|April 11, 2007|
|Wine fair offers showcase of diversity|
One of Ottawa's annual wine highlights is the California Wine Fair. Every year it rolls into town and offers an unparalleled opportunity to taste hundreds of wines and chat with winemakers and winery owners from the Golden State. If I have one complaint, it's that there's never enough time to do justice to all the riches available for tasting.
This year's fair, which takes place Friday (unfortunately, it's sold out, as it always is), promises to live up to the high standards the event has achieved year after year.
First, there's the sheer number of wines you can taste -- or could taste if you had the time and stamina. More than 350 wines from some 85 California wineries will be poured. They include not only the varieties you immediately associate with California -- Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir -- but others such as Riesling, Tempranillo and Sauvignon Blanc.
In short, the fair will represent the wide array of climates, growing conditions and grape varieties that contribute to the vast range of wines that California produces. It's not a bad idea to do a round of the fair to taste the whites and lighter reds before getting into the heavy-hitting, higher-alcohol reds like the Cabs and Zins. But there are people who prefer to do the heavy lifting first and then cool their palates with more acidic whites.
Diversity is one theme of this year's fair, and the other is sustainability. Wine producers all over the world are being influenced by environmental concerns, and California is no exception. Wineries are reducing their use of artificial pesticides and other products and are practising sustainable agriculture (or viticulture, in their case). It's something to discuss with the winemakers and their representatives as they pour.
This year, too, the fair is featuring a silent auction, with the proceeds supporting the Great Canadian Theatre Company. The proceeds from the fair itself go to the sommelier program at Algonquin College.
It's risky to suggest wines to look for at the California Wine Fair, but here are a few that have caught my eye (and, more to the point, my palate). There's an excellent Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon from the great 2002 vintage. For a decent Zinfandel, try the Ravenswood Vintners Blend 2004, which is more of a food wine than many Zinfandels. For big West Coast complexity and heft, Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2005 and Ironstone Old Vine Zin 2004 are winners.
But whatever you do, don't overlook the unexpected varieties. Ironstone Vineyards' Cabernet Franc Reserve 2003 is really very good -- well-made and delicious. And if you're in need of a California Tempranillo, go for the Christine Andrew Tempranillo 2005 from the Lodi wine region. It has quite delicious fruit and acidity.
If you don't go to the fair, the LCBO has quite a good range of California wines, including the four reviewed today, and there's a good selection in Vintages, too.
If you would like to taste some of the world's icon wines, go to Vintages' Taste our Latest at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier April 30, 6:30-9 p.m. Vintages will pour more than 50 wines from the Classics Collection, Bordeaux Futures and the new Shop On-Line program being launched this summer. Apart from Bordeaux like Haut-Brion 1999 and Latour 1986, there are beauties from other French regions, California, Australia, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. The complete list is at www.vintages.com. Tickets are $85, call 1-416-365-5767 or 1-800-266-4764 to order.
King Fish Merlot 2005 This is a reasonably priced Merlot that delivers solid fruit (black plum) with some spiciness and a tangy texture. It's medium-plus bodied and goes well with richly flavoured pizza and hearty burgers. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $10.15 (620807).
Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2005 This is a well-made wine that expresses Sauvignon Blanc in a refined way. Good fruit is complemented with the brisk texture, which makes this an excellent partner to grilled white fish served with a squeeze of lemon. Alcohol 13 per cent; $15.95 (405753).
Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 A medium-bodied Cab with food-friendly balance, this wine makes friends easily with grilled red meat and hearty meat-based pasta dishes. Look for bright fruit flavours (cherry, plum) with nice spicy notes. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $14 (613273).
Leaping Horse Merlot 2004 This is simply well-made and well-priced for the quality. Medium/ medium-plus in weight, it delivers good plum flavours with attractive spicy notes. Drink with a grilled veal chop with red wine sauce. Alcohol 13.5 per cent; $13.60 (613265).
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