It's a pity there are so few American wines available here as many of them are drop-dead gorgeous. True, many are extraordinarily expensive but those that find their way here are usually of astonishing quality and value for money. Be bold and take a chance, some of the world's finest wines are currently being made in the USA.

2011 Chalk Hill Chardonnay

Having had the privilege of tasting some of the world's greatest chardonnays, including a single bottle priced at around $2000, this at a fraction of the price, is one of the finest. Utterly sublime. From one of California's benchmark producers from the north-eastern hills of Sonoma County, quality is always the Chalk Hill's focus. It has balance, texture and flavours of baked apple, pear, marzipan and whispers of orange blossom and nutmeg. Exquisitely fresh and seductively complex, it's a wine that's world class. Unbelievable at $69. see
2010 Sebastiani Zinfandel Sonoma County

Zinfandel is a quintessential American grape and does particularly well in Sonoma County. The 2010 vintage created a concentrated berry and intense fruit-forward flavour thanks to a cooler-than-average summer, meaning the grapes stayed on the vine longer. With big flavours of raspberries and white pepper, this is a medium-bodied wine with layers of cedar, coffee, blueberries and earl grey tea. Try with pasta or lighter meat. A bargain at $20.


2012 Lost Angel Cabernet Sauvignon

Gutsy with attitude, Lost Angel wines are for people who appreciate the bold, edgy and iconoclastic. This is different and exciting with 78 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 12 per cent syrah, 8 per cent merlot and 2 per cent of petit syrah. This is no-nonsense winemaking with a complete lack of pretence. Drink now with neighbours who have bravely fired up the barbecue and invited you over. Flavours of dusty black cherry, liquorice and concentrated fruit. We are thankful for a strong kiwi dollar. $19.

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Exploring Sonoma

Tasting rooms in Sonoma's wine region range from simple and rustic - two wine barrels and a slab of redwood - to the wine resort of Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola, complete with swimming pool, restaurant and movie memorabilia that include his Oscars, scripts, the desk from The Godfather and a Tucker car.

Across the county brewers are creating a California "Beer Country". Notable breweries are Lagunitas, Russian River and Ruth McGowan's Brew Pub in Cloverdale. For cheese lovers there is also a Sonoma-Marin Cheese Trail.

Beyond the gourmet food and wine, more than 50 pristine nature parks offer miles of hiking and cycling trails through towering redwoods or oak-studded hills. Rivers entice visitors to kayak or canoe; zipline excursions or a hot-air balloon ride add adventure. The Pacific Coast Highway delights with crashing waves, sea lions and otters and amazing sunsets.

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