California comes to Canada

California comes to Canada

The California Wine Fair rolls into the Fairmont Royal York Hotel on Monday, April 28, brimming with bottles that, by and large, cannot be found on the shelves of the LCBO. Of the 69 wines assembled for the fair’s preview media tasting last month, only 20 are currently available at Vintages or the LCBO. This doesn’t mean the LCBO is ignoring California: a big promo swings into gear in early May that introduces several new brands to the general list; and on Saturday, Vintages will be offering up a couple of dozen new releases as well. But the fair showcases so many, many more—a huge reservoir of wine either being sold direct to restaurateurs via the below-the-radar consignment program, or wines that want to be here and might just find a niche if they create a buzz at the fair. With so many wines and so little time, the grapevine goes electric. Why must all the big wine presentations in our city be so restrictive, so pressured, and in such chaos? And why must the pourers spend most of their time apologizing that we can’t actually buy the wine they are serving?

Here are some of the standouts and interesting new wines that I tasted blind at the media preview. For tickets, go to the California Wines in Canada Web site,


Macrostie 2006 Chardonnay, Carneros ($28.50, 91 points)Decent value in a full, rich yet bracing and complex chardonnay that had me thinking of Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy—complete with cool apple-pear fruit, butter mint candy, light smokiness and almond. Weighty and powerful, with a great acid core and excellent length. Available through the John Gibson Agency, 905-882-1999.

La Crema 2006 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley ($36.95, 90 points)Unabashedly delicious, this hugely popular wine hits the palate with all the comfort of a warm apple pie. Rolling in vanilla-butterscotch, its taste has a light toastiness and touches of baked apple and spice. Warm, creamy and sweet, but stays in balance. Excellent length. Vintages, April 26.

Crew Wine Company 2006 Mossback Unoaked Chardonnay ($23.95, 88 points)The unoaked genre has fully caught on in Niagara, but it is a new idea in California, where oak has reigned supreme for a generation. The mild, fresh, apple-tinted and slightly waxy flavours nestle into a fairly grippy, tart (but not austere) frame. Maybe the closest California will ever come to French Chablis. Coming to Vintages June 7.

Schug 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros ($24.95, 90 points)California sauvignon struggles to find the vibrancy now commonplace in New Zealand, South Africa and Niagara, but this example grown on a cool maritime site near San Pablo Bay strikes a nerve with interesting scents of pine, corn chowder, pears, lime and dried herbs. Cool and clean, perhaps a touch bitter for some, with grapefruit and lime on the finish. Available through the Lifford Wine Agency Web site,

Pinot Noir

La Crema 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($44.95, 93 points)This is a real beauty, again with La Crema’s trademark creamy richness and seamless texture. It possesses a very lifted, intoxicating nose of cocoa, cedar, mint, cherry jam and cranberry. Medium-full bodied, this pinot noir is very polished and surprisingly not hot on the finish, given that it is 14.5 per cent alcohol. Excellent to outstanding length. Now to 2013. Coming to Vintages May 10.

Miramar Estates 2005 Pinot Noir Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley ($44.95, 91 points)The daughter of Spanish winemaking scion Miguel Torres has focused on cool-climate pinot noir near the Sonoma coast for almost 20 years, capturing the grape’s essential tension and complexity in a fairly dense style. Ripe raspberry-currant fruit, woodsmoke, pine and earth scents waft easily; the palate is rich and vibrant; and the length is excellent. Available at the Pacific Wine and Spirits Web site,

Tandem Winery 2005 Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Mountain ($54.95, 91 points)New to Ontario, this is a single-vineyard pinot from one of the oldest sites in California (albeit recently replanted with French clones). This is a sensuous, very typical California pinot with a sweet, generous yet soft nose of cherry jam, myriad spices and vanilla. Medium-full bodied, fleshy, bright and juicy, with a slightly hot finish. Excellent length. Private order from Kylix Wines, 905-882-1999.

Schug 2006 Pinot Noir, Sonoma County ($31.95, 89 points)Walter Schug continues to craft cooler-clime pinots that buck the California trend of high-alcohol cherry sundaes. The colour is pale, and the somewhat reserved nose suggests sour cherry and redcurrant with mint, woodsmoke and an earthy dried moss note. It’s slim, nervy and spicy, with very good length. Available through the Lifford Wine Agency Web site,

Bigger Reds

Heitz 2002 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($230, 93 points)The price reflects that this has been a Napa Valley icon for going on 50 years—a cult wine before anyone knew what a cult wine was. It is very fine, with a great nose of mochaccino, cedar, tea and blackberry lifting off the glass. It’s elegant and dense, with a bearing of true refinement not often met in Califorina. And, oh yes, outstanding length. Available through the Lifford Wine Agency Web site,

Montevina 2005 Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Deaver Ranch, Amador County ($39.95, 91 points)This zinfandel is from gnarled, cracked vines now well beyond 100 years of age that grow on a knoll in the Sierra foothills. No surprise, then, that this is a full-bodied, dense, incredibly concentrated red bristling with tannin. It harnesses rich, sweet blackberry fruit drenched in smoky, cedary oak—all running to excellent length. Vintages March release. Tiny quantities remain in some GTA stores; punch in code 57307 on the LCBO Web site,

Artesa 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley ($41.95, 91 points)A very stylish, lifted cabernet not often seen in Ontario. This red shows complex, fragrant notes of fresh herbs, black cherry–blackcurrant fruit, woodsmoke, cooked bacon and a touch of caramel. It’s medium-full, elegant and dense, with excellent length. Available through the Woodman Wine and Spirits Web site,

Pedroncelli 2005 Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley ($16.95, 89 points)This is a big, ripe, sweet, comforting—dare I say motherly?—zinfandel that has been at the LCBO sporadically over the years. For the price and quality, it should be a staple; very ripe, plummy, berry fruit, with mocha and tea accents. Medium-full bodied, rounded, sweet and warm, with very good length. Available through the John Gibson Agency, 905-882-1999.