California wines back on the table
Sitting here looking at the week’s empty wine bottles, I’m struck by how many there are from California. An applaudable trend. Or should I say re-trend? Is it my imagination, or has our love affair with California wines cooled somewhat in the last few months? Haven’t seen any recent statistics, but it seems to me we’re favouring B.C. wines and looking again, more closely, at South African and Italian bottles.
California was a force majeure in our market for many years. In fact, what became the hugely successful Vancouver International Wine Festival was originally known as the California Wine Festival. There was one winery represented in the first two-day event, 30-something years ago: Robert Mondavi!
So it was a pleasant taste experience to get reacquainted with some old California faves and sip on some newcomers this past summer. Here’s a partial list of what stood out, as almost always, listed in ascending order of price.
Revolution White n/v
Subtitled Cool Crisp White, it certainly is that; it’s also a Pinot Grigio blend with a great price. (The label doesn’t divulge what the PG is blended with.) This one wants food, from salt-and-vinegar potato chips to Parmesan-crusted salami, hard-boiled quail’s eggs with anchovy paste, cold pasta with tuna sauce, and Thai beef salad (the last being the back label’s suggestion) . Citrus and pear and crenshaw-melon flavours abound.
Revolution Red n/v
Big Bold Red is the apt subtitle of this rich, robust mix of what? Plenty of raspberry jam on the nose and a long, fresh follow-through. It’s a little sweet on entry, then the grape mix kicks in, and for the price, this is a real winner. Could be your new best pizza wine.
Mirassou California Pinot Grigio 2011
The super-tasty wines of Mirassou have been in our market for many years; the twosome here represent some of the tastiest yet in the whole California book. This one starts with big lemons and peaches—huge, mouth-filling fruit—and there’s a fabulous, fresh finish. Good with spicy foods, fish on the grill, anything cooked and served outdoors for what remains of our summer. But the best is still to come, next…
Mirassou California Pinot Noir 2011
Could this be the best Pinot Noir available to us at the moment? Certainly, at this price! Winemaker Daniel Mirassou says his family has been making Pinot Noir for six generations and goes on to claim it’s “the number one Pinot Noir in Canada in terms of volume and sales”. Gorgeous—soft and easy to drink, it really likes a short chill on it, half an hour in the fridge before you pour it. Fresh, juicy, with lots of cherries and berries in the aroma and flavour mix. There really isn’t anything you can’t set it alongside: from roast chicken to quiche, grilled cheese sandwiches, and spring rolls. A fabulous late-summer food wine from “California’s oldest wine-making family”. An overall observation from a Pinot-biased palate: most California Pinot Noirs are lighter, fruitier, fresher, and more satisfying than those that come from other wine regions.
Red Rock (Gallo)
Malbec California Reserve 2010
A nice little foodie treat, this one handles summer desserts very well: clafoutis, gooseberry fools, berry pies (particularly blackberry or boysenberry). It’s all about ripe berries all over the palate. Just a nice, rich, fresh, full-fruited wine that benefits from a little chilling.
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2010
From a label that’s been a long-time favourite of B.C. buyers, this begins with a beautiful, gently green, pleasantly leafy first impression. There’s big and assertive fruit, favouring lemons and pears, and even a hint of hazelnut cream. Lush and tropical and very thirst-quenching. Remember, it’s Jean as in Miss Brodie, not Monsieur Charest.
Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc 2010
Another fumé to add to the too-short list of so-labelled wines from California in our current market. This is rich and opulent, and may even supplant the Ferrari-Carano version in my book, at least with this vintage. Gorgeous and full, with the requisite citrus and the depth of ripe pear. Get it while it’s gettable; I can’t imagine it will hang around for long.
Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Quintessential California Cab, this—lots of black plum, spice, and some wood. The soft ending makes it easy to sip without food too.
A great, multilayered finish with lovely balance.
Chateau St. Jean Pinot Noir 2009
Dark and intense, lots of blackberry juice. Rich and heady, without the frequently French “barnyard” aromas (which may be characteristic of the wine’s aroma profile but are not something I’ve ever learned to like). Full and smooth, a good gulping wine, but for the price Mirassou beats it hollow.
Here’s a thought for the weekend’s sipping: get one of each of the two Californian Pinots and a couple of other ones you like (B.C., South Africa, France) and line ’em all up, invite a few friends, and see what everyone likes.