Wine festival also features California in a big way

Wine Wise with Doug Sloan

Hawk Crest Red Hills overflows with ripe black cherry and cassis flavours.

While this year’s 38th Vancouver International Wine Festival showcases the wines of Italy – with tickets now on sale for all public events taking place from Feb. 20-28 – it is not only about the wines of Italy by any means.

Check online at VanWineFest.ca for full details!

Not too surprisingly the region with the next largest representation is British Columbia with 26 wineries and principals in attendance, pouring the fruits of their vinous labours.  And California’s not too far behind with 22 wineries in attendance.

Over the last 10 years Pinot Grigio has migrated from Italy (… and Alsace, France) throughout the wine world. As well as numerous Italian Pinot Grigios and French Pinot Gris, California makes more than a few tasty white wines from this grape.

Sourced from vineyards around Santa Barbara, which benefit from cooling maritime breezes, Montevina Pinot Grigio (291153) $10.25 is a ripe, full-bodied California white at an affordable price. Bright pear, tangerine rind and peach flavours finish with a spritz of grapefruit.

Very few of us have wine cellars where we deliberately age our reds beyond simple fruitiness into complex, subtle and elegant silky smoothness.  We miss so much when we can’t get to appreciate the benefits of aging appropriately rich red wines.  California’s wines are no exception.

Hawk Crest Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (30403) $16.45 is a second label from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. We seldom have the opportunity to buy textbook California Cabernet Sauvignon that has already been aged to perfection.  It overflows with ripe black cherry and cassis flavors, and hints of cedar, toast, sweet vanilla oak, sage, mint and eucalyptus and a spicy, earthy minerality.

Back in 1985, around a friendly game of Liar’s Dice, Tim Murphy, Dale Goode and Dave Ready decided to make their love of fine wines official. They began creating Fume Blanc and Chardonnay from Murphy Ranch and Murphy-Goode Vineyard in Sonoma County.

Murphy-Goode ‘The Fume’ Sauvignon Blanc (359299) $17.10 is bright and lime-infused on first sip before opening up to luscious peach and honeydew notes and tropical fruit aromas. ‘Fume Blanc’ was a term invented for lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc by the late Robert Mondavi – enjoy those hints of creamy vanilla oak!

Kendall-Jackson’s vineyards include 11,000 acres of cool California coastal regions atop mountains, ridges, hillsides and benchlands. While growing grapes in high-elevation vineyards is difficult for both the vintner and the vine, the grapes grown in these elevated sites clearly produce the richest, most intense character and flavours.

A Sonoma wine, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (427153) $27.95 offers wine lovers an excellent value alternative to Napa with its rich black berry fruit, cedar and chocolate notes. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are blended with Merlot for softness, Cabernet Franc for tannins, and Petit Verdot to enhance the mouthfeel.

Wine grapes have been growing on the lands of Stags’ Leap Estate since the 1880s, and the property itself has always been a working ranch. A legacy of horticulture has dressed this place not only in grapes, but also fruit orchards, nuts, olives, an abundant kitchen garden.

Stags’ Leap Winery Chardonnay (476440) $32.25 is elegantly aromatic, with apple and pear flavors sliding into peaches and nectarines mingling with pineapple, a hint of mandarin orange and other citrus fruits. A classic example of cool climate Chardonnay, this is bright and crisp with lightly toasty undertones that give it length and richness on the palate.

Winemakers frequently devise an advantageous blend by adding other  grapes or juice to wines that are eventually sold as single varietals.  California’s best Zinfandels often incorporate Petite Sirah or Carignan.

With a dash of Petite Sirah, Michael David’s intriguingly named Earthquake Zinfandel (336925) $36.50 comes from an old Lodi vineyard planted around the time of San Francisco’s great Earthquake in 1906.  Co-owner Michael J. Phillips thought it only seemed fitting to relate this intense wine with the historical quake.  “This is Zinfandel at its richest. Boysenberry, vanilla and maple syrup aromas meet up with jammy fruit flavors that coat the mouth and linger on the finish.”

Explore the wines of Italy at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival Feb.20-28, then check out the amazing local British Columbia wines that will be poured.  But don’t overlook the 22 California wineries that will be pouring their finest varietals and blends!

Reach WineWise by emailing douglas_sloan@yahoo.com