America saved Europe. Not only in the two world wars but further back, in the 19th century, when European vineyards were devastated by phylloxera. Vines that had been exported to America, which were immune to the bug, were brought back to Europe and planted. Then European vines were grafted onto the American rootstock. So thanks to America, the European wine industry was rescued.
The turning point for American wine in Europe was in 1976 at the famous ‘Judgement of Paris’ when the USA won first prize for both red and white wines in a blind tasting held by the most distinguished wine experts in France. This was an incredible shock. Suddenly countries from all over the world were buoyed – they too could produce wine which would compete at the highest level.
The film ‘Bottle Shock’ (clip above) starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine is an entertaining account of this.
I’ve been a big fan of American wines since the 1980s when Ernesto and Julio Gallo wines in carafes were all the rage. They were pioneers in advertising wine on TV. Do any readers remember the ad with music by Vangelis?
It can be difficult to get good American wines in this country, but whenever I have an opportunity I try to taste them.
WineTrust has a few American wines on its books. Let’s not forget that North America includes Canada and Mexico. I visited Canada around three years ago, tasted wines from around the Niagara Falls area and was extremely impressed.
‘Why don’t you export more wines to Britain?’ I asked.
‘It’s too expensive in import duties.’
‘But Australia and New Zealand manage to do it,’ I said.
I hope post-Brexit that we will see more Canadian and American wines. I attended an event in London this week at Billingsgate market and tasted some very good Canadian wines. At the moment the yield is too small compared to Australia and New Zealand for export but this is bound to change.
What to match with American food?
Burgers: people always think ‘beer’ but a light red such as a Pinot Noir would work well with a cheeseburger. Keep it yankee by choosing the Small Hours bottle.
Pizza: a full-bodied red is perfect for pizza. The gorgeous Zinfandel mentioned below, for instance.
Mac n’ cheese: to cut through the cheese, the South African Botanic created by American Ginny Poval would be extremely quaffable.
Caesar salad: this great American salad, invented by Caesar Cardini, is creamy, crisp and fishy. Dry white or sparkling would set these flavours off marvellously, such as the Brut Roederer Estate Quartet, Anderson Valley.
Pancakes: it’s hard to imagine a wine that goes with American-style breakfast pancakes. But Andrew Quady Essensia would probably be delightful: a light, not too sweet, mildly effervescent pale orange dessert wine.
Winetrust 100’s North American collection
2015 Folk Machine ‘The Small Hours’ Pinot Noir £23
Organic, bio-dynamic, natural.
I’d love to visit this small winery. It’s very surfer dude: the wine maker is former surf bum Kenny Likitprakong, a native Californian. However most of the grapes for this wine are not grown by him, rather collected from local farmers, hence his company name ‘Hobo’.
Tasting notes: “Damson velvet”
Zinfandel is often considered to be the Primitivo grape. Primitivo is my favourite wine so this was right up my street.
Tasting notes: Raspberry, black cherry, fruit flavours. Liquorice, light tannins, long finish
While this is a South Africa wine, from near Stellenboch, the designer is a self-taught American, Ginny Poval. This extraordinary New Yorker visited South Africa in 2008 and was thinking about buying the farm. Her car got stuck in the mud and she asked one of the farm labourers to help out. Within minutes, all the workers on the farm came to her aid. Gratified by this communal feeling, she bought the farm.
Her first project was to create a self-build community amongst the workers so that they could construct together their own homes. They all got time off to help each build. Now they are home owners with high-quality houses. The label is gorgeous, from a work by 18th century botanist illustrator Mary Delany.
Tasting notes: Minerally, clean, fresh
This Californian sparkling wine has so much character and personality.
Tasting notes: Biscuity, pear, croissants, fine bubbles
Same thing but in pink! I took this on a cruise to Madeira with me but saved it for a sunny evening on the cabin balcony overlooking dolphins jumping through the waves as we left port.
Tasting notes: Smooth, a touch sweeter than the white
2014 Inniskillin riesling Icewine (Half Bottle)
Tasting notes: Honey, almost mead-like with a thread of lemon. “Like a packet of Lockets,” said my brother.
“Peachy candy floss,” murmured my sister-in-law.
2014 Andrew Quady Essensia £11.95
From California, this is one of my favourite Winetrust wines. Serve chilled.
Tasting notes: Floral, orange blossom, refreshing
Give North American wines a go – you’ll discover a whole new world.