines without being matched in power and flavour. Not good. So instead, we have focused our efforts on Lodi, a sleepy town with a Bohemian vibe not far from Saramento. Here, we have harnessed an armoury of fantastic old vine stock to craft some sun-splashed, larger-than-life treats that you can be assured of enjoying.

USA Montage - Andrew Baker with Marissa Lange

The Intrepid Bear “Brown Bear” Pinot Noir forms the focus of this week’s email offers (and it’s super stuff) but let’s not forget Zinfandel, California’s signature variety, of which Vespertine is a delicious example. Blended in a more contemporary, laid-back vein than the knock-yer-block-off Zins of old, it is fruitful and spicy with loads of typical raison-cocoa Zinfandel flavour. Lovers of white wines will go crazy for The North Ritz Road Viognier Pinot Grigio, the first of many collaborations with the stunning LangeTwins winery, also in Lodi. LangeTwins is something of a phenomenon: impassioned growers turned winemakers – the place where many of California’s top wines custom-crush their top wines. This example overlays Viognier’s flowery, floral exuberance with a healthy dollop of Pinot Grigio, lending it a bracing acidity and better-defined structure. A treat with spicy buffalo chicken wings! Finally, Gypsy Lee Rosé White Zinfandel has been reblended for 2013: with its soft melon and strawberry flavours, it’s prettier and lovelier than ever.

There’s much more in the pipeline. A lengthy tasting at LangeTwins with Marissa Lange herself in January unearthed some magnificent reds, of which the first, a super-refined Cabernet Sauvignon, will be offered via email at the beginning of September, followed by Malbec and Zinfandel later in the year. Lovers of Lodi Lounge, Star and Vine, La Poeme Noir and Que Syrah, Syrah will also be rewarded in the coming months with bright new vintages of their favourite wines.

Of course, there are moments when even the most die-hard wine aficionado grows tired of the grape and longs for something… well, less grapey. For those moments (and I write this thinking about the bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon sitting in my kitchen cupboard at home!) how about a mint julep? This traditional cocktail is all the rage in Kentucky and Tennessee and is easy to make. Whip up a simple syrup (100g sugar to 200ml water) in a pan until combined and allow to cool. Muddle some mint – be generous here – with as much Bourbon as you can cope with. Add plenty of ice, squeeze in a little lemon, and finish with a splash of the sugar syrup (not too much – it’s very, very sweet). Allow the ice to melt for a short while, and then enjoy. Don’t drink too many of these – they may taste pretty harmless but they are not!

And, when you eventually do reach for the wine again, don’t forget to check out our star-spangled treats listed above. Ours is truly the smarter way in the US of A – focusing on sheer quality and flavour rather than over marketed regional hype. Cheers to our American friends, and cheers to you – have a great weekend!


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