This year's generic tasting of California in London was a revelation. There was all this cheap wine on offer. The tasting tome listed all wines available for tasting with a guide price. Over the last few years I have become hardened to seeing the majority of wine offered at 'recommended retail price £20+', which can often mean £40 or more. This year, the book seemed stuffed with ranges offered at £5-7, and even the odd bunch at £3-5. What's going on? Major grape glut, that's what. It's almost as though this is a guilty secret and California producers want to ship all the surplus wine through the back door and across the Atlantic so as not to cause embarrassment back home...
Nevertheless, the standout wines of course tended to be the most expensive and there was no producer with a more consistently outstanding range than John Alban of Alban Vineyards in Edna Valley, Central Coast.
He's a most impressive guy, ploughing his own Rhôney furrow down south here with dedication and no distraction from the goals he has set himself. The 2000s have already garnered rave reviews and even higher points than the 1999s in the US and all I can say that if they are better, I can hardly wait to taste them.
What is so impressive about the Alban style is that it is such a recognisable blend of Rhône integrity, savour and depth with Californian gloss and warmth. If only all Californian Rhône wines were so serious. If only all Rhône wines were so welcoming and concentrated.
The Reva Syrah 1999 is miraculously thick yet refreshing too with great ripeness but a suitably dry finish. The Lorraine Syrah 1999, from a particular plot in the Reva vineyard and named after John Alban's vivacious wife Lorraine (English-born, if I recall correctly), seriously out-Rhônes most Côte Rôties, managing to be super-smooth while combining opulent fruit and wonderfully ripe tannins. I have not tasted Seymour (named after Alban's father) but the Grenache 1999 is extraordinary: herbally aromatic, dense, firm - no suggestion of vapid sweetness - with a finish of bitter chocolate and coffee. Bravissimo!
Now the inevitable bad news: prices. The Wine Treasury of London, SW8 which imports these wines into the UK charges £41.15 a bottle retail for Reva, £53.25 for Lorraine and £38.50 for the Grenache. Prices in the US start from $39.99, $49.89 and $34.99 respectively according to 15/04/03