It’s been a while since I attended a Chelsea & Fulham Wine Society tasting and since my last visit CFWS has changed venue. It now meets at Parsons Green restaurant Luna Nuova, a friendly family-run establishment which provided us with some very tasty nibbles to accompany our wine.
Tonight’s subject was ‘Fine Wines of California’, presented by Robbie Rugman, Fine Wine Ambassador for E. & J. Gallo Winery. I’ll be honest: I’ve never particularly associated Gallo with fine wines, so part of the appeal of this tasting was to challenge my preconceptions. Rugman was honest, too: asserting at the beginning of the tasting that Gallo wines aren’t always the preferred choice of the UK consumer and stating that he intended to showcase the diverse wines available in California.
For many years, Gallo was part of the world of bulk (i.e. supermarket £5 – £7) wines, but over the past ten years the firm has purchased new vineyards and produced different wines. In this, it is in sync with Millennials, who are buying fewer but better wines.
I loved the first wine we tasted. I’m a Pinot Gris fan anyway, but had no idea what to expect from this 2016 MacMurray from Russian River. A clear, pale gold, with an unusually fruity nose, the wine was fermented in stainless steel and I was intrigued by its creamy tones.
A winner – meaning that I was hoping for great things from the next wine, a 2016 Chardonnay from the Columbia Winery in Washington. The usual gold colour I’d associate with a Chardonnay, its nose, with a hint of peardrops, showed promise: its taste, alas, was disappointing. This, along with the 2015 Pinot Noir from MacMurray in Central Coast (“watery”, according to my notes), was the most disappointing wine of the night.
And yet, I loved the 2016 Chardonnay from Frei Brothers in Sonoma County. Its buttery nose promised virtually no fruit, and it tasted far more oaked than the first Chardonnay (a pet peeve of mine in respect of that grape), yet this deliciously complex wine was one to which I would happily return.
I’m glad to say that the next Pinot Noir, a 2015 gem also from MacMurray, was also very pleasing. Its peppery nose paved the way for a beautifully fruity wine whose spicy aftertaste I loved.
What, though, to make of the first Cabernet Sauvignon we tasted, which hailed from Sonoma County’s Louis M. Martini? I’m a big Cab Sav fan and loved its soft, fruity nose and dark red colour, but felt let down by its taste.
That said, after travelling back in time by one more year I was won over by the same winery’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, this time produced in the Napa Valley. This, to me, is what a Cab Sav should be about: that whiff of tobacco on the nose, that slight liquorice element: a steely wine that improves with acquaintance. Oh yes, this wine made me very happy indeed.
It’s a shame our final wine, a 2016 Orin Swift Abstract Northern California Blend, didn’t quite match up – but I didn’t dislike it. Indeed, I loved its fruit – but not its price; clocking in at £44, this was by far the most expensive wine of the night (to put that into context, the Pinot Gris retails at £17).
However, my eyes were well & truly opened by this tasting. Without a doubt, I will seek out E & J Gallo Winery wines in a way that I would never have done previously: it just goes to show how the preconceptions that we carry around with us can hold us back unless we’re prepared to confront them.