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West Coast Wines: Acquaint yourself with California's bounty

Strong rumours made the rounds this week at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival that California will top the playbill for the 2013 event. With that prospect to sip on, here are three Golden State selections that you can taste at this year's festival and also purchase at B.C. Liquor Stores and private wine shops.

J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut Non-Vintage, Russian River Valley $36

Bright, zesty and full of citrusy and yeasty aromas, this impressive blend uses mainly chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown on cool-climate sites in the Russian River Valley. ("Cuvée" means vintage or vatful, and in Champagne, the French use it to designate a blend that adheres to a house style.) Owner Judy Jordan's mantra is "elegance and balance," and that she achieves with this top brut non-vintage bubble. It has excellent aging potential but you'll have trouble keeping your hands off it. Bubblies offer a range of pairing options, from buttered popcorn to Japanese tempura to rustic Middle Eastern mezes.

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Beringer Vineyards Knights Valley CabernetSauvignon 2008, Knights Valley, California, $44.99

At Beringer, Napa's most storied vineyard, this cabernet has been a benchmark every year since 1976. In this spicy and cocoa-scented complex red, winemaker Laurie Hook creates a subtle example of how good California cab can be. The fruit is sourced from Knights Valley, just to the north of Napa. Cabernet doesn't work with delicate dishes, so stick with properly seasoned red meats (roasted or grilled), soup, stews and ragouts. Saltiness makes it shine – think olives, capers, pancetta – as do cheeses such as cheddar, gruyere and fontina. Try the '08 and keep an eye out for the '09 vintage – it may be the best yet.

Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2009, Santa Barbara, Monterey, California $37.99

K-J is a California icon and deserves much of the credit for weaning American consumers away from overly sweet whites and introducing them to the pleasures of good, dry chardonnay. Winemaster Randy Ullom calls this creamy, sensitively oaked chard "the winemaker's cut." It comes from the top three per cent of specially designated fruit from along the coastal ridges of Santa Barbara and Monterey counties. Pair its fresh tropical fruit flavours with roast chicken or pork, scallops and prawns or chanterelle, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms.

Kasey Wilson is food editor of Wine Access magazine and editor of Best Places Vancouver.

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