Golden State's push into higher prices

06 April, 2007

Californian winemakers are innovating more than ever in the £5-£10 market segment, according to the Wine Institute's UK director, John McLaren.

Unveiling this year's selection of Benchmark Wines - judged in an independent blind tasting to represent the best of what is commercially available at that price point - McLaren said California was also responding better to the demands of the international market.

In this year's Benchmark tasting there was a noticeable trend towards leaner, cooler-climate wines - no jammy Pinots, over-ripe Cabernets or mushy rosés.

"Between £5 and £10 it has to be pretty pragmatic winemaking - this is where the dynamism and creativity is happening," said McLaren. "If you go to Californian supermarkets that's where you see the interesting blends and varietals. A few years ago all the innovation was at the top end. Winemakers are thinking more about the international sector when they create the wines."

McLaren declared himself "gratified, interested and entertained" by the judges' 2007 Benchmark selection: "We always seem to get this lovely balance in terms of the blend between big and successful brands and new and interesting things ."

California's market share in the off-trade is around 16.4 per cent by value but, due to the dominance of mega brands like Gallo and Blossom Hill, the state often only accounts for 8 per cent of shelf space. The Benchmark project is designed to alert retailers to other possibilities, though McLaren's focus has shifted a little from trade to consumer. "Buyers have caught up, so we now take it to the consumer - the trailer will appear at county fairs and BBC Good Food and the wines will be tasted by hundreds of thousands of people. It's all about pushing the diversity of styles."

The 2007 Benchmark Wines selection

Folie à Deux 2005 Ménage à Trois White

Hahn Estates 2005 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio

Robert Mondavi Woodbridge 2005 Woodbridge Chardonnay

Beringer Vineyards 2004 Founder's Estate Chardonnay

Sutter Home 2005 Gewürztraminer Gallo Family Vineyards 2005 Turning Leaf Shiraz Rosé

Mirassou 2004 Pinot Noir

Beringer Vineyards 2003 Founder's Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Hahn Estates 2005 Syrah

J Lohr Winery 2006 Wildflower Valdiguié

Delicato Family Vineyards 2005 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel

Ravenswood 2004 County Series Lodi Zinfandel

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