California’s ‘new wave’ – keep on keeping on.
Posted on September 15 2020
The term ‘new wave’ is such a cliché, isn’t it? However, I cannot think of a better term to describe the changes taking place in California! Some of you may have missed out on this transformation, a seismic shift in the style of Californian wines being made over recent decades and, more particularly, in the last few years. I continue to champion the ‘new wave’ in California, and to quote Martin Luther King Jr., I “keep on keeping on”.
So, how would you get to the promised land? See what I am doing here? Well, you cross over the hills and mountains of the Coastal Ranges, boycotting the mass-market, manipulated wines of this world, of course, and you cannot help but reach it…
This cool Californian vibe is a sort-of wine version of the Summer of Love, if you like. Californian wines, once known for their over-extracted, oak-driven, fruit bombs are now described in terms of elegance, restraint and sophistication. For years now, far less, better judged or neutral oak is being used and the search for cooler or coastal sites and earlier harvested grapes has given brighter, more focused wines that reflect the sites they are grown. To sum it up, they are in a high-speed pursuit of sexy, balanced wines.
Recently, changes have accelerated and here is what the current generation are doing:
- Buying in fruit from growers, allowing them to start making their own wine. This is far, far quicker than planting their own vines, which is costly and takes years.
- Unconstrained by tradition and rules that govern winemaking elsewhere, they have the freedom to make more daring, experimental, less worked wines.
- If there is a tradition, it has manifested itself in the coming of a few disciples of Steve Matthiason and other visionary and maverick winemakers.
- Overlooked or dismissed regions, such as those close to the cooling Pacific Ocean or high up in the mountains, where diurnal temperature variations give classically balanced wines with much brighter acidity, are being explored.
California is in a remarkably interesting place right now and, with seemingly limitless potential, has a dream. My three exceptional, must-try picks, that reflect the very latest from this ‘new wave’ movement now, are listed below:
Kinero, ‘Talley Vineyard’ Chardonnay 2017
Anthony Yount is a star in the making and is currently fixated on just three micro-production white wines. His passion for white wine came from his father’s distaste for it! This inspired him to make a balanced and interesting wine with depth and complexity and, above all, one that his dad would like!
It delivers a highly pitched nose of zesty lemon curd, flint and peony. Lip-smacking flavours of pineapple, freshly baked pastries and toasted almonds are perfectly balanced by a precise and uplifting citrus zestiness.
Field Recordings, ‘Wonderwall’ Pinot Noir 2018
My new favourite Californian Pinot Noir comes from the engaging Andrew Jones’s passion-project called Wonderwall, which he says refers to the invisible barrier between yourself and your dreams. One of his first loves was and still is Pinot Noir and one of four leased, rugged vineyards, in the cool climate Edna Valley, is just over a mile from the Pacific Ocean: you can almost taste the invigorating sea air!
I think his 2018 Pinot Noir is his best vintage ever and Andrew feels he has got the perfect amount of stem inclusion, giving the wine that complex savoury note. A once daily punch-down delivers juicy, succulent fruit, only 15% new French oak adds a tiny slither of subtle seasoned oak and bright coastal acidity a stunning uplift and focus.
Notary Public, Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
The super star, South African brother of Hannes Storm, Ernst, has a side project from his Storm Wines. Having settled in California, he makes sensational, modern, refreshing and approachable wines. His main aim is to express the west to east cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean currents in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is extremely rare there and he sources grapes from just four tiny vineyards. Early harvesting and neutral oak ageing preserve a spectacular purity of fruit.
The wine announces its arrival with a cooling, breezy, menthol freshness and is a confident expression of sun-soaked blackcurrants with layered whispers of olive tapenade, smoked meat and capsicum but, above all else, is just so, so smashable.
Quite apart from the sheer joy, fun and serious appreciation on offer through these ‘new wave’ Californian wines, the remarkable speed of change is leading us closer to the promised land and we will keep on, keeping on…