California Wine Fair Report – Part One

March 16, 2006

I spent several hours at the California Wine Fair yesterday, and I was very happy with almost everything I’ve tasted. It really is a lot of fun, and a great chance to taste many wines. My notes aren’t too clear (that’s the trouble with balancing pen, paper and a wineglass while standing up), but I’ve posted what I can make out. I’ll start with the whites and a few reds today and will post the rest of the reds tomorrow when I get a chance to write them up.

If there was a theme to this show for me, it was Petite Sirah. I made it my duty to taste every Petite Sirah available at the show (all four of them). Lots of Zinfandels and Pinot Noirs, a few Cabs and one very meaty Merlot rounded out the day.

As far as the whites went, I liked everything I tried (only four, but they were all good). The prices were generally fair (with one exception), and the wine reps were all very knowledgeable and helpful. Most of the whites aren’t on the market yet (another good reason to come to this event), but all the agents assured me that they’re working on bringing them in.

Clay Station Viognier: My favourite white of the show. It’s already available at the MLCC and I think it’s a very good deal even at $18.35. It is extremely rich, with lots of beautiful floral and peach flavours (both in the nose and the mouth). A very long finish (longest of all wines I tasted yesterday) capped it off perfectly. I’d love to serve this one up with a good curry or some richer fish (sea bass comes to mind). And I will be picking this one up soon, I loved it.

Twin Fin Chardonnay: This is a steal – if it reaches our market. It’s all from Monterey County fruit. Lots of nice citrus flavours, balanced out by creamy light oak make this one crisp and drinkable. The oak is well-balanced in the background, so it’s not like drinking a toothpick. I’d call this the perfect Chardonnay for a Winnipeg summer. If it comes into Manitoba, look for this one to steal a big market share for itself. The Stelvin closure helps, and the other two Twin Fins in the market are doing well. Plus the $14 price tag is just right for this one.

Cline “White Truck”: This is a blend of almost everything you can imagine (mostly Sauvignon Blanc, with the balance in Pinot Grigio, a little Viognier and Chardonnay). There’s no oak, so the acidity and crispness shine through. I enjoyed it, and it’s a good crisp summer wine. However, if it’s priced above $15, I don’t see it doing so well. It’s not that much better than similar blends out there and the marketing gimmick will only carry it so far. If they price it under $15, I think it could do quite well for itself.

Sauvignon Republic Russian River Sauvignon Blanc: Wow. That’s the first thing I wrote when I tried this wine. The company (Sauvignon Republic) is producing SB’s from five parts of the world noted for this grape (Russian River, Marlborough in NZ, Stellenbosch in South Africa, Chile and the Loire). All will be made by the same winemaker and the intention is to let the terroir speak for itself. I’m going to keep an eye out for this one and its companions when they hit our market. Anyways, it was a beautiful wine. Richer than I usually like, but the strong grapefruit flavours won me over. There were more herbs than I expect from a California SB, although the finish was a little soft. Still though, I’d recommend this one any day.

(Looks like there’s room for one red as well)

Camelot Shiraz: This was another surprise. It’s on the market already for $13.99, and I’ve previously enjoyed their Pinot Noir. So I thought I’d give this one a try. And I’m glad I did. I now have a new favourite in the under $15 Shiraz category. It’s cut with a tiny bit of Zinfandel and Grenache – just enough to keep it interesting. The nose was rich and smoky (just what I love) and the flavour (mostly cherry with a hint of chocolate) was wonderful. The finish was a bit short, but in the context of the wine, I didn’t mind. Very tasty and well-worth looking for.


  1. Did you try the Lockwood/Shale Ridge White wines? I found the Lockwood S/B a little vacant on the nose but presented itself quite beautifully in the mouth. Perhaps not enough gooseberry, lime ala New Zealand but a perfectly drinkable summer white. I loved the Chardonnay at that table

  2. No I skipped that booth. I’ve been underwhelmed by Shale Ridge in the past, so I went right past it.

    But your description sounds good, especially the Chardonnay. What was it about the Chard that was so good?

  3. I liked the all the tropical fruit on the nose and creamy texture on the pallet. I think there is some oak treatment but it was understated. Nice spicy vanilla finish. Medium bodied but I’m kinda sick of oaky monster chards from Cali, so it was a plesant surprise.

  4. That sounds tasty. Did you try the Twin Fin Chardonnay? It was also very good – and very non-oaky.

  5. No, actually I stayed away from all the “wine factory” wines, and Constellation is one big factory. When I go to these things I like to ask the winemaker or rep if they are able to point to the vineyard, assure me they know the growers and their properties. I’ll take the occasional down vintage with the promise of occasional greatness over consistantly average every time. I was slightly dissappointed with the selection or participating wineries, for my $50 I was left a bit wanting. I had a good long go at the Lucas and Lewellan(?) booth due to the sideways-Santa Barbera Pinot thing, it was OK.

  6. Camelot Shiraz. I actually thried that tonight. It is a pretty good wine with seafood Linguine. Believe it or not!

  7. Yeah, the Camelot Shiraz is very tasty – especially for $14. I think it’s way better than the Twin Fin Shiraz (same price).

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