California dreaming

Wine reviews – By Michael Wolsey

Wine tourism is a growing business and entire holidays are now organised around touring and tasting in the great wine regions of France, Italy and Spain. Many vineyards also open their doors for visits by individuals or small groups. But you need to book ahead – you can’t just rock up at the gate and ask for a look around.

In California’s Napa Valley, however, many of the wineries welcome visitors and don’t seem worried if you come unannounced. Since the scenery is quite spectacular this can make a good holiday detour – wait for Spring, though; California has had a pretty nasty winter.

Some of the vineyards are spectacular. The Sterling estate is overlooked by a craggy hill which you ascend by cable car. The Chandon estate has beautiful gardens and Mondavi is said to be worth visiting for the architecture alone.

The Napa Valley is not the only wine-producing region of California but it is generally regarded as the best and produces some lovely whites of the Chardonnay type and red Cabernet Sauvignons.

From the Zinfandel grape come some excellent reds but its rosés are too sweet for my taste and high in alcohol.

If you can’t afford to go to the wine, let the wine come to you. Californian wine is available in just about every supermarket and offlicence. It won’t cost you the price of a holiday but the good stuff can be quite expensive and the cheaper products are pretty awful.

The Berginer label, Joseph Phelps and Freemark Abbey are good names to look for. Expect to pay around the €20 mark. There are bargains to be had but for anything cheaper than €15, I’d say ‘buyer beware’.