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Golden State pushes affordability message with £50+ tasting

Published:  30 September, 2019

California Wines staged the second of its annual Collectible California tastings at the US embassy late last week, in what the organisers described as “probably the most expensive California tasting ever put on in London” in terms of bottles opened and poured.

With the minimum entry bar set at £50 RRP per bottle (or equivalent), and special features, including an exclusive comparative 2015 – 2005 tasting of Napa estates such as Heitz, Harlan, Pahlmeyer and Favia, taking the top price up to £1,000, that assertion could well have been true.

Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, though, the point being made by California Wines is that they are “taking the bull by the horns”, said Wine Institute of California’s co-director Justine McGovern, looking to tackle head on the perception that the State's wines are expensive.

The first step has been the splitting up the annual generic tasting into two events, the earlier Essential California in spring, comprising wines up to £50 in the more relaxed environs of Shoreditch, and the early Autumn Collectible Tasting at the embassy, where the focus falls on many Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet-based wines.

Those latter wines of course, compete with Burgundy and Bordeaux on the list, with the idea being that £50+ price comparison doesn’t look particularly stratospheric when compared with wines from those big hitting – and increasingly expensive - French regions.

"Last year, when we split out our two tastings [on price], it was the first time we were aware that it had been done, although Australia then did something similar, with wines up to £20,” said Damien Jackman, fellow UK co-director of Wine Institute of California.

“We had a lot of nonsense from people a lot of the time saying ‘how much is it, how expensive?’, so we went ‘yes, it is, and it’s worth it’, and we’re going to prove it, not shy away from that,” added McGovern.

“And guess what, [the wines] are great value when you put then up against Bordeaux or Burgundy, especially when it isn’t showing so well. So when you have the people from [sommelier-run private members wine club) 67 Pall Mall down here, people who regularly buy top Burgundy and Bordeaux, and they taste these wines, discover the price, and say ‘wow, that’s great value…’ – at the end of the day it comes full circle,” she said.

Conversely, the Essential tasting was all about positioning more affordable styles of wine in an environment where the competition would be perceived as being other quality New World wines, along with rivals from Europe.

Agents and importers at the Collectable event confirmed the growing levels of interest for high end California, as evidenced by a strong turnout of senior buyers and press at the embassy on the day.