Lockdown 2020 has, despite the seeming barbarity of its restrictiveness, not been without its compensations for oenophiles like me. It has presented an opportunity to ease away from conventional wine consumption patterns and re-focus. For me, and for others too, it has been a chance to re-engage with fine wines at home and to appreciate them at a leisurely pace. A Case of Wine with a policy of fine wine at fair prices, encourages responsible drinking of wines you might not always get to try.
In the old normal, I remember those days of getting home from work and hastily opening the bottle of wine to hand. Little or no thought was involved, just a quick grab, red or white. I now have more time to ponder the contents of the shelves and I am making much more considered selections.
Idling through lockdown, I have taken to observing puffy clouds as they pass across the tops of the treescape I see from my elevated picture window. I bother to photograph and draw the more amusing or intriguing shapes: all sorts of human facial expressions; ships; aircraft – they are all up there. It has emerged as a new fascination and lockdown hobby for me. My other new fascination is more meaningful and a real rediscovery: Chardonnay. This gallant grape has emerged as my very own lockdown hero.
The partial loss of liberty and choice that accompanies the obeyance of governmental instructions has restricted choices in many ways. But Chardonnay has stepped forward and emerged as my liberator – the lockdown liquid equivalent of the Yanks, Brits or Russians – depending on one’s perspective. It has crushed the forces of restriction. There appears to be a Chardonnay for every moment. Ice cold, crisp and mineral examples from Chablis have worked well with the warm weather for afternoon refreshment. Slightly fuller bodied but unoaked or lightly oaked paragons from the Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast have ably satisfied for quality quaffing to ally with early evening TV quiz shows. Big, honeyed and mouth-filling Aussies have dedicatedly served well with all sorts of home canteen efforts – often compensating for the failures in experimental home cooking. And then there has been the stalwart rear guard – in full oak uniform, no camouflage, high alcohol bruisers that hit the target when a digestif to the day’s cloud contemplations needs enlisting.
Perhaps when normality is restored, we will all do things differently? In my new normal, I shall certainly remember to enjoy looking up at the sky, I shall salute Chardonnay’s amazing diversity and remember not to over deploy the military references in my writing.
Lists of the most prestigious, diverse, interesting, not to mention delicious, wine making regions will certainly include California’s Napa Valley. This relatively small valley (it’s a tiddler really) produces many of the top-rated wines and wine makers anywhere. It has prestige and luxury built into its brand. Visitors pile in and luxuriate in the world’s leading wine paradise. They cycle, drive and even train travel their way through the region. Some will walk, some will stagger. Napa Valley is the very best and thanks to its deserved reputation, you won’t find yourself alone in the valley.
It was not always so. The wine making story of this place is littered with tales of struggle and misery as well as a host of curious personalities and their individual battles. It was not necessarily easy establishing the Napa Valley’s reputation.
I have enjoyed the very good fortune to visit and live in this beautiful locale. I have even hosted tours through many of its highlights. Returned now to Scotland, it is still my privilege to take many wine fans on California wine tours without the need to travel. At A Case of Wine (Fine Wine at Fair Prices) our Napa Valley Wine Tour is a tutored tour where I will escort you through a fine selection of Napa Valley wines and guide you through the past and present of this wonderful place. And with environmental concerns at the forefront of Napa wine makers’ thinking, we can take a peek into the future too. I will pour you fine wines and discuss their properties and heritage.
The tour is recommended for groups of six upwards and can be hosted at your home, office or anywhere really. The price for this special wine experience is £80 plus the cost of the six wines poured (approximately £100 but more for older, rarer wines and vintages). The tasting generally lasts about ninety minutes. To find out more, discuss the wines available or to book, please email me, that’s AL@ACaseofwine.co.uk I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Yes, I know Tony Bennett’s mellifluous tones lament San Francisco, of which I’m very fond too. In fact, I remember my first trip to San Fran well – quite amazing since I was only 3½ years old. We had flown from Prestwick, via Boston and New York, and eventually landed on the other west coast. It was rainy, it was just like landing back in the west of Scotland. Then I remember the wonderful warmth that swaddled the little me, a radiant heat that seemed new and gorgeous. I remember thinking I’d flown all the way to heaven.
I’ve been back many times to California and though I enjoy the cities, yes, even the seemingly endless sprawl of LA, I prefer to get out into the country and soak up the pace of life in some of the more rural counties. None is better, to my tastes, than Santa Barbara. I fell in love with its beaches, its Spanish architecture, the galleries and outdoor markets, tree-lined beaches, sapphire blue skies and then, eventually, inevitably, the vineyards and the wines.
It was around about the time that the movie Sideways came out, but unlike many, the movie maker was not my informer. I found it myself on a tour around Los Olivos when my buddy and I went for a tour. He was driving and I wholeheartedly took advantage of this happy twist, and imbued like a thirsty student, eager to learn. I discovered that Viognier is the name of a white grape and more importantly, that I enjoyed it. I liked the balance of many of the wines and in the gentle heat and light breezes I enjoyed Santa Barbara Viognier or Rhone grape based white blends, with gusto – and local breads and cheeses alongside. It w
as all very artisan and although corporate America was behind some of it, that’s not what I tasted.
At A Case of Wine we always try and stock some wines from Santa Barbara. I really enjoy showing that county’s wines, sharing some memories and evangelising about its credentials for potential visitors. This month we are enjoying Cambria Winery Viognier. It’s elegant, gently honied and freshly fragrant from vineyards in Santa Maria. Perfect with soft goats’ cheese served under a satisfying sun or as a Scottish winter approaches, leaning against your Aga. With such great wines and its leisurely lifestyle, it’s Santa Barbara that calls to me.