Thursday, May 7, 2009

Report from ... Foster's California Tasting - April 22, 2009

Foster's (yes the beer company from down-under) has quite a stable of U.S. based wineries under its umbrella, ten to be exact; and we're not talking tiny little no-name wineries here: Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Stags’ Leap, Greg Norman (California Estate) and Etude, just to mention half, and seven of these wineries were in town just last month for the big California Tasting .... California must love Toronto and vice versa. As you have read, the California tasting is massive, so I was looking forward to a "smaller" tasting to wrap my head and tastebuds around some of California's icon wineries; but even with only ten wineries on hand that’s still a whopping 72 wines being poured … below I pick my top eight, by varietal. For those looking for whites, sadly you'll have to go elsewhere, most of the whites poured at the show were Chardonnay (with a few Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Gris) and nothing stood out to me here; though if I remember to do so, I’ll let you know which was my favourite white in the room in some kind of offhanded comment (look for it).

Cabernet … Top Cab honours at this event go to Stags' Leap Wineries 2005 ‘The Leap’ Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($99.95). This was a delicious wine that had big ripe juicy black fruit and a ton of chocolate; and as any chocoholic knows, you can't resist the chocolate.

Merlot … Sbragia, was showing 6 wines, and they had some of the best in the room – I mean that across the board. All 6 were in my top three of something. In fact, had I been doling out a top white honour their Sauvignon Blanc would have taken top prize. That said they also came up with two list topping, amazing reds. The first is the Sbragia 2006 Dry Creek Home Ranch Merlot ($34.95). The nose was simply jump-in gorgeous: sweet cherries and chocolate being the most prominent smells. The palate had a smoothness that glided over the tongue with seamless, supple tannins - a good fruit-spice-mix with lovely cherry and sweet black licorice that finished with hints of cinnamon. Gorgeous.

Pinot Noir … In the past California Pinot has not impressed me much, in general they are too jammy with too much candied fruit; but today there was a certain je-ne-sais-quoi in the air and three Pinots really stood out:
Beringer Third Century 2006 Pinot Noir ($19.95) - red fruit and vanilla spice greet the nose, a creamy mouth-feel with a nice tannin-to-acid mix on the finish.
Chateau St. Jean 2006 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($29.95) - good red fruit nose and flavour with a nice mineral quality on the tongue. Nice acidity backs this up with fine tannins.
Taz 2006 Fiddlestix Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills ($39.95) - this wine is the story of two cherries: the sour on the nose and the juicy supple red ones on the palate.

Red Blend … Here Beringer’s 2005 Knight’s Valley Alluvium Red ($39.95) won out by a nose, literally. The smell of this one just sucked me in and had me wading in the pool of its richness: mint, spicy-red fruit and cinnamon. The palate proved to be a little closed off of this moment giving hints of some smooth spicy character to come, but give it another year or so and it should shine as bright as the smell.

Syrah … It takes an Aussie these days to pull off Syrah/Shiraz and Greg Norman Estates 2005 Camatta Hills Reserve Syrah ($49.95) was just the ticket. The nose is black pepper, black cherry with hints of chocolate. In the mouth, you'll find it follows the nose to perfection with big black fruit and pepper; finishing off with robust tannins and a dusting of pepper.

Zinfandel … Here's your second Sbragia wine, and this one stood heads and tails over the others in the room: Sbragria 2006 Dry Creek Gino’s Vineyard Zinfandel ($39.95) - my notes are all in point form as I wrote down words that came to my mind while I savoured this wine: vanilla, cherry, plum (nose) … creamy smooth chocolate, big red fruit on the palate, finished with just the right amount of tannins. I’ll leave you with that hanging about on your tongue, for you Zin fans its heaven. Later.

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