Monday, April 13, 2009

Report from ... California Wine Fair – Monday April 6, 2009

The 29th installment of this annual bacchanalia was held once again at the Royal York in downtown Toronto. This year, as last, I got a chance to feed my face on California's dime, at their seventeenth annual "Toast to California" luncheon. Salmon, steak, cheese were all highlights of the menu, along with a few nice wines (listed below) - but the real highlight for me was guest speaker Joel Peterson, winemaker and master of Zin at Ravenswood winery. Regular readers know, I’m a fan of good Zinfandel and there's no better show to find such taste treats … but to listen to one of the head Zin-makers of California, well that's a treat unto itself.

Choice Quotes …
"We live in a fantastic time of wine and people's acceptance of wine."
"When you make a wine recommendation you can change a whole life." In reference to a bottle of 1945 Chateauneuf-du-Pape and his son’s own wine company: Bedrock Wine.

Zin-istory and Zin-bits …

Zinfandel started its life in Croatia moved to Vienna than to New York and Boston before finally founding a home in California during the gold rush in 1851.

The 1883 Harrod’s catalogue has a Zinfandel for sale listed as “good wine” and during prohibition it was mainly Zinfandel that home winemakers were making their allotment from.

During the Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway this year Zinfandel was served.

ZAP (the Zinfandel Advocate and Producers) first met twenty years ago, poured approximately twenty wines and had approximately 50 people at the tasting; today that get together is a weeklong festival with over 300 wineries pouring more than 900 wines to well over 9,000 people.

Lunch Time Wines …

Ferrari-Carano Winery 2006 Alexander Valley Chardonnay - very smooth and creamy with butter and vanilla smells and flavors.
Ferrari-Carano Winery 2006 Siena - a blend of Sangiovese and Merlot, quite delicious and well balanced with primarily black fruit, chocolate and herbs.
DeLoach Vineyards 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir – line priced at $14.95 ... nice strawberry on the nose with hints of earthy-strawberry in the mouth and a nice pleasant finish.
Paul Hobbs Winery 2005 CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon - big peppery, blackberry smells with silky tannins on the tongue and good acidity.

The Wines of Note …
With over 532 wines on display (133 wineries times approximately four wines each) - there is something for everyone ... but surprisingly, not a Riesling in the room. Here's my list of top wines, (value and price have nothing to do it, because in some cases price wasn’t known or listed for this market) … and of course I did not try them all – or I would probably still be in hospital, so when I say “best” they’re the best of what I tried:

Best Chardonnay … a California staple – this actually came down to the following three wines:

Newton Vineyard 2006 Napa County Unfiltered Chardonnay - stunning, lots of pineapple and vanilla, great fruit, good acidity - powerful and delicious.

Merryvale Vineyards 2007 Carneros Chardonnay - creamy, buttery, toffee with a great mouth feel and deliciously smooth.

Carmel Road 2000 Chardonnay - for good value this $25.00 Chardonnay from Jess Jackson delivers: great fruit nice acidity – lemon/lime, kinda Sprite-like without the fizz and/or sugar. Beautiful.

Red Wine Blends …

Big House 2006 GSM - once a Bonny Doon property, the winery was sold to Coca-Cola’s wine branch: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - with a very Zin like nose, fruit forward with lots of cherry.

Bonny Doon 2004 Le Cigar Volant - nice nose, good black fruit and white pepper with balancing tannins.

Cline Cellars 2006 Earl’s Late for Dinner Red - eleven grapes make up this blend, a real everything but the kitchen sink combination. Developed for the popular Earl’s restaurant chain you can now get it in Ontario on consignment for $18.95 a bottle, it's a great easy drinking red.

Justin Vineyards and Winery 2006 Savant - a Syrah-Cab blend that’s got peppery-spicy-chocolate … believe me it's a good combination.

Newton Vineyard 2006 Red Label Claret - I've liked this blend for years, I found the 2005 disappointing but the ’06 seems to be a return to form for this wine. A nice smooth juicy red with delicious character.

6 Killer Zins (as opposed to the seven deadly ones) ...

Blue Moon 2006 Old Vines - coming November 2009 to a Vintages location near you - nice spiced-plum notes with chocolate and some tannins along with good acid bite. This’ll turn ya into a Zin-fan if you’re not already one.

Clos LaChance 2006 Central Coast - a lighter style Zin (13.5% alc.), good acidity backs this one up along with nice, though typical, fruit … very tasty.

Delicato Family Vineyard 2006 Brazin Old Vine – one of my favourites wines on the day … made from their oldest plot of Zinfandel vines: lots of vanilla, plum, pepper, spiced-plum and other flavors, I totally dug into this one.

Haywood 2005 Los Chemizal Vineyard Morning Sun – made from fruit grown at the lowest elevation of the vineyard, I found this one to have bright fruit characteristics and lots of vanilla oak to carry it along … soft and easy.

XYZin 2007 - lots of fresh fruit, vanilla and plum on the finish, sound pretty standard for Zin but a lovely taste of juicy fruit really made this one stand out.

The Three from Z-52 …
A house that specializes in Zinfandel, I tried three that they make from fruit sourced in different parts of California; it was here that I found three very different faces of Zinfandel.

2005 Agnes’ Vineyard (Lodi) - from 48 year-old vines, rich plum and great cherry, soft on the palate with a sweetness typical of Zinfandel; typical but delicious.

2006 Clocksprings Vineyard (Amador County) - 46 year-old vines in a great place to grow Zin (or so I am told by an independent third party), Amador County, big black cherry, huge fruitiness, loaded with tannins.

2005 Truchard Vineyard (Napa) - a limited production Zin, only 365 cases produced, lighter fruit than the big jammy ones above, more cranberry like elements with tarter flavors, delicate and more refined, not your usual Zin-big fruit sweetie ... this one's atypical but A-OK and a real welcome change.

Catch a Cab … avoiding a Cab in California is impossible, but trying to find one with unique character can also be tricky - here are a few I found that were quite a lot of fun.

Artesa Winery 2005 Napa - juicy fruit with blackberries and nice tannins, aged 21-months in French oak.

Ridgeline 2004 Alexander Valley - this one was at the Artesa table but had no markings of the Artesa brand … who’s ever it was it was lovely - lots of red berries (strawberry / raspberry) and just a lovely taste treat. A follow-up email confirmed that this was not an Artesa wine, so I ask, who was that masked wine? And why did it taste so good?

Darioush Winery 2006 Napa - this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon has rich blackberry and juicy chocolate … or should that be the other way around?

Dierberg Family of Wines Three Saints Vineyard - juicy black fruit, ripe tannins, a great finish that proves to be both a little spicy and herby … not jammy in any way.

Esser Vineyards 2006 Lodi - this wine was tasty with nice red fruit and a touch of wood, but it was the price that jumped out at me, $17.95, now that's a good value wine.

One More for the Road ...

Vina Robles 2006 Petite Sirah - lovely wine, if you like spicy and peppery as the main components of your glass of red … there's also lots of black fruit here, but it's the spicy/peppery that really shines through.

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