Some of you may recall that I went to the California Wine Fair last Friday which, as it turns out, was a somewhat disappointing experience.
For one thing, my wine count went down from the 42 wines tasted at the Taste Ontario event to somewhere between 30-35. And since I always seem to be in some sort of internally-driven competition, this felt like a loss of some sort, even though the competition was against myself and myself alone (which would make me a winner as well, no?).
This was partly due to the fact that at 5 p.m., 2 hours after my arrival, the lights flickered on and off, indicating the end of the trade tasting. At this point the pourers began promptly removing bottles from the table, and the panic among tasters was palpable. What? That’s it? It’s over already? But we were just getting started!
The event featured a lot of chardonnay and a lot of cabernet sauvignon, the main grape varieties grown in California, and it all kind of tasted the same. The chards were oaky with tropical fruit, and cabernet sauvignons were also oaky, spicy and dark fruit-y with a vegetal aspect to them. I didn’t really taste any cab sauvs that I liked, which surprised me since I usually love the Cali cab sauvs. Maybe my tastes have changed, or maybe I just wasn’t feeling the cab sauvs that day. There was one in particular, the Rodney Strong 2012 Alexander’s Crown, for which I wrote my tasting note followed by “WHAT? $100?? That’s crazy town.” Our Canadian dollar is really not doing well against the American dollar, so a lot of these wines were a bit out of my price range.
Besides the overpriced wines which I was lucky enough to taste but will likely never buy, there were some gems I tasted along the way. I started off with a lovely chardonnay from Ghost Pines. Tropical fruit, lemon and butter on the nose, followed by a certain sweetness on the palate, and notes of peach, pear and oaky deliciousness. Medium-bodied and smooth. Yum! This wine would pair well with a creamy chicken dish. It is available at the LCBO for $19.95.
I started practicing my spitting technique right away….and ended up getting some significant backsplash (a drop of which got scarily close to my eyeball – ack!). The spittoons were different than those at the previous tasting, so I had to adjust my approach. Thankfully I got the hang of it quickly. Just in case, I had worn something that would not show evidence of any potential spitting sloppiness.
My next stop was to Francis Coppola. My favourite here was the Sofia rosé. Made of grenache, syrah and a bit of pinot noir, this provençal-style blend will immediately transport you to summer. You can practically feel the sun on your skin. Great refreshing acidity and notes of strawberry, raspberry, rose petals and undercurrents of something a bit spicy. Would go really nicely with beet salad topped with goat cheese. Look for it in Vintages this June ($24.95).
At the next table I made a fabulous discovery: a wine I liked that was previously only available in the States is being added to the LCBO’s general listing (at an affordable $18.95)! We first tasted the Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc from Rodney Strong during our 2014 sailing trip on Lake Champlain. It was on a patio overlooking the lake, and we were treating ourselves to a fancy meal out after about a week of boat eating (the latter being just one step up from camping food only because we have a bbq on board). You don’t see a lot of sauvignon blanc from California. But this one is nice and crisp, despite being fermented in oak, which gives it an almost imperceptible hint of butterscotch. This food-friendly wine has notes of peach, pineapple and citrus and is an ideal summer sipper for a hot day.
And now to the less thrifty picks. I spent a lot of time chatting with the rep from Grgich Hills Estate, whose owner, Mike Grgich, help put California wines on the map at the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 (if you don’t know about it, see the movie Bottle Shock or read about it on the Grgich website). Their 2013 fumé blanc was one of my favourite wines of the day. Fumé blanc is made using 100% sauvignon blanc grapes, but unlike regular sauvignon blanc wines whose grapes are generally fermented in stainless steel tanks, fumé blanc is fermented in French oak barrels called foudres. The Grgich Hills grapes are grown naturally, without articifical pesticides or herbicides, in the cooler regions of Napa. Despite being oaked, this wine is incredibly refreshing with high acidity. Lots of juicy tropical fruit and minerality, as well as a hint of pink grapefruit. I’ll definitely be looking out for this one at the LCBO. It is going to retail in the $39-$48 range.
I also enjoyed the Grgich 2012 zinfandel, another ubiquitous California grape. After spending 15 months on oak, it had a beautifully comforting and warm fruity aroma, with cherry, blackberry and a hint of pepper on the palate. Zinfandel is great for grilled meats. We particularly like pairing it with grilled magret (duck).The previous vintage of this wine sold in Vintages for $49.95, so you can bet this year’s release will be priced higher.
Looking back on the event now, I guess it wasn’t as disappointing as I’d originally thought. Look! I came out of there with five new wines for you to try, which when all is said and done is a very respectable number.
What’s your favourite California wine? Have you noticed the increased prices and have they affected your buying decisions at the LCBO? My purchasing trends sure have changed. Here’s to the rise of the Canadian dollar, and soon!