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Olly Smith's guide to Californian wine and travel

Jeni & Olly's West Coast Wine Adventure! begins this March on Travel Channel. Ahead of the series, catches up with the wine aficionado for his top grape guide to the region...

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Published: Friday, 28th February 2014 at 12:47 pm

Wine expert Olly Smith (Richard & Judy Wine Club) and Jeni Barnett (Loose Women) will go on a wine tasting trip around America's west coast this March on Travel Channel. "Melbourne and San Francisco are the two of the best wine and food destinations in the world right now," proclaims Smith. "The thing they have in common is an informal approach to excellence – you can taste the very best in atmospheres that are the polar opposite of stuffy. I love it."
The high-spirited pair will travel from Portland, Oregon to San Francisco in California, stopping at beautiful locations and leaving no bottle unopened. "Wine and great food are a bout revelling in the good things of life," says Smith, "They should make your heart sing, not feel like you're taking an exam."


Smith runs through his top five spots on the west coast of America, where you too can indulge in a Sideways-style wine drinking tour:

1. Sebastopol

Head to Zazu restaurant for the most charismatic, enthusiastic project encompassing kitchen and farm. It's a delicious and inspiring hotspot that belongs on your food trail.

Wine to try: "Wine maker Ted Lemon is producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, let alone the States," claims Smilth. "His Littorai Hirsch Vineyard 2011 is as herby, brooding and startling as a thunderstorm in a rosemary bush."

In Pinot Noir, expect to find a wine of delicacy and finesse. It should feel light bodied, and can range from perfumed when young to very earthy when it's been aged in a bottle.

What else to try in the area: "Visit Spirit Works Distillery for some outrageously tasty sloe gin," says Smith.

2. Medlock Ames

Just a short drive away from Medlock Ames is a winery with a superb speakeasy bar, a seductive garden setting and wood-fired pizzas to rival the best.

Wine to try: "Their single Block Cabernet Sauvignons are pretty tasty," explains Smith, "or else grab a cocktail and kick back in their photo booth for some hijinks!"

 "Cabernet Sauvignon is similar to blackcurrant," says Smith, "it tends to be rich, dark and powerful. Can be a bit of a rhino but in the right hands expect a rhino clad in velvet."

What else to try in the area: "Pop in on Justin Valette at Dry Creek Kitchen for some fine feasting!"

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3. San Francisco 

"You've got to go and visit my mate Joshua Thomas who is king sommelier at Prospect Restaurant," says Smith "Go for a glass of top vino, or pop in for some late night cocktails to Aub Zam Zam (1633 Haight Street), the kitsch Persian themed bar which featured in [Oscar-nominated movie] Blue Jasmine."

Wine to try: "In San Francisco for wine and food, you've got to head to Peter Granoff's Ferry Plaza wine joint, where you can sip fine wine and nibble on snacks or larger bites," recommends Smith, "The Ferry Building is superb for foodie boutiques and right by the waterside is lovely for a sip in summer."

Flavours: "If he's got any stock left, ask Peter for a bottle of 2011 Nalle Zinfandel from Sonoma County," says Smith. "It's lower in alcohol than most examples of this grape (13.7%) which can sometimes create Balboa wines of muscle and punch, but this is a more elegant and tantalising example. Grab a platter of cured meats and taste the signature grape of California with all the elegance of summer chiffon."

What else to try in the area: "Bluxome Street winery is the first urban winery to open up in 100 years," says Smith, "It's a working winery in the trendy SOMA area, with a glorious tasting room where you can see wine being made, and talk to the team and gain a deeper understanding of the winemaking process. It's a striking site and a reminder that prior to the 1906 earthquake, urban wineries were common in San Francisco. It's a completely wonderful project and a must-visit vino destination in San Fran. "

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4. Healdsburg

"This area is a charming one with stunning boutiques, superb restaurants and a few decent craft beer lists too," says Smith. "Expect discreet glamour and warm informality with every footstep. Head to Lytton Springs and go to Ridge – one of the most famous names in wine the world over," he adds. "Their tasting room and restaurant are superb with view out onto vineyards boasting some of the oldest vines in the States – some more than 100 years old. When I strolled among these vines for the first time I felt like I was meeting seasoned legends, a bit like going backstage to hang out with Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.

Wine to try: "Taste Lytton Springs at Ridge as you gaze out over the vines where the fruit came from," says Smith. "Lytton Springs 2011 is a blend of grapes with Zinfandel as the headline act and from those old vines, expect concentrated aromas and flavours with real complexity. For an inside tip, these wines taste great when young but if you can be patient and age them in a cellar, they unfold their secrets over the years and evolve into some of my favourite wines in the world. As layered, complex and intriguing as sipping a Dickens novel."

Flavours: "Zinfandel is spicy and bold and can be as punchy as a raspberry the size of a boxing glove," says Smith, "perfect for roasts and summer barbecues."

5. Sonoma

"At Scribe Winery they are making fascinating wine like no-one else on the west coast," says Smith.

Wine to try: "The white Sylvaner is bright and peachy," says Smith, "Brothers Adam and Andrew Mariani created the winery from an old turkey farm – and these two young brothers, who I am reliably informed by Jeni, are both 'hot hot hot'."

Flavours: "These guys are creating wines with huge characters – fermenting in giant concrete eggs called Greek amphoraes," says Smith. "I'd advise you to taste anything they put in front to you – expect a rodeo for your tastebuds.

What else to try in the area: "Feasting with Adam and Andrew at one of their events overlooking the vines is an experience you'll treasure for your whole life," explains Smith, "Wonderful people, heavenly place."

Watch Jeni & Olly's West Coast Wine Adventure! on Wednesday 5 March at 7pm on Travel Channel.


Visit California with Radio Times Travel, click here for more info


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