Fine SOB Cabernet

Fine SOB Cabernet

If you want to drink the best wines, look for the SOB.

Huh? You know, wine made from Sustainable, Organic, or Biodynamic grapes. Why is that important? Commercial farming is based on control with lots of chemical inputs and fertilizers and use of chemical herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides to control weeds, pests, and fungus. They do that but they also kill many of the beneficial microbes (yeasts, bacteria, molds, etc.) and beneficial insects and earthworms in the vineyard. SOB farming does not use chemical inputs and remedies so SOB vineyards have healthy microbial populations that support healthy insect and earthworm populations which aerate the soil (keeping the soils alive) and prey on detrimental insects. And, as it turns out, that healthy microbial population is also the means by which terroir or a sense of place is transmitted into the wine.

Fine Wine (which is a definable thing) comes from an identifiable Place and an identifiable Person. That place is where the grapes are grown and that person, whether the owner or estate manager or winemaker, is the motive force behind why the wines are grown and made and taste as they do. That motive force decides whether to grow (or buy) SOB grapes with which to make their wines. And they decide what techniques to use in the winery. A Person who goes to the trouble to grow SOB grapes is likely to refrain from dosing said grapes with sulfur-dioxide (an antimicrobial) when they come into the winery. And they are likely to keep a clean-but-not-sterile winery that has its own beneficial population of yeasts, bacteria, and fungi. Further, they are likely to let those two healthy microbial populations (vineyard and winery) interact to generate a beneficial Indigenous Yeast Fermentation.

So when a winery harvests grapes from an SOB vineyard, they bring a sampling of the natural microbial population of that vineyard into the winery with the grapes and those microbes, if allowed (by the Person who is the motive force) work with the natural microbial population of the winery to express both the Place of the vineyard and the Place of the winery into the wine. This indigenous yeast fermentation starts much more slowly with a greater variety of yeasts (and other microbes) doing the work and transmitting their flavor inputs than a cultured commercial yeast fermentation. The result is a more complex set of flavors making it into the fermenting wine.

If all of this happens and the Person behind the wine makes other good decisions throughout the process, the result can be wines that move beyond being “just” fine wines into Great Wines that show real excellence. For me, the hallmark of that excellence is wine that is Layered, Textured, and Dimensional (LTD). And the vast majority of all the wines I’ve tasted that I find to be LTD wines are made from SOB grapes with an indigenous yeast fermentations.

Here’s my selection of some of the best of the SOB Cabernets from California I have tasted (and drunk) lately. None of these wines are blockbusters and, although they sell well in steakhouses, none are what I think of as Steakhouse Cabernets. Rather, they are elegant balanced, nuanced wines that often exhibit layering and textures and dimension. These are what I think of as Great Wines.

ARAUJO EISELE ESTATE Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2013   ($485.89)
100% biodynamic Cabernet Sauvignon given an indigenous yeast fermentation in temperature-controlled tanks with pump-overs. Aged 20 months in all French oak barrels (all new).     Purple-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics.   Rich and ripe but completely in balance. Elegant and lovely with delicious dark and darkest red fruit. Layers in tobacco and gravel-earth with notes of spice and cedar. Stunningly good in its freshness and richness and over all pleasure it gives. Integrated, Complete. Layered-Textured-Dimensional BearScore: 100.

RIDGE Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains, 2014   ($178.99)
An all estate, sustainably grown (at yields of less than 1.5 tons-per-acre) blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petite Verdot from genitically diverse vineyard blocks given an indigenous yeast fermentation and an indigenous,naturally-occurring malo-lactic fermentation. Aged 17 months in 100% new air-dried oak barrels (97% American, 2% French, and 1% Hungarian).     Deep-dark-purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Lovely, balanced, elegant, supple very Cabernet-tasting red offering tobacco and spice with graphite and dust and hints of ceda and black pepperr. Complete, integrated, delicious. Nuanced. Layered-Textured-Dimensional. Stunningly good wine that stacks up with the very best wines made anywhere in the world. BearScore: 100.

