California dominates the USA wine scene, and is responsible for four out of every five bottles. The Golden State has the big names, star regions and reputation, and is the first place most wine drinkers think of when the topic of US wine comes up.
It’s not all about California, though – wine is, in fact, made in every single state in the US (even Alaska). Other key regions are Oregon, Washington, New York and Virginia, and all bar New York won medals in this year’s IWSC.
Vineyards were first grown in the USA in the early 1600s, but it took another 150 years for the first grapes to be planted in California, with the real surge following the Gold Rush in the 1850s. European winemakers owe their American counterparts a huge debt of gratitude, too – after the phylloxera louse wreaked havoc by destroying vines across Europe in the late 19th century, it was discovered that American rootstocks were resistant to the pest, and millions of cuttings were sent over to limit the devastation.
The single-most important piece of American wine history happened in the 1970s, however. The Judgement of Paris was a blind tasting organised by the late wine expert Steven Spurrier, which saw the finest French wines pitted against their Californian counterparts. To the astonishment of everyone, Californian wines came first in both white and red categories, establishing its reputation overnight.
There were plenty of Californian success stories in this year’s IWSC, too, with eight Gold medals, including two for the Francis Ford Coppola winery. The Archimedes Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 wowed the judges with its notes of blackberry, blackcurrant and menthol, while the Director’s Cut Zinfandel 2017 displayed sweeter aromas of vanilla, coconut and violets. Outside California, the Twill Cellars Chardonnay 2018 from Oregon’s highly regarded Willamette Valley also scored a Gold, with 95/100pts.
Each USA wine was organised by style and colour, and tasted blind by a panel of experts. Chairing the judges panel was Master of Wine Alistair Cooper, assisted by Master Sommeliers Svetoslav Manolev and Eric Zwiebel, Wine Society buyer Sarah Knowles MW and writer and presenter Helena Nicklin.
The US is capable of every wine style under the sun, so you’re sure to find one in tune with your palate – and it’s worth looking beyond California, too. Here is our list of the best USA wines.
Top USA wines 2021
- Twill Cellars, Chardonnay 2018. Willamette Valley; 95/100
- Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Archimedes Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. Alexander Valley; 95/100
- Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Director’s Cut Zinfandel 2017. Dry Creek Valley; 95/100
- J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Tower Road Petite Sirah 2018. Paso Robles; 95/100
- Jesse Katz, Exposed Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. Alexander Valley; 95/100
- Richard Bruno, Petite Sirah 2018. Clarksburg; 95/100
- Scheid Family Wines, Ranch 32 Chardonnay 2019. Arroyo Seco; 92/100
- Z. Alexander Brown Wines, Uncaged Chardonnay 2019. Monterey Country; 92/100
- Camille Benitah, Volute 2018. Napa Valley; 92/100
- Dave Harvey, Upriver Cabernet Sauvignon 2019. Washington; 92/100
- Franc Dusak, 3rd Generation Zinfandel 2018. Sonoma Valley; 92/100
- Robert Mondavi, Private Selection Zinfandel 2019. California; 92/100
- Cellar Crew, The Cellar Cru American 2019. California; 91/100
- David Akiyoshi, Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. California; 91/100
- F. Stephen Millier, Legend Series Dickson Road Zinfandel 2019. California; 91/100
- Grgich Hills Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. Napa Valley; 91/100
- Karen Birmingham, Barbera 2019. Lodi; 91/100
- Trefethen Family Vineyards, Dragon’s Tooth 2018. Napa Valley; 91/100
How do we judge these wines?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous wine tasting process. That means that each wine sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC wine judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the wine industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
How do we score these wines?
Only the best wines sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, wines have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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