Dream Big:

Wines in the

California Style

Hardly strangers to the Vancouver International Wine Festival – most recently featured earlier this year, as well as 2013, 2004 and 1998 – California's wines are favourites here in BC at every price point.


Of the 160 wineries who attended the 41st Vancouver International Wine Festival from 16 countries, 53 were from California. Luxury Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons definitely dominated the three afternoons and evenings of the International Festival Tasting.

Winemaker Joe Wagner – best known for creating Meiomi Pinot Noir in 2006 and selling it to Constellation Brands in 2015 for $315 million – began collaborating with James Ontiveros on Alta Maria's 2014 vintage. Alta Maria's Santa Barbera Pinot Noir $15.99 is light and earthy. Strawberry and blackberry fruit flavours slide into dark chocolate, coffee and toasty oak.


Located in Murphys, California between the San Francisco Bay and

the Sierra Nevada Mountains Lodi's Ironstone Vineyard's 'Drifting Wines' makes the classic 5 California Varieties – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Drifting Chardonnay $16.99 offers up a rich, ripe mouthful of subtle lemon and supple green apple flavours that slide effortlessly into sunny mango and spicy pineapple. Just a twist of toasted oak almost holds the fruit in check.

A blend of 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 per cent Syrah and 5 per cent Cabernet Franc, Drifting Cabernet Sauvignon $16.99 is seriously quaffable. Jammy black raspberry aromas and flavours lead into cherry and red and black currant.

With family roots in the Sonoma Valley that go back more than 100 years, Don Sebastiani & Sons was created in 2001 according to Donny Sebastiani“... to offer well-made products of consistent quality.” Red wines from their newest venture 'The Crusher' first became available with the 2014 vintage.


Blending 82 per cent Petite Sirah, 7 per cent Syrah, 4 per cent Tempranillo, 3 per cent Malbec , 2 per cent Merlot and 2 per cent Zinfandel, The Crusher Petit Syrah $17.99 oozes aromas and flavours of dusky dried blueberries, blackberries, prunes and figs with hints of caramel, hazelnut and cloves filling out the finish.

Despite its ancient, long forgotten Croatian roots – where it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski – Zinfandel still typifies California red wines to many wine lovers. The phylloxera resistant sandy soil in Cline Cellars' Contra Costa County vineyards harbours ungrafted vines that are 80-120 years old.


Up front, there are soft, spicy ripe strawberry aromas and flavours in every sip of Cline Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel $18.49. Lusciously dusky raspberry, black cherry and liquorice notes coat the tongue and linger as the wine breathes and opens up in the glass. If you have not yet discovered this beautifully made red, now is the time...

Joseph Carr launched Josh Cellars – named for his father – in 2007. Among the extraordinary luxury Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons being poured all around them in the 41st Vancouver International Wine Festival Tasting room, Carr's Josh Cellars wines offered remarkable quality almost everyday prices.

A little elusive and restrained on the nose, the silky mouthfeel of Josh Chardonnay $18.99 accentuates the ripe and resounding lemon rind and honeyed peach flavours. Sourced mostly from Mendocino and Monterey counties, this is a benchmark California Chardonnay at a big-box store price.

More plush than silky Josh Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99 has a dense chewy 'texture', a richness on the tongue. Classic 'California Cab' blackcurrant and blackberry flavours are framed in toasty caramel, hazelnut and sweet and almost - but not quite - salty soy. Remarkably tasty!


Beyond crafting the expected classic varieties, California's innovative winemakers excel at creating exceptional red blends.

From Don Sebastiani & Sons '3 Badge Beverage' branch and new to BC, Leese-Fitch Firehouse Red Blend $19.99 is as deliberately devised as it is incredibly, lip-smackingly tasty. It boasts Petite Sirah from Lodi and Clarksburg, Syrah from Lodi and Contra Costa County, Zinfandel from Lodi and Sonoma County, Merlot and Tempranillo from Clarksburg.


Next year, the focus of the 42nd Vancouver International Wine Festival will be the wines of France. Vive La France! Mark off your calendars, now for February 22-March 1, 2020. The

International Festival Tasting room will be opening February 27, 28 & 29. See you there?

Reach WineWise by emailing douglas_sloan@yahoo.com