OPUS ONE, Oakville Napa Valley, 2014   ($289.74)
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, and 2% Malbec grown organically on the estate’s vineyards. Indigenous yeast fermentation in temperature contolled stainless steel tanks with pumpovers. Aged 18 months in all French oak barrels (100% new)   2014 was the earliest budbreak in winery history.     Red-purple colo with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity, medium phenolics.   Supple, dusty-juicy, alive. Delicious ripe complex but focused Cabernet with tobacco, dust, cedar, and subtle graphite. This is one of the very best Cabernets made in Napa Valley today. Balanced and complete. Already drinkable but a wine to keep. BearScore: 98+.

QUINTESSA, Rutherford, 2014   ($165.99)
A biodyamically grown, estate-bottled blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, and 3% Carmenere fermented with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks using pump-overs (21 to 25 days average maceration) and aged 21 months in French oak barrels (85% new). Red-purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Riper and richer. Supple and delicious with juicy red and some black fruit accented with tobacco, black pepper, dust, cedar and more. Long and delicious. Layered-Textured-Dimensional. YUM. BearScore: 96+.

INGLENOOK Rubicon, Rutherford, 2013   ($161.47)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate’s certified organic vineyards fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with pumpovers and aged 18 Months in 100% French oak barrels (75% new).     Red-magenta color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Supple rich elegant classic (not modern) Cabernet . Red fruit and tobacco with spice and graphite. Balanced. Subtle. Integrated. Complete. Layered-Textured-Dimensional. BearScore: 96+.

INGLENOOK Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 2013     ($66.49)
A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot, and 2% Merlot from the estate’s certified organic vineyards fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with pumpovers and aged 18 months in 90% French & 10% American oak barrels (50 new).     Red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics.   Elegant balanced Cabby Cabernet. No manipulation or over ripeness. Just lot of classic Napa Cabernet Fruit with tobacco and graphite and a welcome bit of dust. Takes a minute to open up but more than repays that bit of required patience. Quite Delicious. BearScore: 94.

TREFETHEN Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll – Napa Valley, 2014   ($45.99)
A blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Merlot (all sustainably grown on the estate’s main ranch) fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with pumpovers and aged 18 months in 59% French 31% American, and 10% Hungarian oak barrels (48% new).   Purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly acidity, medium phenolics.   Supple focused elegant Cabernet. Lovely pure focused balanced red fruit and tobacco. Delicious. BearScore: 93.

HEITZ Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, 2012   ($221.99)
100% Certified Organic Cabernet Sauvignon fermented with blocked malo-lactic (very unusual in red wine making) and aged 1 year in Oak tanks followed by 30 months in French (Limousin) oak barrels (100% new), no ML     Deep-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Lovely supple, ripe, juicy. Darker red fruit with herbal notes of tobacco and euchalyptus to go with some dusty earth and integrated oak. BearScore: 95+.

HEITZ Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, 2010   ($84.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon (certified organic) fermented with pumpovers but blocked malo-lactic fermentation. Aged 1 year in oak tanks and then 30 months in all French (Limousin) oak barrels (all new)   No MLdeep-dense-red-purple color, and with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity, medium phenolics.   Dusty tobacco, cabby red with all red fruit. Elegant and balanced. BearScore: 93+.

HEITZ Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012   ($48.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the estate’s vineyards and almost all organic (Oak Knoll is farmed organically but not yet certified.     Fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with pumpovers to start and finished in American oak tanks. 1 year in oak tanks, 2 years in French Limousin Barrels (some new). Unusually, Heitz’ Cabernets get no malo-lactic fermentation. One additional year of aging in bottle before release.     Deep-dark-red color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Supple, fresh, lively, tobacco and red fruit Cabernet in a balanced, elegant, decidedly Claret style. BearScore: 91+.

GRGICH HILLS Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012   ($56.97)
A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc all from the estate’s certified organic vineyards. Aged 21 months in all French oak barrels (60% new) and then aged 2 years in bottle before release.     Purple color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.   Classic old-school Napa Cabernet with chewy, lively fresh darker-red-and-some-black-fruit accented with notes of tobacco leaf, graphite, cedar, and dusty oak. Delicious. BearScore: 94.

