Kendall Jackson Vineyard

California wines have always been a personal journey for me. You see, I’m biased. I lived in California for 19 years, seven of those in San Francisco, within a close hop to many of the best-known and loved vineyards and their remarkable wines. Which is why last night was a bit of a homecoming for me. The Vancouver International Wine Festival assembled a collection of 64 wines and a group of local media and bloggers at Blue Water Café’s wine room to sample and learn about California’s ever-growing wine regions ahead of the 2013 week-long event.

This year’s regional theme is California, with Chardonnay its global focus. Those are words of marriage to me. I spent many post-university years enjoying California Chards right through to the present. Years of climate change, growing methods, and newer winemakers on the scene have created even more diversity in this varietal.

Signorello Vineyards
[Signorello Vineyards]

For many new to the wine world, Chardonnay is often considered the “rite of passage” into the market (according to Wikipedia). Although it did peak in the late 1980’s and was negatively seen as a major factor in wine market globalization, Chardonnay remains to this day as one of the most widely-planted grape varieties. And it overtook Riesling in 1990 as California’s dominant white wine.

So with that said, how does a wine lover approach a festival with the enormity of pours on offer such as Vancouver’s International Wine Fest? After all, it’s one of North America’s largest wine festivals, entering 35 years of activity.

Well, the International Festival Tasting Room is a great place to start. Don’t feel daunted by the 767 wines (from 15 countries) that will poured at the Vancouver Convention Centre (February 28, March 1 and 2). There will be a Chardonnay Tasting Station, offering over 128 wines with experts from the International Sommelier Guild to answer questions and offer advice.

My tip is to start with the California wines, explore those you haven’t yet tried, and head to the other countries from there (repeat after me: admire, smell, sip, spit).

4 California wines

Out of those 64 wines poured last night, I discovered a few favourites:

Benziger Carneros Chardonnay 2010 ($27.99) – Fragrant honeysuckle and pineapple aromas greet the nose leading into a pear/citrus medium-bodied wine.

Cameron Hughes Lot 400 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($49.99) – This one’s got crushed berries, plum, and violets together with a dense texture. Loved the strength in this wine and it sits nicely on the palate for a few moments after drinking.

Duckhorn Decoy Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($32.95) – This is a lovely wine, aged a year in French Oak, with rich red and black fruit aromas on the nose. I sensed notes of caramel too. It has a seamless tannin structure and good acidity.

Edna Valley Saint Louis Obispo Paragon Chardonnay 2010 ($19.99) – Quince, pear, green apple, and light pineapple provided me a fresh taste in this medium-bodied Chard. It was also the first wine I drank that evening; its flavours came alive in my palate.

Fetzer Vineyards Crimson 2010 ($17.99) – Here’s a winery I’m very familiar with. In the early 90’s, I worked at Fetzer as a freelance graphic designer. Needless to say, the product’s brand and range have elevated since then. This was a happy discovery for me. Cab Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Syrah, and Zinfandel combine to produce black cherry, allspice, and vanilla aromas, with deep plum and raspberry on the palate. It’s a great pour with food flexibility.

Hahn California Pinot Noir 2011 ($21.99) – Hahn’s Pinot won a coveted Gold award at this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition. The berries and dark cherry gave me a pleasing aroma, and this wine’s structure is solid.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2010 ($37.99) – This one had all the things I love about Chardonnay: French oak barrel aging (nine months), apple and lemon aromas at the nose, and a lush texture all flowing into the glass. Its richness is derived from old vine Santa Maria benchland vineyards located in the Santa Barbara area.

Miner ‘The Oracle’ Proprietary Blend 2008 ($99.99) – This is an exceptional wine through and through. I said yes! from the moment I sniffed the bottle. It’s blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (52%), Cabernet Franc (24%), Merlot (14%), Malbec (5%), and Petit Verdot (5%), creating a deeply textured, full bodied wine that would be enjoyable with roasted chicken or duck.

Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvée Chardonnay 2010 ($89.99) – This one tasted simply decadent. By carefully pressing whole grape clusters, the wine develops a silky mouthfeel, also enhancing aging potential, according to winemaker Ray Signorello, Jr. Lovely to note that the winery was the former home of a race horse retirement home on the Silverado Trail in Napa. This wine’s got crisp apple and pear aromas with hints of lemon zest and nutmeg, leading to a soft finish.

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($117.99) – This one rounds out my informal top 10 list. To create this wine, Signorello uses traditional French winemaking techniques, including extended maceration (average of 25 days on the grape skins). It’s been aged for 16 months in new Tronacais, Nevers, and Alliers Oak barrels, topped monthly and racked every six months. This wine opens with tobacco and cherry aromas, with cherry and blackberry on the palate. Its tannins are firm enough to allow this Cab Sauv to improve over time (15 years is suggested).

For more information on the wines, signature events, and tickets, visit the Vancouver International Wine Festival website.


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