Posts tagged cabernet sauvignon

The Beginning of April…in Spanish Wine

A Junior year abroad turned into a love affair with a Spaniard then changed course and morphed into a love of Spanish wines. And all these years later, we’re standing in my kitchen sipping the first of April Cullom’s own wine label, the 2013 Casa Abril Coupage. It starts with aromas of violets and grasses, hits the palate with restrained dark fruit and departs leaving an impression of nice acidity and tannins worked in to a lengthy finish. Made with 40% Tempranillo, 40% Syrah and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine’s grapes come from vineyards near Madrid owned by April’s friends. The wine’s official designation is Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, with respectably old vines grown at around 2500 feet with no pesticides in the vineyards, and tt harvest time, it’s so hot here during the day the grapes must be picked at night.
Our second wine is made with old vine tempranillo from Ribera del Duero: the 2011 Alma de Vino. Again, winemaker Cesar Munoz is a friend of April’s. Unfiltered and unfined, the wine has a distinctly red fruit and earthy aroma, a concentration of fruit on the palate along with minerality, acidity and good, integrated tannins in the long finish.
Just to see what works, we bring out the ham and a mild cheese — Monterey Jack because we don’t have any young Manchego in the house. It all works nicely, but we are surprised to discover that the best thing about this snack is the wine’s pairing with Iggy’s Francese bread, which is made with a touch of sourdough.
Some hours after April leaves to get ready for a store tasting at Social Wine in Boston, I uncover the glasses and taste them again. Both wines have blossomed into their own individual versions of big red fruit flavors with excellent acidity and mild tannins. It’s the ending that people remember…

Black Box Wines: More to Like? Yes and No

black box pinot-noir-hamIf you’re like me and you want great wine at a great price, sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. (Though, as a positive-type person, I don’t tend to write about most of the frogs because I like to concentrate on recommendations, not warnings.)
Anyway, when the Black Box Wines people asked me if I’d like to sample their wines, I remembered trying some good ones years ago. Between their samples and visiting friends, I’ve tried two whites and two reds in the past few weeks. What I like about all the boxed wines is that they really do last for weeks, since there’s no aeration to start degrading the wine quality immediately (which is what happens with wines in bottles). Also, each box contains the same amount as four bottles of wine, so there is some saving in $$ as well as in manufacturing and shipping.
But how are the wines themselves, you ask? I liked the 2013 Pinot Noir (around $20/box) because it’s what you would expect from a reasonably good California Pinot. Made with grapes from several California regions (78% pinot noir, 21% syrah, 1% “dry red” whatever that means), it has strawberry and cherry flavors augmented by some green leafiness, along with acidity and mild tannins — meaning that the wine pairs well with many different types of foods. A medium-long finish, too.
What about the Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon? At various gatherings, people seemed to like them but I was unimpressed. They all lacked balance and complexity, and I, personally, would not go back for more. Stick with the Pinot Noir this season…

Tasting Wines Direct from the Vineyards: Estrella Farms

Vineyards in Paso Robles, California
When I sample wines, they are often blends of grapes from different vineyards. Some grapes come from vineyards owned by the winery while others are purchased from various growers. And sometimes these growers save a portion of their harvest to make their own wines.

Recently I was invited to taste the wines made by Lee and Lorraine Steele, the owners of Estrella Farms in the Paso Robles region of California. Estrella’s grapes are mainly sold to some of the region’s most famous wineries: Justin Vineyards and Winery and Tablas Creek Vineyard.

The vineyards of Estrella Farms are planted only to cabernet sauvignon and syrah, and the Steeles make a couple wines from these grapes. Their own Cabernet Sauvignon goes into neutral French oak for 20 months before they hand-bottle the wine. They add 2% of their syrah to “tone down” the cab, and the wine is unfiltered.

Tasting this way, it was fascinating to see the features that stand out in Estrella’s wine: what Justin would value as blending elements. Estrella’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasant aperitif wine. It had light, bright fruit — though a bit indistinct in flavor — and very little finish. (Justin, I assume, has other grapes to round out the finish in their wines.)

Estrella’s 2011 Syrah was a more balanced wine (with the addition of 5% of their own cabernet sauvignon), with good acidity and bright, cooked fruit and cocoa flavors, as well as some buttery toffee notes and a moderate finish. Most of Estrella’s syrah goes to Tablas Creek, a winery well-known for its Rhone-style blends, and this Estrella wine was a quality component, a nice wine in its own right.