Heitz Cellar Seminar and Tasting

Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, at 7pm on Monday, November 27th at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française in welcoming Heitz Cellar’s Daniel Vu for a Heitz Cellar Seminar and Tasting. In this single winery tasting, we will taste through and discuss the range of wines from the legendary Heitz Cellar of Napa Vallley as we look at how they are made, their styles, and from where and what grapes they are made. We will taste the full range of their classic wines available in Texas including 5 vintages of the iconic Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. All wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered.


The lineup includes:
Heitz Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley 2016
Heitz Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2016
Heitz Ink Grade Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2013
Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2012
Heitz Trailside Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2010
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004

The Heitz Cellar Seminar and Tasting will cost $80 per person (cash or check) or $84.21 (regular). To purchase your ticket, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is French Cultural Center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., it is on the Southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

If you purchase a ticket and will not be able to attend, please cancel at least 24 hours before the class or you may be charged. Later cancellations will not be charged if we can fill the seat. This is often case as we regularly have waiting lists for these classes.

With 40 years in the wine business and 30-plus years experience teaching about wine, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities as well as the most experienced wine educator in Texas.

More Classes Coming Soon:
12.04.17          Monday          Tete de Cuvee Champagne Tasting benefitting Sonoma fires relief
12.11.17          Monday          Sparkling Rosé (Mostly Champagne)
12.18.17          Monday          Wine School Christmas Party and Toy Gather
01.08.18          Monday          TBD
01.16.18          Tuesday          Big 2015 Bordeaux Tasting at Crystal Ballroom (Houston)
01.17.18          Wednesday     Big 2015 Bordeaux Tasting at Trinity Groves (Dallas)

A Wine Dinner Benefitting ECHOS – Friday October 13th

SOLD OUT – Have started waiting list.

Dear Friends,
People in the wine trade from around the world have been calling and emailing to ask how I fared during and after Hurricane Harvey. My initial response is that even though we had water lapping at our front porch, Carol and I “got no water in our house or vehicles and so we were unaffected.” But we are not “unaffected.” Harvey has affected everyone on the Texas coastal plain from below Corpus Christi to up past Beaumont. I was back in the office on Tuesday August 29 so I haven’t been out volunteering – but I have been donating. I have been listening to family and friends and customers who are very affected. And I have done some plotting and scheming. What-if-I-were-to host a wine dinner to benefit ECHOS (an organization in southwest Houston that helps a lower-income, mostly immigrant population with such basic issues as healthcare, housing, food, and English-as-a-second-language that has been doing yeoman work with their clients in the wake of Harvey)? What-if-I-were-to cook and serve really elevated comfort foods? What-if-I-were-to pair those foods with some of the very best wines from around the world? What-if-I-were-to say that ALL the proceeds were to go to ECHOS? What-if-I-were-to tell you that David Weekley Homes promises to match the funds we raise? What-if-I-were-to plan it all for Friday October 13th? Well, all that “What-if-I-were-to” has come together so …
On Friday October 13th at 7pm, I will host (and cook along with Denise Ehrlich and others) a wine dinner benefitting ECHOS (see more about ECHOS below). This dinner-for-24 will be held in the Parish Hall at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany (which conveniently has a full commercial kitchen). We’ll start with a Champagne reception with nibbles and then sit down to a five-course dinner of “elevated comfort foods” served with extraordinary wines. Elevated comfort foods? Extraordinairy wines? Take a look at the menu. You may have to loosen your belt. And I think each of the selected wines represents the very best of its type. 


RECEPTION
Assorted nibbles (including Champagne Nachos)
Barons Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Champagne, NV
Barons Rothschild Rosé Champagne, NV

DINNER
Potato-Leek-Parsley Soup with a purple-potato-chip and lardon garnish
Lustau East India Sherry

Confit Quail and Seared Duck over dressed Mesclun with toasted pine nuts and lardons
Rochioli Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2014
Domaine Serene Evenstad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2014 

Short-Rib-and-Ox-Tail Boeuf Bourguignon over Tagliatelle
Quintessa, Rutherford, 2014
Opus One, Oakville, 2014
Ridge Monte Bello 2014

Cheese
Araujo Eisele Estate 2002 (from magnums)

Individual Apple Tarts with pecan and bacon served with an infused whipped cream
Ch. Rieussec Sauternes 2011

Graham’s Vintage Porto 1994

So come eat and drink knowing that every dime will go to a great cause; have fun and feel good about it. This ECHOS Wine Dinner will cost $500.00 per person (check payable to ECHOS or a credit card charge which will be processed by ECHOS). The reception will start at 7pm on Friday October 13, 2017. To reserve your spot for this unique and very special wine dinner, please reply by email to me at BearDalton@mac.com. I suggest coming by Uber or other car service as the wine pours will be generous. The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany is located at 9600 South Gessner Road (the southwest corner of Gessner and Bissonnet).


