California Wine Fair Report – Part Two

March 17, 2006

I will confess that I spent most of my time at the wine fair testing out the reds. I did try four whites, all of which were very tasty. But I was really there for the reds. And there were a lot of reds. So I’ll have to split my red wine report in two.

Also, in case any readers are curious – these are tasting-sized pours. You’re lucky if you get two ounces in your glass, and you’re more likely to get a little over an ounce. I wasn’t tossing back huge mugs of Zinfandel here. In this case, I was at the fair to enjoy myself, but not to overdo it.

Having said that, this kind of tasting is best done on a full stomach. And there are plenty of spit buckets if you wish to avail yourself of them. I’m not a huge fan of spitting great wine out (plus it can look a little unclassy if you don’t do it just right) so I end up just enjoying it. At some trade tastings I’ve been at (especially the ones that start at 9 AM), you don’t really have a choice – it’s literally spit or lose the rest of your day.

Enough rambling. Here’s the reds. I’ll do the Pinot Noirs, the blends and Zinfandels today. Look for the Petite Sirahs, Cabs and Merlots tomorrow.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel: Another fine product from the Delicato family of wines (also the owners of Clay Station – which you might remember from my first set of notes). This is a well-priced ($17) and very tasty example of just how good a Zinfandel can be. It’s cut with Petite Sirah (14%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (6%).

On the nose, there were buckets of fruit (cherries, blackberries and even a few plums). In the mouth, it was very rich, with the same fruit coming forward. Lots of spice and even a bit of Primitivo-like earthiness to make it interesting. The finish was medium-long but kept my attention. All in all, a good value for a great wine. I hear that the Kenaston Wine Market is considering bringing this one in. If they do, I’ll be first in line to pick this one up.

There’s no link to this on the Delicato website, so if you want more information, you’re on your own.

Earthquake Zinfandel: I have to confess that my long love affair with 7 Deadly Zins is now over. It’s been fun, but I have a new big Zin to love now. The Earthquake Zin is part of the same family of wines (the excellent offerings by the fine folks at Michael David Vineyards). And it is so tasty. The nose is huge. It literally reaches out of the glass and grabs your sinuses. Dark berries and chocolate are the main flavours. In the mouth, it is even bigger and meaner as it coats your teeth and slam dances its was down your throat. Again, it’s berries and dark chocolate, with some well-balanced tannins. But it finishes long and slow, showing an unexpected soft side. I understand it’s going to hit our market around $35-40. Even at that lofty price range, I’ll still buy it.

Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel: I’ve always enjoyed the regular Vintner’s Reserve bottling. And I liked this example from their County Series line too, but I didn’t find it remarkable in any way. Again, it’s blended with Petite Sirah (14%), which is good (in my opinion). It was a bit spicier than the other Zins I tried. But it was a little too soft, and almost tasted flabby in my mouth. The structure just wasn’t there. I picked up some generic jammy flavours, but nothing stood out. The finish almost redeemed it though, being very long and very spicy. It’s a BBQ wine, meant to be enjoyed on a patio during the summer.

I’ll admit that it’s hard to write off a wine based on a 1 ounce glass at a public tasting. I’ll give this another try someday – but it’s not a priority for me right now. There are many other wines to try before I revisit this one.

Greg Norman Pinot Noir: This was a surprise, as the last time I saw Greg Norman wines on the shelf, they were Australian. Come to think of it, that makes a lot of sense. Anyways, apparently he also lends his name to some fine California wines. This Pinot Noir (from Santa Barbara) was very tasty. The nose was a little soft, with not a lot going on (mostly cherries). In the mouth, it really did taste like a good home-made cherry pie. There was an odd molasses taste on the finish which actually helped it out. The finish was shorter than average, but still tasty. This is a wine for a fine dish containing duck of any type.

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir: Sadly delisted in our province, this is a great wine. Say what you will, but I think the Mondavi family makes great wine. And this is one of their top Pinots. It’s way funkier than the Greg Norman. And although I hate to agree with the winemaker’s notes, there is a lot of plum on plum action going on here. My notes show that the finish was long, the nose was funky and the mouth was plummy. This was one of the last wines I tasted, so the notes were a little (ahem) less thorough. I don’t even remember what vintage this was, or if it was the Reserve (I doubt it).

I did score a great wooden Woodbridge pen from the agent though.

Anyways, think of a perfectly grilled piece of wild salmon and you’ve got the ideal match for this wine. Too bad it’s no longer available through the MLCC. Some private stores may still carry this one, although I haven’t bothered to check.

Smokin’ Mendocino Tusk’N Red : Being a child of the Star Wars generation, when I saw this label – I didn’t think Tuscany. I thought of the Tusken Raiders from Episode IV instead. After a laugh or six at my expense, I quickly realized the error of my ways.

This is a blend of (45.4%) Syrah, (20.5%) Zinfandel, (19.9%) Carignane, (11.7%) Petite Sirah, (2%) Sangiovese and (0.5%) ‘mixed red’. What is ‘mixed red’. Hope it’s not something nasty like Ruby Cabernet.

Biases aside, this is a tasty little number. It’s a little more acidic than I expected (mmm…food friendly) and there are a lot of wonderful fruit flavours to be found. Mostly raspberries, but some plums as well. It’s not really an Italian-style blend, despite the name and the small hint of Sangiovese in there. But it is an easy-drinking wine, and a good break from Bonny Doon’s Big House Red (which is the closest comparison I can make). I don’t know what the final price for this will be, but if it’s around $20, I can see it competing for the same market that enjoys Big House Red.


  1. So were you the guy hogging the Earthquake Petite Sirah in the afternoon session? I never got close to that booth, it was a gong show. What did I miss?

  2. Guilty as charged…for about five minutes. I thought my time was more limited than it was, so I went through this booth faster than I should have.

    The Earthquake PS was amazing. Someone actually elbowed me out of the way as I was waiting (patiently) for my glass to be filled.

    I’ll post the notes for that wine sometime this weekend.

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