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.

SOLD OUT! – An Evening with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

SOLD OUT! – An Evening with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

NOW SOLD OUT!

 

On Friday, September 22 at 7pm, please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, in welcoming our always-entertaining-and-ever-informative friend Jane Ferrari, traveling winemaker of Yalumba, to the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a tasting of Yalumba’s excellent Australian wines. The net proceeds of this event will benefit ECHOS (see below).

The ever-popular Ms. Ferrari will talk about where the wines come from and how they are made as well as the history and traditions of both Yalumba and the Barossa Valley. A native of Australia’s acclaimed Barossa Valley, Jane Ferrari is a trained winemaker – a graduate of Australia’s Roseworthy College (one of the top three winemaking schools in the world) – who gets her hands dirty both in the vineyards and the wineries in Barossa but also travels the world telling the Yalumba story. She is down-to-earth and very entertaining in a way that must be experienced. Jane first visited Houston in October of 2003 and utterly charmed a group of over 60 wine fans. She has been back almost every year since and has wowed us all each time. In addition to information about wine, you may hear about Australian and American culture (or lack thereof), Baseball, Elvis, and other tangentially related topics.

We will taste:
Jansz Brut, Tasmania, NV
Jansz Rosé, Tasmania, NV
Yalumba Y-Series Riesling, 2016
Yalumba Viognier, Eden Valley, 2015
Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache), Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Triangle (Shiraz – Viognier), Barossa, 2013
Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz, Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Strapper (Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre), Barossa, 2014
Yalumba The Scribbler (Cabernet-Shiraz), Barossa, 2013
Yalumba The Signature, Barossa, 2013
Yalumba The Cigar Menzies, 2012
Yalumba Museum Antique Tawny NV

An Evening With Jane Ferrari will cost $30.00 (Cash or Check made out to the ECHOS only please). The class will meet at 7pm on Friday September 22, 2017. To reserve your spot for this event, please contact Susan Coburn at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

About ECHOS
Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services (ECHOS) is a non-profit organization 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 a non-profit 501(C)3 corporation.

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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Release Alert: OPUS ONE and OVERTURE

Here’s a little advance notice with my notes on the new vintage of Opus and the first release in Texas of “Overture,” the second wine of Opus. The wines will be in Spec’s on Friday, October 2, 2014. They cannot be purchased until then. Up to this point, Overture has been sold only at the winery and to a couple of cruise lines. I tasted these wines in August at the winery with winemaker Michael Silacci (and 22 Spec’s customers) and again in my office on September 24th. Please consider this your “heads up” (pun-intended) on these wines.
Overture
OVERTURE (by Opus One), Napa Valley, NV ($106.99)
A 14.5% alcohol, multi-vintage, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (but undetermined) blend aged primarily in new French with small amounts going into 2nd and 3rd use French oak barrels. Winemaker Michael Silacci says the idea here is to make a ready to drink wine that reflects the Opus estate without worrying about reflecting a vintage. Deep-purple-black in color with well formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Rich, ripe, developed, juicy with as much or more black as red fruit with tobacco and dark spice. Earthy, rustic, robust. Satisfying. Ready to drink but will keep for a good while. BearScore: 92+.

OpusOneOPUS ONE, Napa Valley, 2011 ($226.99)
A 14% alcohol blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec . The component lots got an average of 17 days of skin contact in the vats and were aged 18 months French oak barrels (all new). Purple-black in color with red highlights and well-formed legs; dry, full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium-chewy phenolics. Complex still developing Cabernet blend offering darkest red and black fruit accented with tobacco leaf and cedar with black pepper, earth, and hints of menthol and bell pepper. Complex and evolving in the glass and even in the mouth. Serious and seriously good. BearScore: 95.

Wine of the Week: OPUS ONE 2009

OPUS is a consistent personal favorite Napa Valley Cabernet-based red. It fits in with my other favorites such as Araujo, Quintessa, Dunn, Snowden, Oakville East, Kenefick, Shafer, The Fourteen, Reynold’s Family Reserve, etc. in that the flavor of ripe (but not over-ripe) Cabernet comes through with its tobacco, cedar, black pepper nuance intact. It does not taste of chocolate or chocolate syrup. It is elegant, balanced, and has the acidity to go the distance. This is what Cabernet-based Napa Valley red wine is all about and what current wave of ripeness and extraction hounds have gotten too far away from. If this is old school, I guess that makes me an old school kind of guy. Oh, and I’ll take that steak to go with it rare-to-medium-rare with a nice crust on it.

OPUS ONE, Napa Valley, 2009  ($205)

A blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6%, Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, and 1% Malbec macerated for 20 days (including fermentation) and aged 17 months in all new French oak barrels.  Bottled un-fined at 14.5% AbV one year prior to release. Sensory: Deep-purple-black in color with well formed legs that stain the glass; dry, medium-full-bodied with a fresh balance and chewy but well-integrated phenols (tannins).   Supple, juicy, beautifully balanced. Offers red and black fruit with notes of tobacco, spice, black pepper, cedar. Dusty oak and earth. Lovely integration. Elegant. Rich but very approachable with a classic dusty feel in the mouth. YUM. 97+. In the short term, a splash through a decanter wouldn’t do it any harm. Neither would serving it in large glasses that allow for some vigorous swirling. Longer term, this 2009 Opus is a wine with a demonstrated track record that will easily repay aging for twenty or more years.