ECHOS (Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services) is a non-profit organization (501(C)3 corporation) connecting people in need with the health, social, and educational resources that can improve their lives. ECHOS’ mission is to connect people in need with health, social and educational resources that can improve their lives.
ECHOS  provides on-site help to families who are unable to access affordable health care and who do not have medical insurance coverage in completing and submitting applications for healthcare and social services. 
ECHOS offers on-site health care services and screenings promoting healthier and more productive lives including Children’s Immunizations, Blood Pressure and Glucose Screenings, Vision Screenings, Well and sick child check ups, and Dental care
ECHOS also assistclients in meeting basic needs and self-sufficiency.  Assistance is free and includes: Food from the Food Pantry, Food Fairs and Mini Health Fairs, English-as-a-second-language, Computer literacy, and Domestic violence support groups on campus.
ECHOS is located on the campus of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.

The “E” in ECHOS, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany is located at 9600 South Gessner Road. Epiphany is where I go to church and where I raised my kids. While I no longer live in the area, I went to Sharpstown High School and used to pass Epiphany on the way to and from school. The area has changed since then; Epiphany has changed along with it and now boasts one of the most diverse congregations in Houston. ECHOS is Epiphany’s outreach to the local community.

ABOUT THE WINES
All the wines are among my favorites and fall in the range of “best in class.”
The Barons Rothschild Champagnes are amongst my very favorite fixzz and both completely over deliver at their just under $100 per bottle price points.
The Lustau East India Sherry is the Sherry I buy most often and serve with the soup at all my family holiday meals.
The Rochioli Pinot Noir and Domaine Serene Evenstad Pinot Noir each offer best of Sonoma and best of Willamette quality as well as precise expression of their place(s).
The Quintessa, the Opus One, the Ridge Monte Bello, and the Eisele Estate (then Araujo) are my quartet of the definition of great Cabernet-based wine from California. All are farmed either sustainably, organically, or biodynamically. All are given an indigenous yeast fermentation. All are Layered-Textured-Dimensional wines of stunning quality.
Ch. Rieussec is one of my four favorite Sauternes producers. 2011 is a great Sauternes vintage. Bliss.
Graham’s Vintage Porto 1994. Legal-drinking-age Vintage Port from one of the greatest Port houses. Hope it’s cool that night.
All but one of the wines is provided for this event by the producer/supplier.

New Posts on SpecsFineWine.com

I’ve been busy this week on SpecsFineWine.com. Check out the links below.

Revealing Rosé: BONNARD ROSÉ, SANCERRE, 2016

Looking for a delicious, refreshing Pinot Noir Rosé to complement your summer grilled salmon and veggies? Look no further. Serious wine with a Rosé thrill.

BONNARD ROSE, SANCERRE, 2016   ($19.69)
100% Pinot Noir direct pressed and fermented at very low temperatures, aged on its fine lees for a short term period before being racked in order to preserve its freshness and aromatics.     Rose-pink color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity and light phenolics.  Very red fruit and very Pinot with enough citrus and a quite salty mineral character. Delicious, balanced, fresh, and refreshing Rosé. BearScore: 92.

 

Le CLARENCE de HAUT BRION, Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2011 with a 95 point rating?

