Recently I took a “road trip” across the Golden State when I visited the kick-off to the LCBO’s ‘California Style’ wines promotion. The month-long showcase of more than 100 of California’s brightest, boldest (and most reasonably priced) wines is taking place in 630 stores across Ontario.

The California Style event was hosted at the beautiful Summerville LCBO, where we were treated to samples of wines from the Napa, Montegey, Lodi and Sonoma regions.

Duskie Estes, celebrity chef in blue chef uniform raising a glass of red wine and holding a plate of foodAlso, Sonoma County-based celebrity chef, Duskie Estes of Zazu Restaurant was on hand to provide food to accompany our wines. The Top Chef whipped up two of her signature recipes for this sunny event: a delicate warm Brussels sprouts, apple, black pig bacon salad, and a sublime slow-roasted lamb shoulder with tomato-braised chickpeas (garnished with mint chutney and feta cheese). Estes tells me a Californian zinfandel or Pinot Noir would be a wonderful accompaniment to the lamb.

Estes chatted about California cuisine, her restaurant and her love of cooking. From starting to cook at the age of five, when she received an EZ Bake oven, Estes now has 25 years’ experience as a professional cook under her apron belt. Nestled in Sonoma County, surrounded by some of the region’s best wineries, Zazu is a “farm to table” restaurant. Estes tells me, “We raise our own pigs, goats, ducks, and chickens.” Spring has already arrived in California, where Estes says, “yellow mustard flowers are blooming in the area – the local vineyards look beautiful right now.”

Four different regions were represented at the event and I started with a wonderful—and incredibly reasonable—181 Merlot from Lodi ($16.95), which had a burst with cherry flavour. I also sampled a more pricey red from Californian’s well-known Napa Valley. The Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi ($31.95) is a blend of four grapes and worth splashing out on.

Not to be biased in favour of Californian reds, my next tasting was from the same region as Zazu, a Sonoma Ghost Pines Chardonnay ($17.95). Less oaky than many Chardonnays, Ghost Pines has a clean lift and lots of acidity. Finally, I “visited” the region of Monterey and sampled Hahn winery’s Pinot noir ($18.05) The 11,000 acre winery is family-owned and this wine stands out for its hints of Californian fruits, but as the wine maker told me: “with more going on.”
Other events taking place during the California Style promotion include the annual California Wine Fair at the Fairmont Royal York hotel, Monday, April 8th. As well, LCBO customers will be treated to in-store tastings, a California-style cuisine take-away recipe booklet, LCBO’s spring issue of Food & Drink offers restaurant recommendations and California-inspired recipes.

Rick Slomka, the Californian Wine Institute’s Canadian Director, notes, “Ontario consumers continue to embrace California wines, making it the fastest growing wine region in this market by volume and value.”
As an Aussie, my go-to red wines tend to be Australian. However, this event introduced me to a region and wines I knew little about. I left with my purchase a bottle of 181 Merlot and a definite appreciation for sunny Californian wines.

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