Fair California

Fair California

Wine of the WeekBeringer 2003 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, California $40.15, Vintages Essential, 3525830, score 91Collectors take note! The small, verdant Knights Valley, tucked in the hills between the Napa and Alexander Valleys, has always rendered very fragrant cabernet. Beringer’s historic heavy oak hand has stolen some of that vitality in recent years but this vintage rekindles the excitement, with very lifted toasty, cedary oak, chocolate and loads of cassis and mint. Full bodied, dense and elegant with firm tannin that will see it age 10 years. But also balanced to enjoy know as well—decant for an hour first.

I was likely the only person with a nose for wine not to attend the California Wine Fair yesterday, the one day every year when the grand ballrooms of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel are transformed into a veritable mosh pit of eager restaurateurs (in the afternoon) and consumers (evening) anxious to try the latest from the Golden State. It’s almost a rite of spring in this city, and has been for decades. The emergence of great New World wines from places like Australia, Chile and Argentina does not seem to have displaced our attachment to California. It can be argued that California is the original New World wine—the birthplace of the concept—from temperature-controlled winemaking, to obvious fruit and new oak flavours, to varietal labeling, to wine country gastro-tourism. More Torontonians have certainly visited California wine country than anywhere else.

Although I was not at the fair, California has been much on my mind in recent days having Iast week taught a group of intent sommelier students at George Brown College. We spent five hours discussing California’s long history—Napa’s first heyday was in the 1890s when over 100 wineries filled the Valley—and the current boom in new small appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that have sprung up since the turn of the millennium. Drilling down to smaller micro-climates and geological formations to find individuality and terroir is well advanced in California, again ahead of the rest of the New World pack. Napa alone has 17 sub-appellations, and other counties up and down the coast (from Mendocino to San Diego) are experiencing similar diversification.

But most of all we talked about the overall generosity, suppleness and richness of California wine. They don’t come cheap, but the value quotient is improving. Here are 10 seriously good examples currently available from Vintages stores:

Mount Veeder 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley$50.95, Vintages, 708842, score 92A deeply coloured, mountain-grown cabernet with vibrant blackcurrant fruit, woodsy cedary notes, toast and chocolate. Plush, dense and focused with lots of gritty tannin. Best 2010 to 2020.

Rutherford Hill 2003 Merlot, Napa Valley$29.95, Vintages Mar. 31, 959338, score 91Serious, substantial, chewy style from a merlot specialist. Deeply coloured, big and complex, with ripe black cherry, chocolate, leather, smoke and tea notes. Excellent length. Best 2008 to 2011.

Jocelyn 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley$47.95, Vintages Mar. 31, 26334, score 91From a small family on Howell Mountain this is delicious, seamless, elegant cabernet for current enjoyment. Classy new wood mocha, dried herbs, tobacco and ripe plummy, black cherry fruit is nicely lifted and focused, hitting excellent length. Now to 2012.

Ray’s Station 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County$24.95, Vintages Mar. 31, 25510, score 90Good value, with finesse, not power. Generous, complex and clean with typical ripe cherry-cassis fruit nicely inlaid with French oak mocha, tobacco and dried herbs. Best 2008 to 2012.

Rosenblum 2005 Zinfandel Appellation Series, North Coast $30.95, Vintages 31773, score 90Lovely richness and balance. Soft, sweet aromas of coconut, milk chocolate, black cherry–prune fruit and earthy notes. Full bodied, deep, dense and sweet very good length. Best now to 2011.

Ravenswood 2004 Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County$28.95, Vintages 673798, score 89This deep black zin is a bit of a bruiser, loaded with flavour. Catches the wild, woodsy, brambly blackberry-plum fruit of zinfandel very well. Full bodied, soft, hot and spicy. Very good length. Best 2008 to 2011.

Ridge 2004 Lytton Springs Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley $48.95, Vintages, 982413, score 89Impressive Toblerone-style of wine with huge oak driven aromas of nutty, mocha, dusty, cedar with ripe, floral plummy fruit. Medium-full bodied, very soft and dense yet elegant. Best now to 2011.

Vina Robles 2002 Jardine Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles $21.95, Vintages Apr. 14, 693838, score 88 From a hot Central Coast appellation. Very ripe, almost port-like canned fruit cocktail, maraschino cherry and chocolate aromas. Full bodied, very supple, soft and hot. Excellent length. Now to 2009.

Clos du Val 2003 Zinfandel, Napa Valley$22.95, Vintages Mar. 31, 590216, score 88Founded by Bordeaux raised Bernard Portet, Clos du Val has always had a more French styling and elegance. Ripe cherry/raspberry jam fruitiness nicely etched with tea, caraway and clove spice. Now through 2009.

Geyser Peak 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley$12.95/375ml, Vintages 675850, score 88Half bottle of full-bodied cabernet with generous bouquet of oak resin and chocolate with dark cassis fruit and herbal, tobacco notes. Full bodied, fairly dense and firm but not excessive. Very good length. Best 2009 to 2012.

La Crema 2005 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast $32.95, Vintages 719435, score 87Yummy pinot with lifted clove, raspberry and plum jam fruit, cola and earthy, wet tree bark flavours. Medium weight, soft and gentle with mild tannin. Good length. Now to 2010.