Well, yes.
Why is this rating so high? Because I think the wine deserves it.
Sure, Le Clarence is the second wine of Ch. Haut Brion but I will argue that, after Ch. Haut Bron and Ch. La Mission Haut Brion, Le Clarence is the best red wine made in Pessac Leognan. Yes that means I prefer it to Ch. Pape Clement and Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte (which I really like) and a few other big names (many of which I really like). And it – justifiably – sells for more than those other wines. So why don’t the critics rate it higher? Because it is a “second wine” and they are prejudiced against second wines. How can it be this good? The answer is simple. Le Clarence (named for Clarence Dillon who bought Ch. Haut Brion in 1935 by his descendant and Domaine Clarence Dillon Président Directeur Général Prince Robert of Luxembourg)  come from the terroir of Ch. Haut Brion which is inarguably the best terroir in Pessac Leognan. And it is made by the Haut Brion team who make the three best red wines made in Pessac Leognan.
Don’t believe me? Try it.

Le CLARENCE de HAUT BRION (2nd vin de Ch. Haut Brion), Pessac Leognan Rouge, 2011  ($116.84)
A blend 71.5% Merlot, 22.8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4.5% Cabernet franc and 1.2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using pump-overs and aged in all French oak barrels (coopered at the estate, 25% new).     Deep purple-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Juicy ripe as much black as red fruit with resolving tannins along with gravel-mineral earth, sweet dark spice, and integrated oak. Complete, complex, delicious. BearScore: 95.
(This score is based on three recent tastings in the spring of 2017.)

 

A “Higher Grace” Indeed

The Eisele Vineyard was started by the Eisele family who mostly sold the grapes to other producers such as Ridge and Joseph Phelps. in 1990, the vineyard was purchased by Bart and Daphne Araujo who made and sold their top wine (grand vin) as Araujo Eisele Vineyard. They took the farming first to organic and then to biodynamic and introduced a second wine (called Altagracia) from the estate in the same manner as a second wine from a top chateau in Bordeaux. Everything was all about quality; not ripeness or extraction but quality. The Araujos eventually sold to François Pinault (owner of Ch. Latour in Bordeaux) whose team has renamed the winery Eisele Vineyard Estate. As Les Forts is the second wine of Ch. Latour and Le Clarence is the second wine of Ch. Haut Brion, so Altagracia is the second wine of Eisele Vineyard Estate. As with these top second wines of Bordeaux, this second wine is often underrated. I can make (and often have made) the case that Araujo (now Eisele Vineyard Estate) makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine in Napa Valley. I would also contend that the estate’s second wine –  Altagracia – bests many fancier, more expensive wines that carry big names and bigger price tags but under-deliver on focus, elegance, balance, and finesse.  Check out a “Higher Grace.”

ALTAGRACIA Eisele Estate, Napa Valley, 2012   ($129.99)
An all Eisele Vineyard blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, and 4% Malbec aged 21 months in oak barrels (all French, 99% new).      Purple-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly  balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics.  Supple fresh lively and ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobbaco, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely, amazingly accessible. Elegant and balanced with no hint of harshness or over extraction and no sweet over-ripeness so common in higher priced Napa Cabs. While this is the second wine from the Eisele estate (a frankly special place in the Palisades area near Calistoga), it is in its own right one of the very top Cabernet-based reds made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.

 

Delicious Bordeaux Pick: Ch. LAPLAGNOTTE BELLEVUE, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 2014

Check out this family-owned-and-produced, artesinally-made, small-production winner from southeast of the village of St. Emilion.

Ch. LAPLAGNOTTE BELLEVUE, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 2014 ($25.99)
A blend of 77% Merlot with 23% Cabernet Franc including a few Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Fermented in concrete tanks. and aged 12 months in all French oak barrels (25% new)     Red-violet color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Lovely pure red fruit St. Emilion offering fine mineral earth and subtle oak. For winemaker Arnaud de Labarre, it is all about translating fruit and place into the bottle and here he absolutely succeeds. Delicious.
BearScore: 93.

DOMAINE de l’HERRE Gros Manseng 2015

It seems like at least once a week I taste a new wine that tastes pretty good but I don’t know and can’t immediately figure out who the customer is for that wine. That’s usually not a good thing and it’s usually best to not buy those wines. But sometimes that odd duck is so good and such a value that it seems to introduces a new category. This Domaine de l’HERRE Gros Manseng is such a wine. Delicious, exuberant, thrillingly balanced, a little sweet, and quite refreshing – in fact, just the thing to go with some of the spicier foods resulting from that special fusion of cuisines found in modern Texas cooking. If you like a moderate level of spice in your food, you gotta check it out.

