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California Wine Round-Up

A few weeks ago I returned home from a trip to California. Like the best trips, it was life-changing and left me with a different perspective on the world around me. Since coming home I’ve been savouring the memories of driving the Golden Gate Bridge, seeing Napa Valley first-hand, driving the gorgeously windy and rugged roads through Big Sur, being swept away by the grandeur of Hearst Castle, and daydreaming of a glamourous life in LA. If it sounds like I saw most of the state it’s because I did – all while sampling what wine the area has to offer, of course!

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the wonderful Californian wines I had the pleasure of meeting on my trip.


Welcome to California!

Welcome to California!

Black Ridge, 2012 Merlot

Slightly jammy, very smooth. We had this in San Francisco on our first night of the trip. A great wine to welcome me to the State.


That label! <3<3<3

That label! <3<3<3

Circadia, 2013 Chardonnay

This wine was a gracious gift from our hotel in Napa (That place was swanky with a capital S). This wine was definitely characteristic of a Chard – full-bodied, grassy, smooth. It wasn’t very cold when I had it, which wasn’t ideal, but I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. From the colour to the flavour to the design of the label, I really liked everything about this wine.



A little French-style California in Santa Barbara.

Jaffurs, 2011 Syrah

A Santa Barbara wine! This winery specializes in making wine with varietals from the Rhone region in France. I’m biased because I love a good Syrah, but I thought this wine was lush and delicious and went very well with my dinner – pappardelle pasta with lamb ragout.

This is the wine that really proved to me just how much great wine there is all over this state. Seriously, there are great wines being made in every little nook and cranny. I know that might be common knowledge to some of you, but to me the vastness of the wine industry there is a revelation.



Butterscotch, ahoy!

Roche, 2013 Chardonnay

This was a very different kind of Chard. There were vanilla notes (no surprise there) but the nose was totally different. I got butterscotch on both the nose and the flavour, and more and more as the wine opened up and warmed in my glass. Delicious!


Such cool artwork on the label. Click the pic for more info on this winery's labels.

Such cool artwork on the label. Click the pic for more info on this winery’s labels.

Imagery, 2012 Grenache

This wine was so fun. That label alone! It had a gorgeous ruby colour and gave up some smoke on the nose and in the flavour. I also got some red berries from this medium-bodied wonder. Definitely a Grenache and a great sipper as I sat with my fellow drinkers on an idyllic rooftop deck in the LA heat.


Bottom Line

Wow, is California wine ever diverse! I mean, I’d had wine from CA before, but this trip was like boot camp for this region. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, red, white, sparkling – you can rest assured that I worked hard on this trip!

Possibly the most surprising revelation coming out of this adventure was my impression of Chardonnays. I pride myself on being able to appreciate all types of wine, but true appreciation for the biggest and most lush white wine out there had eluded me until now. I think I like Chards now! After years of not enjoying the lush buttery notes and oaky solidity, after tasting some of these California Chardonnays, something finally clicked. That’s right: I’m coming out of the closet as a Chardonnay lover.


What I knew going into this trip

  • California is a solid wine region, and has been making award-winning wine since the 1970’s at least.
  • While I’m sure they make a bunch of different kinds of wine at top notch quality, California is known for making Chardonnays.
  • Napa is only one of a bunch of different wine regions in the state – there’s also Sonoma, the Russian River Valley, and Paso Robles, to name a few.


What I learned coming out of this trip

  • Everyone involved in the wine industry in this state is incredibly kind and friendly, and many people travel huge distances to work there! Case in point: one woman I met had moved to California from Minnesota just to work in the wine industry.
  • It’s not just certain regions in the state that grow wine – it’s EVERYWHERE. From big names to family hobby wineries, every single town you go to will boast their local wine industry. Case in point: while staying in Carmel Valley Village our host told us that there were no fewer than 17 tasting rooms in town – and the town is only four city blocks big!
  • It’s aaaaaaaaall good. I didn’t have a bad sip, glass, or bottle. Even knowing the high calibre of wine going in, I was surprised by how much I loved everything I tasted – even the Chards!


Have you ever travelled to a famous wine region?

Learning About Wine

Labels, Schmabels

It’s not just our tongues that affect our impressions of wine. You and I know this, of course, since we talk about the smell and look of a wine every time we taste something new. But what about the label? How does that affect our impression of the wine?

Labels influence the drinker, and are not to be underestimated. The label can mean many different things, but when it really comes down to it the label is a reflection on how the company wants you to view the wine. It’s all marketing, and the aim is to match the wine to the drinker its intended for.   So How Do They Influence You, REALLY? Old world (eg. France, Italy, Spain) wine labels tend to have pictures of vineyards and castles on them, and the language (when it’s in English) highlights history and tradition. These bottles are signalling that they are to be taken seriously.

“Look at my maturity and hidden depths! Sip me while reading Foucault and pondering the virtues of humanity.”  – Old world label

New world wine labels (eg. California, Australia, Canada) tend to have more modern labels, with quirky images and names and vibrant colours. These bottles are signalling that they are friendly and accessible.

“Hey, girl, hey. I’m like that person you’re eyeing from across the room, all mysterious and cool. Have a glass of me at the cottage after a day of wakeboarding.”  – New world label

I did disagree with this video’s opinion of sommeliers – bus boys with dubious credentials who happen to know a lot about wine? Ouch! This video doesn’t give somms enough credit – those people really do have a fair bit of training and tasting. However, this was still an enjoyable video. I recommend a watch if you’re into wine or psychology – or both, like me!