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Wine Notes: The Californian wines priced from £7 you should have in your wine rack

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Wine columnist John Kelman of Rutabaga takes us on a trip across the Atlantic to find out what’s hot with California wines…

A visit over to the USA specifically California, seems apt with all the political news coverage at the moment.

Let us put that to one side and take the edge off with some big hitting red blends. Think Merlot, Zinfandel, rose and white wines that showcase some of the wine styles available from this vast American state.

When purchasing Zinfandel (Primitivo) note that cherry flavours predominate, with lots of blackcurrant flavours that enjoy and benefit from oak ageing. Vines have been planted in California from the early 1800s meaning this lot know a thing or two about good wine.

John Kelman of Rutabaga.

For Merlot, expect generous yet fruity numbers. Traditionally found in “Old World” Bordeaux blends, it is widely produced in California.

Grenache is one of the most widely planted red wine varieties in the world and adds a little spicy highpoint, especially when grown during hotter conditions. It is very popular within blends, too.

Petit Sirah (Durif) is a red wine grape variety primarily grown in Australia, California, France and Israel. It is hefty on the tannins and features ripe fruits, which add another dimension to its blends.

American is a nation which is young, even to the “New World” wine family with most vineyards establishing from the 1960s onwards.

Some fantastic wines are available from the region via supermarkets and national retailers. However, we have picked some businesses closer to home with Fountainhall Wines (Aberdeen), Wine Raks and Rutabaga who represent some of the best online and local independent retailers.

With decades of experience with food and drink in and around Aberdeen and Scotland, I’ve also suggested some perfect pairings for you to try out, too.

Barefoot, Merlot, California, USA, N/V, – 13.5% alc./vol. (red)

This large volume winemaker which produces a great deal of the USA volume wines into the UK. A well recognised brand across independent and supermarket shelves, this entry level Merlot features sweet blackberries at the forefront. A guilt-free wine to enjoy with any midweek supper. Pair with some spiced bean enchiladas baked with some mature cheddar.

£6.99 from Fountainhall Wines, 75cl

Wildwood, Merlot, California, USA, 2018, – 13% alc./vol. (red)

Bursting with blueberry flavour, it has a soft but generous mouthfeel. A wine that is easy on the pocket for any occasion, why not instead of pairing with grilled lamb chops, try some goat for a healthier alternative which is becoming more popular. There are suppliers popping up over Scotland you can source your meat from easily.

£6.99 from Fountainhall Wines, 75cl

Longbarn, Zinfandel, Napa, USA, 2016, Vegan – 13.5% alc./vol. (red)

A big bramble-flavoured Zinfandel, this wine has some deep tannins on the finish. A good example of a mid-priced Napa Red, look to pair it with the Mediterranean roots of Zinfandel (Primitivo) with some simple pasta, perhaps with a rich tomato sauce with some anchovies running through the sauce.

£10.99 Fountainhall Wines, 75cl

McManis, Merlot,California, USA, 2016 – 13.5% alc./vol. (red)

This wine is from a sustainable growing tradition and has spent a little time in oak, which lends to a little touch of vanilla. A burst of blackcurrant in flavour and colour, try a minced lamb taco to pair. Add a little spice to taste and cool down with a little citrusy sour cream.

£12.99 from Fountainhall Wines, 75cl

Burlesque, White Zinfandel, California, USA, 2018, Vegan – 11% alc./vol. (rose)

A wine that does not take itself too seriously, this white Zinfandel is bursting with strawberries. It has a dry sweetness and should be served chilled. You could even turn it into a spritzer with a little soda. A twist on Japanese cuisine, the Californian  maki roll would go perfectly. Serve it with crab and avocado for a perfect fun-filled pairing.

£8.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl

Burlesque, Zinfandel, California, USA, 2018, Vegan, – 14% alc./vol. (red)

An entry level Zinfandel there are some black pepper notes throughout this dark berry fruit, almost jammy, wine. With a touch of oak in there, too, enjoy with homemade burgers for a Saturday afternoon. A little tomato and chilli relish would go great.

£8.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl

Cline, Zinfandel, Lodi, California, USA, 2018, Vegan – 14.5% alc./vol. (red)

This big “Zin” has juicy cherry notes which is usually associated with this grape variety. A bold ABV that does not overpower the plummy jam flavours. Long on the palate it is so worth the slight uplift. How about some honey roasted ham with beetroot and potato chips for a pairing?

£14.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl

Seghesio, Zinfadel, Sonoma County, California, USA, 2015 – 15% alc./vol. (red)

A great big and bold dark fruit-filled wine, it has some real delicious chocolate notes with hints of cherry. This wine will complement some rich cheeses, perhaps some fully matured brie or epoisse if feeling bold. Be sure to enjoy with some plum jam of course.

£25.95 from Wine Raks, 75cl

Blank Stare, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Russian River Valley, California, USA, 2017 – 15.5% alc./vol. (white)

A nod to white wines produced in this region, this barrel is fermented in French oak. A delicious wine which does not disappoint, its peachy notes would be well suited with shellfish. You may also wish to serve the shellfish alongside some risotto or orzo pasta as it is too cold for salad now. It is the first of four Orin Swift wines.

£49 from Rutabaga, 75cl

Abstract, Grenache, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sonoma County, USA, 2016, – 15% alc./vol. (red)

A wonderful blend with peppery notes, it is rich, but lively. Some cheery cherry flavours are packed in there, too, and I’d suggest trying on a Sunday with dry-aged roast beef with all the trimmings – and don’t forget the semolina dusted roast potatoes. Now that’s a perfect pairing.

£49 from Rutabaga, 75cl

Eight years in the Desert, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Grenache USA, 2018 – 15.5% alc./vol. (red)

This wine has fantastic length and boasts a rich mouthfeel. When tasting decanted, try it straight away only giving it the chance to breathe for a few moments. There’s plenty of rich dark chocolate flavours within this wine and blackcurrants a plenty. Home maple chip smoked picanha, gets my vote for the food pairing.

£55 from Rutabaga, 75cl

Papillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, USA, 2017, – 15.5% alc./vol. (red)

This big Napa blend pulls together the various grape varietals and ages for around 16 months in French oak. With round, big, black fruits, enjoy on its own or with a fine marbled ribeye steak, keeping all the lovely fat of the cut.

£60 from Rutabaga, 75cl


When not scribbling down wine-tasting notes, John Kelman can be found hosting virtual tastings and more at You will also find a full list of wines and spirits on the site.

For more in this series…

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