DOMAINE de l’HERRE Gros Manseng, Côtes de Gascogne, 2015 ($12.49)
100% Gros Manseng harvested cool, made inert with nitrogen displacing air for a non-oxidative skin-contact maceration before pressing and a  cool controlled temperature,  21 day fermentation. Aged in tank (no oak barrels) on its lees with occasional stirring.      Richer straw color with well-formed legs; semi-dry, medium-light-bodied with refreshing acidity and scant phenolics (from the skin contact).  Supple and fruity with sweet fresh peach and pineapple and sweet grapefruit. If Jolly Rancher made a grapefruit candy, it would taste a lot like this. Fresh, vivid, and, alive, and frankly delicious … as well as fairly unique. Try it with spicier seafood or Asian dishes, even with ceviche. BearScore: 90++.

 

ALL OF IT GOOD STUFF that over-delivers on flavor and, while none of it’s cheap, all offers value. Isn’t that what you’re looking for?

 

When the Steak Outshines the Sizzle

There’s an old salesman’s saying that goes “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” The idea was to sell the experience rather than the actual product. I’ve always been somewhat conflicted about that. The experience is an important and even integral part of the product but to support the experience, the product has to be good. And the bigger the experience is made out to be, the better the product has to be. My experience is that once someone starts selling sizzle, they often begin cutting corners on the steak. To me the steak is the most important thing. So here are some higher end Napa Valley reds that offer the best possible steak and (oh, by the way) the sizzle to go with it. You might think of it as great steak with elegant but exuberant (rather than flashy) sizzle – but in these cases, you are buying the steak and the sizzle comes along as part of the deal.araujoeiselevineyard

ARAUJO Eisele Vineyard Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2012 ($499.99)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Eisele Vineyard aged 20 months in oak barrels (all French, all new).       Purple-red with well-formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Rich, elegant, juicy. Lots of tobacco leaf and a bit of black pepper to go with dark and darker red fruit with little black fruit. hints at dark floral to go with subtle earth and oak. Pure. Lovely. Elegant. Textural and dimensional wine. BearScore: 97+.

ALTAGRACIA (Araujo) Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley, 2012 ($129.99)
altagraciaEffectively the second wine of the Araujo Eisele Estate, this is an all Eisele Vineyard blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc 6% Merlot, and 4% Malbec aged 21 months in oak barrels (all French, 99% new).     Purple-red with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly-balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, fresh, lively, ripe with red and darker red fruit accented with tobacco leaf, spice, dust, and oak. Delicious, lovely accessible. While this is the 2nd wine from the Eisele estate, it may be one of the ten best Cabernet-based red made in Napa Valley. WOW. BearScore: 95+.

OPUS ONE, Oakville – Napa Valley, 2013 ($264.99)opuslabel
An estate blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Component lots received an average of 18 days of skin contact. 17.5 months all new French oak barrels.     Purple-black with red highlights and well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium chewy phenolics. Complex still developing Cabernet blend offering dark and darkest red and some black fruit accented with tobacco leaf and cedar, black pepper and warm spice, and gravelly dusty earth and oak. Complex and evolving in the glass and even in the mouth. complex, satisfying. offers dimension and texture. BearScore: 96+.

QUINTESSA, Rutherford – Napa Valley, 2013 ($158.59)
quintessaAn all estate blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere, and 2% Petit Verdot fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and aged 21 months in all French oak barrels (85% new).   Red Purple with well formed legs; dry, medium-full-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium-plus phenolics. Supple, delicious, fresh. Darker red fruit with tobacco leaf and dust. Integrated oak and some spice. Delicious. Complete. Alive in the mouth. Best Quintessa yet? BearScore: 96.

Is there a theme here? You bet there is. All of these are stunningly good Cabernet Sauvignon or heavily Cabernet-based wines that offer elegance and balance, texture, and dimension. They push all my buttons. Having said that, I look for elegance and balance rather than extraction and extreme ripeness. I think Cabernet-based wines should offer some tobacco leaf and should not smell or taste of chocolate. Given those conditions, I think these are – at their price points – the best options in the market. Each is from a special and particular place. All practice pristine farming and land management. Each is made in a ‘spare no expense, make the best wine we can’ environment using meticulous process and respectful practice. All steak, no sizzle. But, in the best possible way, they will sizzle when you put them in your mouth.

