The California Wine Fair in Toronto is a great opportunity to try a selection of the best wines from the state. While the trade tasting can be quite busy, the public event in the evening is typically more relaxed and a great value for the wines you experience. This year, I attended the media tasting earlier in the day and had the opportunity to take an incredible class on California Pinot Noir from one of my greatest wine writing inspirations, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible. I would be hard-pressed to pick just five favourite moments from the day, but I wanted to highlight a few of the stand-out selections.

Tasting 13 fascinating California Pinot Noir wines with Karen MacNeil.Learning about California Pinot Noir with Karen MacNeil

I’ve said many times on this blog that The Wine Bible got me through my early wine classes and it remains one of my go-to wine resources. With that in mind, there was no way I would miss out on a Pinot Noir tasting with Karen MacNeil.  At this session, we tasted through a wealth of new-to-me Pinots from smaller California producers, which showcased some of the best of the varietal being grown in the state. Very little of this wine is available here, so I won’t go into too much detail about tasting notes but in tasting 13 of MacNeil’s hand-picked favourites, you could really see the diversity of the grape and the quality of Pinot that California can produce. I don’t think we get enough of the really good stuff in Ontario, so we sometimes overlook this grape when buying from California, but this tasting inspired me to seek out some of these producers when I next visit the state. My favourites from the tasting? The 2013 Laetitia Vineyards and the 2013 McIntyre Vineyards.

Red wines from Birichino at the California Wine Fair.Birichino and Bonny Doon

One of my favourite booths every year is the one shared by Birichino and Bonny Doon Vineyards. The wines are just so unique and interesting—and so very good. I wish the LCBO would offer these more regularly, as it’s such a treat to be able to explore a different side of California winemaking. The Birichino Vin Gris and the Bonny Doon Vin Gris De Cigare were two of my top picks of the event and the 2013 Birichino Grenache was my favourite red wine of the day. Even the heavily floral Birichino Malvaysia had me impressed—I am such a fan of winemakers that go beyond the boundaries and make wines that are outside the box, yet still very drinkable.

Ca'Momi Cabernet Sauvignon was a stand out at the California Wine FairCa’Momi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

California Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic and this one with strawberry, smoke, dark raspberry and tar on the nose and a nice fruit-forward palate, is very enjoyable. At $25.95 at the LCBO, this is a good value sipper if you want to drink California Cab without breaking the bank.

Liberty School 2013 Pinot Noir was a stand-out at the California Wine Fair in Toronto.Liberty School 2013 Pinot Noir

I was in a Pinot Noir kind of mood after the Karen MacNeil tasting and I really enjoy Liberty School wines (their Zinfandel is a perennial favourite in our house), so this 2013 Pinot Noir was a good option for me. The nose is herbaceous with smoke, green pepper, cherry and dark red fruit, there are herbal notes on the palate with a good bit of salt on the finish and some great dark fruit notes that make this a good food-friendly wine. The Pinot Noir is currently only available via agent in Ontario, or you can visit the winery on your next trip to Paso Robles, which Shawn and I heartily recommend. Our 2014 visit was a highlight of our California trip.

Caricature red wine blend from Lodi, CaliforniaFun red blends

I like a good Califonia red blend, preferably one that’s not too sweet, so Hope Family Vineyards’ Troublemaker is a perennial favourite (note that they also make Liberty School Wines). At this year’s show, I also tried Caricature out of Lodi, California, which I had enjoyed at the Wine Bloggers Conference Awards Dinner last year when they announced Lodi as the location for this year’s conference. Caricature is a little on the sweet side and very drinkable, but with some nice savoury notes that offset the sweet and keep it from becoming a fruit bomb. While I don’t think I’ll make it to Lodi for this year’s conference, I do hope I’ll continue to see a good selection of Lodi wines available in Ontario.

There were many other California stand-outs at the show, but these were just a few highlights I wanted to share. What’s your favourite California wine? Share it in the comments or on social.