Water Witching like Marc Mondavi

When I was little, we went out on my great-uncle’s farm in Illinois one day, while he was figuring out where to dig a new well. My great-uncle had hired a dowser, which was the preferred Midwestern term for a “water witch” — someone who has the natural ability to detect water underground. In this case, the dowser used a forked stick of a certain type of new wood, I think it might have been a fruit tree. That day, the dowser let me try holding the forked stick: I didn’t feel anything. He let my sister try, and the dowsing rod went wild, leading her right to a small source of water, before the dowser had found it.
(In the end, yes, the dowser found a large source of water, and yes, they dug a well, and yes, it worked.)
So as soon as I heard that Marc Mondavi’s company was sending me a dowsing rod with their Divining Rod wines, I couldn’t wait for my sister to visit. As luck would have it, the package kept getting delayed different places, and I finally received it the day before she left. She was in the middle of packing when I made her go out into the yard to do some of the dowsing exercises recommended in the accompanying booklet. I tried holding the dowsing rods (metal, in this case) and nothing much happened. She tried, and the rods really started moving, crossing over each other and leading her around the yard – to where we later found out was the location of the water main near the street. Somehow, she ended up packing the rods, too…
What about the wines? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. There’s a 2010 Alexander Valley Cab: red fruit-y, with mild tannins, pleasant, better with casual food – like pizza and lasagna — than without. And though I have had problems with Chardonnay from this area in the past, Divining Rod is making steps in the right direction: this 2010 from the Santa Lucia Highlands is less flabby than others, more structured, offering some fruit without being totally overwhelming.

Bordeaux Soup, Part IV — Along the Dordogne River, on the Arcachon Bay, and Through the Vineyards

Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur vineyards also line the wide Dordogne River. There, several new families have taken up residence and are re-working the traditional vineyards according to the new AOCs’ specs. Near a traditional river fishing-hut with its winched-up net, Frederic Mallier is also going organic at Château de la Vielle Chapelle. Despite the frost, hail and other problems during the 2007 season, he has produced an extremely nice “everyday Bordeaux” with 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc which was my favorite in the tasting.
Also along the river are Dominique Meneret’s park-like gardens, golden at the end of the day, next to his vineyards. Since he acquired Château Brondeau in 1980 and Château Courteillac in 1998, he has been working to make a “cashmere wine,” smooth and elegant. Many of his wines have the feel of a Cru Classé; the 2009, still in barrel, was extremely promising, too.
Next door, at Château de Bel, Olivier Cazenave has fulfilled his dream of establishing his young family in a small house with vineyards. When we arrived one evening, we found he had also invited friends from Chateau Belgarde and Chateau La Mothe-du Barry to come over with their wines for an informal dinner. This was preceded by a long Apéritif during the sunset on a deck over-looking the river, where we sipped everyone’s wines while waiting for the mascaret – an remarkable, twice-daily tidal bore that comes up the Dordogne 70 km from the sea during certain seasons. And impressive sight I had never heard of before; I learned that in warmer months when the wave is higher, people surf this wave all the way up the river.
We experienced true historical life at Stefaan Massart’s Château Vilatte, where he grows his own wheat and bakes bread in the 19th century oven he renovated. He took over the estate at 19, when his father died in the early 1980s. Stefaan’s friend brought over a buggy drawn by a spectacular draft horse, to take us on a tour of the vineyards. Back at the house, looking at his curious collection of historic winery machines, we enjoyed a traditional, regional stew Stefaan had been cooking all day. Even his wines tended toward the historic, meant for ageing, like his merlot-based 2000: big, fruity and vibrant and great to drink right now, ten years after it was made.
Xavier Milhade of Château Recougne chose a different mode of transportation: he took us out on a simple oyster barge on the bay at Arcachon (Bordeaux’s seaside getaway). Along with blue-eyed, curly-haired Jonathan, our pilot, we had our aperitif wine – sauvignon blanc with a good balance of crisp and fruity — on the boat. Afterward, we went back to Jonathan’s oyster shack and feasted on fresh seafood matched to Xavier’s wines.

To hear more about my travels through the region, listen to me on iwineradio
To learn more about the region, visit the Planet Bordeaux visitor center – it’s about 20 minutes east of the city of Bordeaux — or check out the Planete Bordeaux website

Hidden Ridge does vertical wine

A vertical vineyard, that’s intriguing. 55 degree slopes, it says on the label. The wines were velvety, rich and smooth. I was reminded of the day some years ago when I wound my way up to Pride Winery on the cusp of a mountain — and discovered boutique-quality wines at far less than Screaming Eagle prices. Turns out, Hidden Ridge is very near Pride Mountain, explained co-owner Casidy Ward. She and her husband bought some land for a second home, then started selling grapes…then succumbed to the lure of having their own winery.
When they released their first wines a few years ago, it was at the Napa Cab standard $75. Now the wines are $40. I’m thinking: snap them up! But why reduce pricing? Is it because Napa Cabernet Sauvignons carry an inflated price to put them in the range of people who buy by price? That’s often true. And it could be true here. It could also be that the winery has gone from producing 1,000 to 3,800 cases. And it could be the economy, too.
The wines have also evolved over time. They’ve added more clones as the years progressed. I sampled the wines at Post 390 in Boston. The 2004 was creamy as well as jammy with a touch of eucalyptus, great with sous-vide filet mignon drizzled with a port sauce, and enhanced with Tuscan kale to bring out the eucalyptus. The 2005 was a rich mixture of strawberry and raspberry juice, slightly thinner, slightly more tannic, matched to a grilled lamb chop.
The 2006 (decanted) carried cocoa, minerality, depth of fruit and mild tannins, tasted with everything but not a clear winner with either. Perhaps we need to wait a year; Hidden Ridge takes the luxury of time with their wines; 2006 is their current vintage