MAKING A LIST . . .

The other day, I bumped into a friend-of-some-years (thereby avoiding referring to her as an “old friend”) who asked if I’d made my list yet. Even though I look more-than-a-bit like Santa Claus, I generally wait until after all the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone to start thinking about Christmas stuff. And I said as much.

She replied “No. Not that list. Your value wine list.”

I told her that it had been a few years since I’d done that. She said I should do it again as she needed a new one … and then she pulled a much-taped-and-folded, very-beat-up piece-of-paper from her purse and showed me one of my old value wine picks lists she’d been carrying around for several years. The vintages were all way out-of-date but a good chunk of the wines that are still available are wines I’d still recommend. After I looked at it (with some wonderment on my part), she carefully refolded it and put it safely back in her purse saying “See. I need a new one … but I’ll hold on to this one until you get around to it.”

Well, OK. Good idea. And since she’s what I refer to as a “church lady” (although not all church ladies go to my church), her “request” is really more of a command anyway.

You may well ask “What makes a ‘Value Wine?’” (You also may ask “What makes a Church Lady?” but that‘s a topic for another time and place.) In the general parlance, “value wine” is a good or recommended wine below a certain price point. That well-worn list my friend had saved was all under $15.00 per bottle. And that’s fair as far as it goes but to make my list, the wines have to consistently over-deliver. That being the case, not many heavily-marketed, national brands make my list as, while many of them offer a fair value, seldom do they over-deliver (and almost never do they over deliver over a series of vintages).

bearonwinelogoWhat you’ll find on this list are my picks (wines I actually buy and drink at home) with First-of-December-2016 prices under $20 (Spec’s cash bottle price – if you’re buying six-mixed at a time or by-the-case, the prices will be lower). The prices listed will likely change (some up, some down) over time. The vintages on the list are those that are current as I compile it but don’t worry too much if you bump into a vintage that’s younger. These wines tend to be pretty consistent from vintage-to-vintage. These are wines with enough production that they are available most of the time; I’m not including anything where we don’t get at least a couple of pallets a year. Finally, these are wines that I recommend. Which means they are wines I like to drink. Which means they offer plenty of fruit but are not over-ripe or over-manipulated. Which is to say that they taste of the grapes from which they were made and (generally) of the specific place they were grown.

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Wines That Over Deliver

ChTourSalvetThinking about Value in Wine
Value is a funny thing. When we hear value, we tend to think of lower-priced wines (many of which do not deliver value) but low-priced wine is nowhere near the whole story. While it may be hard to think of $75 bottle of wine as a value, the fact is that many (which is not to say most) are. Saying that a wine offers value means that it over-delivers at its price point. Once viewed in that light, it becomes clear that there are values – wines that over-deliver – at every price point, just as there are wines that under-deliver at every price point.

What is hard for me is to say that “this $25 wine is ‘as-good-as-that’ $75 wine” – because in the vast majority of cases, it isn’t. If it were, the market would have pushed up the price of the $25 bottle and pushed down the price of the $75 bottle. Or both. If, over the long term, both wines are stable at their price points (meaning that they have achieved market equilibrium), then, at least for those who are buying them, they deliver at least fair value at their respective price points.

While much is made of the occasional blind tasting where a cheaper wine trounces a flashier bottling, it happens less often than you might think. You hear about it because it’s so unusual and because it becomes news. An expensive wine trouncing a cheap wine isn’t news (and so is not reported) because that’s what’s supposed to (and most often does) happen. So you read about the cheap wine that won. And you wonder if it really is better.

When I read about something like that, I ask some questions:
– How where the wines tasted and presented?
– Were they tasted or drunk?
– How much time did the tasters have with each wine?
– Could they directly compare back and forth?
– Did the tasters know the prices of the two wines?
– Was there an interest in the outcome or bias on the part of whoever was conducting the tasting?

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