Anyone going to California for some wine tasting soon? No? You'd be utterly insane not to. Here are some tips on where to go and how to bring it back to BC.
How to bring it back...
I packed all these puppies on the plane back to Vancouver in my checked luggage. You pay an 85% BC tax on each bottle brought back to Canada, but you'll never find any of these wines here and if you did they'd be marked up to that percentage anyway, so have at 'er. Whites have a cheaper tax rate than reds which is weird. Check your airline for baggage restrictions and pack really tight, lots of padding. You do run the risk of breakage, but I like living on the edge, I guess. I will do anything for the love of wine! Vivre les Vins!
On $236 worth of wine... (I got lots of industry discounts at the wineries so that's why the total value is so low) I paid about $11/bottle in taxes (13 bottles). The volume of wine and the price is how they calculate how much you owe. Take your 2 most expensive bottles and use them as your allotted exemption (1.5 litres). They didn't check my receipts which I found weird. I had some wines that were gifts from a winery, in that case, you just have to ballpark the prices.
Where to taste...
There are a LOT of wineries, plan your route and phone a week in advance to make reservations especially in Sonoma/Napa or you won't get in to the top wineries. Go to the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc, Central Valley, you'll taste a lot more wineries in that small area. It's not as glamorous as the vineyards, but if you are a serious taster, there are no lines here and the pourers can actually talk to you.
Get the Santa Barbara Vintner Wine Map for Central Valley, very useful (ask at the tourist info center or the wineries themselves). Wine tasting fees abound $10-20 for each winery, but they pour you a hefty glass so don't feel shy to share with a buddy. Central Valley was my favourite region, I almost couldn't find a bad bottle and the prices were kick ass. Really good range of big reds to light delicate sparklers too.
Here's the list of my favs:
Sta.Rita Hills and around...
Sanford Fleur du Domaine - V+R White Rhone blend '08
LaFont - Chardonnay '09
Palmina - Malvasia Bianca
Longoria - Syrah '04 & Vino Dulce
Sonoma & Carneros...
Benovia - Cohn Vineyard PN
Rochioli - Ranch Red
J Vineyards - ViognerTruchard - Napa Cab & Roussanne 2000
Copain - Chardonnay(Anderson Valley) & Syrah (James Berry, Paso Robles) '07
Not present cause I drank it already... Iron Horse - Brut Rose, Domaine Carneros - Brut Rose... both fabulous!!
Best Pinot Noir I tasted was, actually, in Sta.Rita Hills at Sanford Winery. Their $75 Vista al Rio goes toe to toe with the best Burgundy in a top vintage. You'll notice the glaring lack of Cabernet in my list... we ran out of time and I lean to lighter wines anyway:) That's for next year.
My last tip is make sure you do some spitting if you want to remember any of your wines and be sure about your capability to judge your purchases. Or just feck it and drink your face off, your choice.