Thursday, April 19, 2007

Report from: California Wine Fair - April 16, 2007

California … sun, surf, and sand, though now I am sure we should add wine to that list of California staples. There are proably more wines that come out of California than movies coming out of Hollywood. Doing some rough calculations in my non-math oriented, wine soaked brain after the show, I figured that with 56 pages in the California Wine Fair tasting book with approximately 2 wineries per page – if each winery brought an average of 4 wines (some more, some less, but they average out at about 4 per), you’d be looking at trying to taste approximately 448 wines. Now, if you consider these are just the ones they brought to showcase, there must be plenty more back at home in their respective tasting rooms, that’s a virtual sea of wine.

So there I was in a room filled to the brim with wine from sunny California and wondering where to begin my reporting, how do I get across the many flavours of the state of Schwartzenegger and Zinfandel, the state that beat the French at their own game in ‘76 and the state that has been accused of over-oaking their whites and under-oaking their reds? How about I start with the stuff you can get or will be able to get in the near future and move on from there.

Now (April – May):

Coming in May will be some Coastal Wine from Beaulieau Vineyards, sounds French but this stuff is pure California. Lots of great red fruit and easy drinking, at $12.99 a perfect wine for every day consumption and all BBQs … look for the 2005 Coastal Shiraz and the 2004 Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon in the general list section of the LCBO.

Cline Cellars has been a staple at the LCBO for a long time, mainly in the Vintages section – but their general list Zinfandel ($14.20 - #489278) is a real bargain for Zin fans – light, fruity with chunks for raspberries. Their Los Carneros Syrah ($20.15 - #955435) is also good value for the money – good body, excellent spiciness, you definitely get more than what you pay for in this bottle.

The Delicato Family is making a name change, shortening their name somewhat along the lines of KFC; now they want to be known as DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards). In May look for the Irony 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95 - #25106) at a Vintages near you, it’s pretty easy to spot with its distinctive orange label … in the bottle you’ll find dark fruit flavours and ripe tannins, there’s also some full bodiedness here; all made from Napa fruit that’s been aged in French and American oak.

Finally, in the “here and now” department (May 12), pick up a few bottles of the Robert Hall Winery 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($29.95 - #25205), it’s my pick for best Cab Sauv of the show (Bang for the Buck wise). $29.95 is not a lot to pay for a wine of this caliber. Good vanilla and cinnamon notes, lots of red fruit (mainly cherries) and touch of apparent sweetness through the mid-palate. The Robert Hall Vineyards boast Bordeaux style soil, longest hang times and great diurnal temperature, thus getting the best fruit, and I can’t disagree after sipping on this one, it’s delicious.

Later (June & Beyond):

I’ll start the later column with my Bang for the Buck selection: Dry Creek Vineyard 2005 Heritage Zinfandel (max $19.95, may be less upon release); the sailboat label seemed like a good analogy, because I was totally blown away by this wine. A sweetish-like mid-section carried this wine through my mouth … very red fruit dominated, some chocolate, light on the tannins, good acidity, a well-balanced wine through and through. The interesting part is the old clone vines the fruit comes from. Dry Creek takes old vine buds and grafts then onto new vines, therefore you get new vines producing old fruit … get it, got it, good.

Speaking of Zinfandel, June sees the return of the Gnarly Head Zinfandel from Delicato (DFV), it’ll be wine of the month in Vintages, and the price has come down 2 bucks from last year’s offering (now $17.95). Aged in French, American and Hungarian oak the wine shows signs of strawberries, raspberries, fruit compote, plums and a fig finish – made form 35-80 year old vines.

The Trinchero Family has a wine name that is sure to cause a stir at your next party if you use it at just the right time. Be prepared to pipe up and say, “Who’s up for a Manage a Trois? Red or white?” Both will be available for $18.95 on July 21st in Vintages. The white is a blend of Chardonnay, Muscat and Chenin Blanc, it has great playful peachy notes. The Menage a Trois red in Zinfandel heavy with Merlot and Cab Sauv in the supporting roles, lots of red fruit, chocolate and cherries here. Yummy!

Finally, if you can wait till July and beyond you’ll be able to get your hands on some sinfully good wine from Michael-David Winery. The 7 Deadly Zins is back – pepper and spice backed up by red fruit forwardness and a zip of acidity, all for $24.95. That should tie you over till the next wave come along … so be on the look out for 6th Sense Syrah ($24.95) with its spicy black fruit character (no release date yet). And speaking of character, the Lone Ranger of wine strikes again with Incognito, an award winning red blend who’s identity changes year after year; the 2004 version ($24.95) if full-on deli in the mouth with spicy smoked meat flavours – chewing a wine never felt so right (no release date yet).

Consignment Only:

L’Aventure’s Optimus, a blend of Syrah, Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot is fruity and enjoyable and contains less oaky flavours every year, so the fruitiness will continue to increase year after year ($65.00 – Halpern Enterprises). Rutherford Wine Company’s $23.95 Cabernet Sauvignon is a mouth pleasing red with sweet fruit, cherry, raspberry and chocolate (Eurovintage International). Finally, Z-52 has two Zins worth shouting about … Agnes Vineyard and Clockspring Vineyard, both $23.40 a bottle. Agnes comes from the sandy soils in Lodi and 45 year old vines: chocolate and spice dominated with red fruit taking a back seat, very smooth in the mouth. Clockspring hails from Amador County, grown 1500 feet up in volcanic red soil. This one’s meatier with more spices and a sweet finish, though it is still quite tannic (Small Winemakers Collection).

Special Mention:

“No representation?” I asked in awe of what Trygve Fekjan (of Arizona based American Wines International) had just told me, he shook his head. “That’s a crime,” I said. He was there representing JanKris Winery, located in Templeton California, and I had just sampled the 2004 Crossfire (Paso Robles), a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah and 25% Merlot … a totally awesome wine with tones of raspberry flavours that travel front to mid-palate, change to chocolate and pepper in the back and a lingering anise-like finish. Simply superb – somebody better pick these guys up and bring this bottle to Ontario. Please … it’d be a crime not to. By the way, their Cabernet Sauvignon was quite tasty too.

Closing off with news of a new winery opening in May 2007 in Medocino County … Jacuzzi wines, part of Cline Cellars but a totally unique winery unto itself. Growing more interesting, non-traditional grape varieties in California, namely Primitivo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo and other European (read Italian) grape varieties. Good Luck on this new endeavour … and if you get the chance try the Primitivo, it’s a cousin of Zinfandel (if not the parent) and has much elegance and finesse wrapped up in pepper and dark fruit (

So much wine, so little time and only one tongue to taste it all with … that’s the big dilemma of California wine. Cheers.

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