Sixty years ago a bill was introduced in the US Congress aimed at legalising wine and beer after 12 dry years of Prohibition. The bill proposed that wine should be allowed with a limit of 11 per cent alcohol and beer up to 3.2 per cent. But an amendment from a Californian senator, William Gibbs McAdoo, watered down the law, and wine and beer were both restricted to 3.2 per cent alcohol.

Thomas Jefferson, who did the patriotic thing by dying on 4 July 1826, would not have known whether to laugh or cry. America's third president was a firm believer in the benefits of drinking wine in moderation. 'In nothing have the habits of the palate been a more decisive influence than in our own relish of wines,' he wrote.

Having seen off the English, whose taste for the fortified wines of Spain and Portugal he despised, Jefferson seized the opportunity to tutor the American palate into the delights of the lighter table wines of France, Italy and Germany: their 'delicacy and innocence will change the habit from the coarse and inebriating kinds hitherto only known here'.

His prediction came true. Two hundred years after the Declaration of Independence, American red and white wines knocked a European challenge out of court in a blind tasting conducted by a French jury. Today, wine is produced in one form or another in 46 of America's 50 states. In 30 years, annual wine consumption has grown from fewer than five bottles a head to more than 10.

Yet there are still battles to be fought. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has come down heavily on a little California winery that dared to pass on to its customers the details of a CBS television report examining the link between red wine consumption and the low incidence of heart disease in France. The new temperance movement, led by Senators Strom Thurmond and Joseph Kennedy, wants legislation for health warnings on all alcohol advertisements.

In the UK, the American wine industry is having a tough time trying to reassert itself after the debacle of the early Eighties, when marketing in carafes led to a jug- wine image which stuck. Oddbins is the leading champion of the American cause, with easily the best high street selection.

Good value sparkling wines are few and far between. The biggest success in filling the vacuum is Mumm Cuvee Napa. This Californian fizz is superior to most of the cut-price champagnes currently being touted as bargains - and has the advantage of being widely available.


Mumm Cuvee Napa is an uncomplicated fizz with a refreshingly, tangy fruitiness, pounds 8.49- pounds 8.59, Safeway, Oddbins, Victoria Wine, Tesco, Sainsbury. Mumm Cuvee Napa Rose is its moreish, raspberryish sister, pounds 8.49, Oddbins (which has both wines on offer at seven for the price of six - pounds 7.28). For a champagne julep, add a sprig of mint.

Safeway's California White, pounds 2.89. The best value, most innocuous, clean and fruity party white I have come across from California.

J Lohr 1991 Monterey Wildflower Gamay, pounds 4.49, Oddbins. Beaujolais-like only for its low tannin and crisp acidity, in other respects this Gamay is more like the tart-sweet red juice of summer pudding fruits. Try lubricating strawberries or raspberries with a spoonful or two, slightly chilled, and an optional dollop of creme frache.

Matanzas Creek Merlot 1988/1989, pounds 14.95, Barnes Wine Shop, London SW13, (081-878 8643). Expensive yes, but one of the classiest American reds I have drunk all year, a merlot to rival fine Pomerol for quality. The 1988 is drinking well now, the 1989, rich in smoked oak and succulent cherry fruit flavours, will improve, but is hard to resist.