Saturday, March 27, 2010

Report from … California Preview Tasting – March 23, 2010

On April 19, 2010 the Californians will be turning Toronto into Napa-, Sonoma-, Carneros-, Paso Robles-, (and every other AVA in between) North.  Tonight, a bunch of us writer types were invited to get a small sampling of the more than 400 wines that will be poured that day.  Broken down into 7 flights, some as small as 4 wines, others as big as 10, ranging from Chardonnay to a Port-style wine called “Starboard”; 58 wines were poured in total.  Below I break ‘em down by favourites in their respective flights.

Flight A – Chardonnay (9 wines poured)
I like that I am consistent in this category.  2 years ago I liked the same wine I liked tonight, last year it was not as good, but I see they are back to form with their 2008 edition.  I’m talking about the Wente Vineyards 2008 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($16.95 – LCBO).  I liked the fruit character here; led by melon with some pear and apple as backup … this one has more fruit than wood and I like that in my Chardonnay (***½). The rest of the flight, unfortunately, did not impress.

Flight B – Pinot Noir (8 wines poured)
Good thing Pinot Noir came along to rescue the tasting from its rather boring beginning.  This was a very strong category, but you have got to like Cali-Pinot, which is more fruit than earth.  Favourites here were the Sandford 2007 St. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($43.95 – Vintages August 2010) – big cherry nose with a touch of raspberry and strawberry, which all follows pleasantly onto the palate; there’s good structure with a nice balance of tannins and acidity. (****)
The Laird Family Estate 2008 Pinot Noir (N/A in Ontario) was also quite pleasant with black cherry throughout, there was also the nice tannins and spice.

Flight C + D – Zinfandels (7 in C plus 4 in D – total of 11 wines)
Another powerful flight, and I’m not just talking alcohol levels here, these wines showed some really good finesse on the palate, especially the 4 wines in flight D.  This is California’s heritage grape, and the wines I am talking about are not the pink sweeties; when I say Zinfandel I mean the big, bold reds that are fruit driven wines with plenty of alcohol.  Selections here include the Cline Cellars 2008 Ancient Vines Zinfandel, which I reviewed for the Vintages release of May 1, 2010 – and is one of my best value selections – a 5-star, 15% alcohol brute that’s actually a beauty.  E & J Gallo 2007 Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vines Zinfandel ($19.95 – Vintages), another Vintages recommendation (March 20, 2010).  Also part of the first 7 wines was the Barra of Mendocino 2004 Zinfandel ($23.75 – Private Order) – this one showed the complexity of an older Zin: cherry, plum, vanilla with good acid bite and some nice spice and tannins mixed in with that fruit (****).

Flight D showed four very good Zins by such names as C.G. Di Arie Vineyard (2006 Zinfandel) – ****½; Titus Vineyards (2007 Zinfandel) – ****; Peter Franus Wine Company (2007 Zinfandel) – ****½; and Seghesio Family Vineyards (2008 Zinfandel) – **** … all ratings are out of 5.

Flight E + F – Cabernet Sauvignon (10 in both flights for a total of 2 wines)
This was a rather disappointing couple of flights.  These 20 Cabs started to taste alike after while, it’s as if there’s a formula that everyone is now using to create the “quintessential” California Cab, which means they are lacking in diversity.  There were some good ones that garnered 4-star ratings and seemed to rise above the crowds sameness:  St. Clement Vineyards 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.95 – Vintages); Kenwood Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95 – coming in August to Vintages); Clos La Chance Wines 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (N/A in Ontario); and Oakville Ranch 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($69.95).

Flight G – “Other Reds” (8 wines poured)
This was the “oddball” group, included here was a Merlot, a Malbec, a Cabernet Franc and a Syrah; but the standouts here were the ones you probably wouldn’t expect.  A Cellar Full of Noise 2006 Tempranillo (N/A in Ontario) was very impressive with sweet blackberry, chocolate, raspberry and strawberry, with a rather restrained 12.5% alcohol (**** ½).  On the other hand, the J. Lohr Winery 2007 Town Road Petite Sirah ($32.95 – Private Order) was a bruiser of a wine, weighing in at 14.9% alcohol:  plum, vanilla, white pepper and chocolate filled the mouth (****).  Finally, Quady Winery 1996 Vintage Starboard ($23.00 – Private Order) was a Port-like affair with sweet cherry, chocolate and spice (****); it was a nice way to end the evening and gear us all up for what lies ahead at this year’s California Wine Fair taking place April 19, 2010 at the Royal York.