California is one of the great wine regions of the world, in part due to the excellent climate and soils, and in part due to the willingness to experiment with different grape varieties and methods to produce the best quality wine. At this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival I had an opportunity to speak with many California principals and winemakers, each with an interesting story, and each showing their passion for wine. Narrowing the list of my favourite California wines from this Festival is tough, as there were so many well-crafted wines; red, white, and sparkling.
You may see many Chardonnays listed below, but that is due to the theme grape for this year’s festival being Chardonnay. There were many other white grape varieties that I enjoyed as well, such as Albarino. You should also note on my notes for the Chardonnays you will not see me talk about heavy oak treatment. Those days of massive oak flavours are long gone. No oak, or light oak treatment are the norm now, here, as well as around the world. Read on.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Sofia Blanc de Blanc, 2011. This sparkling wine is fun in the glass. I really enjoyed it, and bought some to share with friends. It is made in part with the Muscat grape, which always gives you a nice orangy aroma and flavour in the glass. This wine was no exception. Orange and stone fruit on the nose. High acidity with aggressive bubbles. Off dry. Rose petals, orange, and stone fruit flavours. Enjoy it now!
- Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2008. This vintage bubble as a light citrus with some lees on the nose. Dry, with high acidity and fine bubble and citrus flavour.
- Mumm Napa Brut Rose NV. Pale rose petal colour with a light strawberry aroma. Dry with high acidity. Strawberries and cherry flavour. Medium length with a mouthwatering finish.
- Mumm Napa DVX 2005. This was my top bubble from California. It is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir, tete de cuvee. An interesting nose with lees, some oak and citrus. Dry, with high acidity and a fine bubble. Creamy with cherry and citrus flavours. Soft mouthfeel.
Antica Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010 ($35.99). Antica is short for Antinori California, and if you recognize the name, “Antinori” is the famous Antinori family from Tuscany, Italy. They have been setting up wineries around the world, and this one in Napa Valley is very good. This Chardonnay had nice bright tropical fruit and vanilla aromas in the glass. Medium minus body, soft with pears, tropical fruit, and a light touch of sweet spice. A very elegant wine and very tasty wine.
- Benziger Family Winery Chardonnay, Carneros, 2010. Light lemon, tropical fruit and vanilla aromas in the glass. Light body, soft and round in the mouth. Stone fruit flavours with a very light integrated oak flavour to the wine, and a citrus finish.
- Chateau St. Jean, Robert Young Chardonnay, Sonoma County, 2010. This is a single vineyard Chardonnay from Chateau St. Jean’s Robert Young Vineyard. Light lemon in the glass with a green tinge to it. More pronounced vanilla and tropical fruit nose. Medium body, dry, round with tropical fruit flavour and light sweet spices. Mouthwatering finish.
- Edna Valley Vineyard, Fleur de Edna Chardonnay, 2011 ($43). Tropical fruit aromas with peach coming in behind. Medium body, nice round mouth feel with honeysuckle, tropical fruit and peaches on the palate. Just a hint of spice. Very nice.
Marimar Estate, Acero Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2009 ($38.99). You will see several entries of Marimar Estate, as I really enjoyed all their wines. Proprietor Marimar Torres is from Spain’s iconic Migues Torres family. Miramar founded her Russian River winery in 1992, to produce very fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This chardonnay is stainless steel fermented then undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation (which softens the wine). This wine had a nice clean stonefruit nose. Medium body, round mouth feel, with green pea, herbal, honey suckle and stone fruit flavours. It is very complex in the glass.
- Marimar Estate, La Masia Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2009. Light citrus and vanilla on the nose. Light body, soft mouthfeel with vanilla and tropical fruit flavours, and honey showing up mid palate. Apricot flavours on the finish.
- McManis Family Vineyards Viognier, San Joaquin, 2011 ($19.95). Nice aromatic nose on this wine of lychee and peaches. Medium minus body, dry and round with good acidity. Beeswax, honey and dried peach flavours. Quite complex.
- Ridge Vineyards, Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz, 2010. For 50+ years, Ridge Vineyards has been making single-vineyard wines using traditional winemaking techniques. This chardonnay had an interesting nose with vanilla and mint. Medium body, dry and soft in the mouth. Medium acidity with apple and tropical fruit flavours. An elegant wine.
- Rodney Strong Wine Estates Davis Bynum Chardonnay 2011 ($30). Nice light smoky oak nose. Light body, dry and soft. Understated tropical fruit and nutmeg flavours.
- Schug Carneros Estate Winery Carneros Chardonnay 2010. Light pineapple and oak aromas. Medium plus body, plush mouthfeel. Tropical fruit, honey and some vanilla on the palate. Very tasty.
Blackbird Vineyards, Illustration, Napa Valley, 2009 ($149). This is a Bordeaux blend of 81% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackbird Vineyards downplays Cabernet Sauvignon, and promotes Merlot and Cab Franc in their wines. They like to produce a “Right Bank” style Bordeaux blend. As such their wines I think would be rounder, softer, with more fruit than a Left Bank Bordeaux blend. This wine had cassis and vanilla aromas, full body, dry with firm tannins, and dark cherry on the palate.
- Clos du Val, Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2010. Pale garnet in colour with a light strawberry nose. Light body, with juicy strawberry flavour and minerality to it. A hint of tea leaves too. Very tasty with a long length.
- Edna Valley Vineyard, Paragon Pinot Noir, 2011. This winery and vineyard is only five miles from the Pacific Ocean, giving it a long and cool growing season, allowing the grapes to mature slowly and retain their acidity. This pinot noir had nice light aromas of cherries and tea leaves. Flowers, red cherries, and a sweet bonbon flavour greet your lips. Soft and dry.
- Girard Winery, Napa Valley Artistry, 2009. This is a Bordeaux blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon,15% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petite Verdot, 10% Merlot and 8% Malbec. Dark garnet in colour. Ripe cassis nose with some vanilla. Full body, juicy black fruit fruit and light vanilla tones. Soft mouthfeel.
- Joseph Phelps Winery, Napa Valley, Insignia 2009 ($200+). Joseph Phelps is one of the top Napa Valley wineries IMHO. This Bordeaux blend is made from 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec. Deep garnet/ruby colour. Cassis and capsicum nose. Firm tannins, with juicy black fruit, some vanilla and chocolate. Very nice.
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Medium translucent ruby in the glass. Raspberries, cassis, and capsicum aromas. Dry, soft with medium plus body. Capsicum / minty notes with raspberry flavour. Nice.
- Marimar Estate La Masia Pinot Noir 2009. Pale garnet in colour. Beautiful strawberry aromas in the glass. Light body, soft with light tannins. Lots of strawberry flavour with lesser amounts of cherries.
- Michael David Winery, Sixth Sense Syrah, Lodi, 2011. I first became aware of this winery last year when I tried their Petite Petit, a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, a really expressive fun wine to drink. The Sixth Sense Syrah had aromas of pepperoni in the glass. Full body, with juicy black fruit and smoked meat. Soft tannins. Fun in a glass. Enjoy with BBQ or on it’s own.
- Terra d’Oro Winery Deaver Ranch 125 Year Old Vine Zinfandel 2009. Medium translucent garnet in the glass. Classic jammy nose with vanilla. Full body, dry with soft tannins and some minerality. Raspberry and red cherry flavours. Medium acidity. Nice.
Did you have any favourite California wines from the Vancouver International Wine Festival that I have not listed above? I did not have a chance to try every wine there, so I am sure I missed a few gems. Please leave a comment so we all benefit. Cheers!