Thursday, May 1, 2008

Report from ... 28th Annual California Wine Fair - April 28, 2008

California, what a royal pain in the you know what … imagine if you will a large ballroom at the Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto. Now, put over 120 wineries in there and have them pour over 450 wines – now try to get through all of that in two-and-a-half hours. What a pain in the …

Try as I might, last year I never even came close. This year I had a plan – go through the tasting book beforehand, pick out the wines of interest, and limit it to about 1 wine per winery … this averaged out because at some wineries there was nothing and at others there was 2 or 3. And oh yeah, chuck the usual stuff like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay – ditch the Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc – forget the Pinot Noir as well … go for interesting names or bizarre grapes or blends, and definitely check out the Zinfandels. This left me with a total of 52 wines on my list to taste – very doable, or so I thought … I never got past the halfway point in the room. What a pain in the … You’d need two full days to even make a real dent in the place – they should, by all rights, break it up regionally or something. But anyway, I tried my best ladies and gentlemen, I sacrificed my tongue, my nose and my sobriety to bring you my list of interesting California wines from this year’s California Wine Fair. Some that I tasted were never on my original list and some on the list I never got a chance to taste – too many wines, not enough time – who’da thunk it.

* Indicates my top three wines in the category. The others also come recommended.

Zinfandels …
This is truly California’s grape and the wine I’m talking about is not the pink stuff, it’s the dark fruit, red fruit, plumy, jammy, cherry flavoured beauties that go well with great bbq’ed fare like ribs, burgers, dogs – any grilled meat at all … even heartier fishes like salmon; but Zins are versatile wines that just beg for bbq sauce and sticky fingers. Prices range anywhere from about $15 and up – and there are some really great ones being offered in both the “older vines” style (100 years plus) and younger vines (15+) – so Zin-fans take note of these wines coming to, or now at, an LCBO location or consignment agent nearest you (presented in alphabetical order):

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2006 Sin Zin - $26.00
- lots of chocolate covered cherries in the mouth

Bogel Vineyards 2006 Old Vines Zinfandel - $17.50
- plumy, red fruited and herbed … peppery & plumy on the tongue

Clos LaChance Winery Buff Bellied Zinfandel - $17.95

- blended with 15% Primitivo & 2% Alicante – good concentration of black fruit

DeLoach 2005 Zinfandel - $15.85

- general list fall 2008 … strawberry dominated

Dry Creek Vineyard 2006 Heritage Zinfandel

- lots of peppery black fruit

Hess Collection 2006 Artezin Zinfandel - $21.00

- loved this one in ’04, not so much in ’05, but back in love in ’06 - delicious

* JanKris Winery 2004 Estate Zinfandel - $14.95

- bargain Zin of the day; fruity fresh with red fruit and cherry cola aromas

Kunde Estate Winery 2004 Century Vines - $37.95

- made from 130 year old vines; spicy & peppery – this is concentrated history

* Pedroncelli Winery 2005 Mother Clone Zinfandel - $16.85

- another bargain with smooth cherry and medium bodied mouthfeel

Peter Franus Wine Company 2005 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel - $39.95

- big, bold and interesting with a mix of red and black fruits

* Wente Vineyards 2004 Beyer Ranch Zinfandel - $17.95

- general list; young vines (15-20 years) – lots of cherry and sweet herbs

Meritages and Blends of Note …
California is getting into the wonderful art of blending, sure they have always been there, but the contents weren’t always listed on the label. Today they want you to know what the make up of the wine in the wine is, even if it’s only something like 2%, because that 2% adds character. They are also jumping on-board with the 5 Bordeaux grape blends (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec), going as far as to add the Malbec back that the French have forgotten about. Finally, there are some pretty interesting grapes that they have joined together in holy matrimony, ones you would have never thought of in this part of the world. The tasty and the interesting can be found below (again in alphabetical order):

* Bogle Vineyards 2004 Phantom - $23.95 (Old vines Zinfandel/Mourvedre/Petite Sirah)
- sweet cherries, jammy-plumminess, lots of red fruit … too good to spit

Cline Cellars 2006 Cashmere - $16.95 (Grenach/Syrah/Mourvedre)

- herbs and pepper in a smooth mouthfilling blend

Dry Creek Vineyard 2004 The Mariner - $49.99 (all 5 Bordeaux varietals – first ever)

- deep red fruit, peppery, lovely tannins and good ageability

EOS 2005 Novella Synergy - $18.95 (Petit Syrah/Petit Verdot/Cab Sauv/Sangiovese)

- interesting blend with interesting results – great black fruited flavours

EOS ‘The French Connection’ - $22.95 (all 5 Bordeaux varietals)

- woody, black fruit and good acidity

Freemark Abbey 2003 Bosche - $94.95 (Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot)

- luscious mouthfeel, smooth yet ageworthy, pleasant dark fruit and chocolate

Justin Vineyards 2005 Orphan - $24.95 (lots of grapes)

- from the barrels that don’t make the high end blends – great entry level wine

Miner Family Winery 2004 The Oracle - $77.95 (Bordeaux minus the Petit Verdot)

- P.V. will be in next year’s - for now we get smooth and mild with a hint of wild

Murietta’s Well 2004 Meritage Red - $42.95

- quite delicious with a mix of both red and black fruit

* Murietta’s Well 2004 Zarzuela - $42.95 (Touriga / Tempranillo / Souzao)

- unique blend of the show – Portugal/Spain mix, lip-smackingly good

* Newton Vineyard 2005 Claret - $30.00 (Cab Sauv & Franc/Merlot/Petit Verdot/Syrah)

- a favourite from last year is a fav again, but alas more expensive

Vine Cliff Winery 2005 Red Rock 5 - $50.00 (5 Bordeaux grapes – 75% Cab Sauv)

- brand new product bottled in December, very tasty first effort

Odds and Ends …
There were Syrahs and a Riesling or two, plenty of Chardonnays to be had, a few (hundred) Cabernet Sauvignons to be sure … I tried to take the path least traveled, but found myself sidetracked on more than one occasion by more than a few producers who swore there’s was better than the other guy’s – but then you have to know that it takes a certain amount of hubris to be in the wine business in the first place, after all with each bottle of wine, each vintage you are re-inventing the wheel (once more I’a a slave to the alphabet).

Bogle Vineyards 2006 Petite Sirah - $16.95
- white pepper and red fruit … a sweet fruity taste in the mouth for a dry wine

Clos LaChance Winery Ruby Throated Cabernet Sauvignon - $17.95

- Vintages Oct. 2008 – black fruited and smooth, great value and pretty label

EOS 2006 Zinfandel Port - $24.95/375ml

- sweet cherries and plums with a hint of chocolaty goodness, great after dinner

Lockwood Vineyard 2006 Chardonnay - $16.45

- Vintages Jan. 2009 – 20% new French oak adds depth to the tropical fruit

* Lockwood Vineyard 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon - $15.75

- Vintages July 2008 – silky tannins, big red fruit, great price – easy recommend

* Rosenblum Cellars 2006 Heritage Clone Syrah - $26.95

- from big Zin producer comes awesome Syrah – black cherry, plum and spicy

* Wente Vineyards 2006 Morning Fog Chardonnay - $16.05

- favourite general list Cali-Chard – great fruit, light wooding, easy sipping

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