California is keeping its wines on Canadian tables
By John Schreiner
April 8, 2010
This spring’s California wine tour is, remarkably, the 30th annual tour to major Canadian cities by a throng of California producers.
No foreign wine region has paid attention so consistently to the Canadian market, and to good effect. In British Columbia, American producers sold 5.7 million litres of wine in 2009 (including bulk wine for cellared-in-Canada products). That is up from 4.2 million litres in 2005.
The Americans have a 20% share by volume of the import market in British Columbia, second only to the Australians at 23%. No doubt, the Americans have become a little more competitive as the Canadian dollar rose to par or better.
However, the Americans are not at all happy with the high mark-ups that the provinces here levy on imported wine. British Columbia’s 117% mark-up is among the highest. There is a serious initiative beginning in the U.S. Congress to pressure Canadian provinces to lower those mark-ups.
That would lower the price of California wine in this market but I am not holding my breath. For one thing, it would cause havoc among Canadian wineries. Secondly, can you imagine the governments of, say, British Columbia or Ontario surrendering a cent of alcohol revenue while cutbacks are being made to health and education programs? Cheaper wine does not look like a vote getter to me.
So when the California Wine Fair travelled through Vancouver recently, I spent time tasting “affordable” wines. In the real world, that’s what most of us buy. The good news is that the quality is more than satisfactory.
Some of California’s best values come from wineries in the Lodi Valley, that vast area of vineyards just south of Sacramento. One of my favourite producers is the Michael~David Family of Wines, so called because it is run by brothers Michael and David Phillips and their families.
The brothers represent the fifth generation of a family that has been growing fruits and vegetables in the Lodi Valley since the 1850s. The winery is on the family farm, now a destination for wine tourists because of its excellent restaurant and its large farm market.
Their wines have been in British Columbia for about five years, most notably a powerhouse called Seven Deadly Zins ($26), the winery’s flagship Zinfandel. The 2007 vintage received 90 points from Robert Parker. I scored it a point less, probably because I was blown away by the winery’s 2007 Earthquake Zin (92 points, $40). An intensely concentrated wine, it gets its name because the grapes are from old vines, some of which were planted in 1906, the year of the San Francisco earthquake.
The winery also has a fine entry-level Windmill Estates Zinfandel (89 points, $20). As well, there is a complex red blend called Petite Petit (90 points, $30), which is 85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot. These wines, along Syrah, Viognier and Chardonnay from this winery, are likely to show up in private wine stores. Buy them when you can.
Another powerhouse of value wines from California is Delicato Family Vineyards, founded in 1924 by the Indelicato family. It was a producer of bulk wines until the 1990s when it began bottling the wines for its own plethora of labels, all of them inexpensive.
The entry level label ($15-$16 a bottle) is Twisted and two are listed in B.C. The Twisted Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (86) is a jammy, uncomplicated red. The Twisted Zinfandel 2008 (85) is plummy, earthy and also uncomplicated. Hopefully, the Twisted Pinot Grigio 2009 will also get listed. This delicious 88-point wine is light and refreshing and would populate my fridge all summer long.
The next step is Delicato’s Gnarly Head label. Not listed is an amazing new product, Gnarly Head Pinot Noir, which would sell for around $20 but tastes like $40. Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($20, 88 points) is a nicely textured, satisfying wine. The Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2008 ($20, 89 points) is a fine, concentrated wine with spicy plum and berry flavours.
Delicato’s more conventional labels include Clay Station Unoaked Viognier 2008 ($19, 89 points), a crisp and refreshing white with melon and citrus flavours and with the typically full texture of this variety.
An outstanding value is the winery’s 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($20, 90 points), a chewy and full-bodied Lodi red with flavours of plum, chocolate and liquorice. For me, this wine capped an impressive tasting of wines that generally over-deliver.
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