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First USA Tasting


Attended the Institute of Civil Engineers on Monday for what I believe is the first ever purely USA tasting. Some excellent wines on show but suffering from the usual problem of being somewhat non-competitive pricewise. 37 wines to get through, but only 7 under a tenner. Admittedly, I was looking for a party wine for a 4th July event and managed to find one: the Peltier Road Sauvignon Blanc at £7.50. Very new world but plenty of fruit while remaining crisp and dry. Also liked the Pedroncelli Chardonnay at £10.50. Seems Jim has upped his game since I last tasted this at the winery 3 or 4 years ago - it’s now worthy of its Dry Creek Valley AVA.

The McManis Petite Syrah was really something different. A lot of black fruit which reminded me of an Australian durif , which is not surprising since it’s probably the same grape. £9.95 and very good value.

Zinfandels were much as expected and varied in quality according to price. I liked the Sorbon Estate (£16) - powerful and in-your-face but with a very good finish. The Society’s old vine zin remains excellent value - I ordered a dozen. The two Ridge zins were for tasting only.

There were a number of Pinot Noirs on taste from several AVAs, but the Lemelson three (£19.50 - £26) showed well. I always think Oregon does this best.

A very interesting tasting with some classy wines which brought back memories of a number of visits to Sonoma. Good to see both Matthew and Ewan here.


Thank you so much for the report. As you say, this particular tasting may not be classed as ‘Fine Wine’ but the average US prices are pretty high.

I’ve been enjoying a lower-end PN (which is probably the partner to your SB) from California which is surprisingly good value, but is more of a quaffer really so it would be nice to try the Lemelson wines at some stage.


Why do you think US wines are so expensive?


that could probably fill an MW’s dissertation paper quite easily, but here are my thoughts …

  • they have a VERY strong domestic market, so not as export focused
  • there is a strong branding / positioning behind top wines in order to capitalise on the above
  • many better wines are still made in lower volumes (you can get cheap, mass-volume wines from USA too, we just ignore these in this discussion)

There are wines made at many different price points but if they are hard to export, and you can make more money selling them at home (which is complicated enough with 3-tier system) then why bother?

If someone REALLY wants to export your wines, you can let them have stock but this will be limited and you will not be willing to offer discounted prices, so the knock-on effect is to add export costs and intermediary margins to an expensive product. This is similar to other markets such as Switzerland for example.

The US production market is still quite young and sells largely based on producer brands, not regional brands (as France or Spain do), so I imagine that middle-market brands with affordable prices and higher volumes will emerge.


Wow thanks @robert_mcintosh…i just thought it was because americans associated higher price with quality! There was a story i once read about a winery that released there vintage at $70 a bottle and received little demand. They revised the price at $120 a bottle and sold out with a waiting list. I didn’t know if it was a very crude attempt at a bordeaux/burgundy price gambit.


Unfortunately, its mostly the mass produced cheapest wines which find their way over here. There are a lot of drinkable party wines at around the $8-10 mark available in the US, apart from the “two-buck chuck”, but anything decent will be priced at a minimum $16-20. Class wines a lot more. And don’t get me started on restaurant mark-ups and the 18% minimum tip levels.


I think there is some vastly overpriced stuff from the USA, particularly the most famous regions like Napa. However I have found good wines from other parts of California, Washington, Oregon and New York. Its a pleasant surprise to see some decent and well priced US wine on the WS list, even at under £10 a bottle.

Someone should start growing Swiss grape varieties in the New World, the wines are terrific, but the Swiss Franc is unlikely to crash!


As others have said, decent US wine is expensive over there, too, not just here. In fact if you hunt around you can often get it at about the same price in the UK. Coming back to the original question of US tasting, see http://www.the-vineyard.co.uk/vineyardfestival.asp for a tasting coming up soon which I can highly recommend and is solely US wines.