Kiona – OG Red Mountain

“Red Moutain has established itself as not only Washington’s premier wine-growing region, but one of the finest in the world.”
“Red Mountain has established itself as not only Washington’s premier wine-growing region, but one of the finest in the world.”
— SEAN SULLIVAN, WINE ENTHUSIAST MAGAZINE

Red Mountain has made its name by growing some of the best Cabernet in the state. Now, many other grapes are grown here but many of the most highly regarded bottlings in the state are sourced in part or exclusively from here. The highest scoring Cabernet from Washington in Wine Spectator came from Ciel du Cheval, the 2007 Grand Reve Collaboration  (97 pts).

The Wine Advocate just gave the 2014 Quilceda Galitzine Vineyard a perfect 100 pt Score! “The utterly spellbinding 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Galitzine Vineyard is 100% Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon that was brought up in new barrels. Bravo to the team at Quilceda! This is a sensational vintage from Quilceda’s Paul and Alex Golitzin! Both the classic Columbia Valley Cabernet and the Galitzine Vineyard are sheer perfection.” Jeb Dunnick

Click here to take a tour of Red Mountain AVA

Kiona – OG Red Mountain

The Red Mountain AVA is located on a southwest-facing slope in south central Washington, a little more three hours from Seattle.  At just over 4000 acres it is the smallest wine-grape growing region in Washington.  I always tell people that it feels more like a neighborhood than an appellation. Even for Columbia Valley it has a unique combination of diverse geology, gentle south slope, consistent winds and happens to be the warmest spot in the state for grapes.

Kiona – OG Red Mountain
But, years ago (1972), two men, John Williams and Jim Holmes, pioneered grape growing in the area. Everyone thought they were crazy. Even the engineer they hired to dig the well thought they were a couple of crazy “boys”. In 1975 they planted grapes. “It was a good spot, and best of all, we could afford It.” says John Williams. Eventually they would plant another vineyard, Ciel du Cheval (see above), the partnership ended in 1994 very amicably both families remain friends to this day and both went on to great things.

Kiona – OG Red Mountain
The first Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon fruit was sold to Preston. Winemaker is Rob Griffin, now of Barnard Griffin Winery. “The conventional wisdom in the late 1970’s was that Washington was a first class white wine region with limited prospects for reds. My opinion on this point was permanently changed in 1978 with the opportunity to crush the first crop from Kiona Vineyard on Red Mountain. The depth of color and fruit intensity was definitely a revelation as to the potential for Washington Merlots and Cabernets. The fruit yielded wines of tremendous depth and intensity, real diamonds in the rough and a foreshadow of great things to come.” – Rob Griffin.

“For decades the Williams family has been farming classic varieties on Red Mountain, one of America’s great AVAs. They know the land like few others do, and their grapes reflect it.” Bob Betz, Master of Wine

Kiona – OG Red Mountain
Kiona is a family farm. Today, the third generation works the farm and makes the wine. They sell to the best wineries in the state and keep some of the best fruit for themselves. Today, all the land that can be planted with grapes is. But, one of the benefits in being the first to plant is that they can produce truly world class wine that is remarkably affordable.

Kiona – OG Red Mountain

Kiona – OG Red MountainExhibit A:
Kiona Estates Cuvee 2014
A new wine from some of the oldest grapes on Red Mountain (plus some Columbia Valley fruit). The Columbia Valley components bring acid, fruit, and drinkability, while the Red Mountain additions contribute depth, structure, and color. This is a terrific blend of Estate fruit, primarily Cabernet and Merlot with a little Syrah thrown in for good measure. This wine packs serious punch for the price! Holds up to wines twice or even three times the price!

Vineyards: 34% Vista, 23% Nine Canyon, 17% Emory, 15% Kiona Estate, 7% Heart of the Hill, 4% Ranch at the End of the Road
Composition: 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot, 21% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre.

Now you can spend more money if you want to.  But a wine of this provenance is rarely seen at this price point.

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Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

 

Photograph Copyright Mitch Tobias

Paul Hobbs is one of the most respected and influential winemakers in the world. Paul started his career in 1977 and over the last 40 years has worked with Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Simi and most famously in Argentina with the Catena family and was the first winemaker bottle varietal labeled Malbec. He founded Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991 and Vina Cobos in 1999. Twice named Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, Jr., he continues to be a leading consultant winemaker around the globe. He has made wines everywhere from Hungary to Uruguay.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart
Photograph Copyright Mitch Tobias

Paul is highly regarded as winemaker and has inspired a number of nicknames among the press, from “Trendsetter” to “Prospector”. Forbes recently called him “The Steve Jobs of winemaking”.

In 2004, Paul Hobbs Winery 2002 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon earned 100 pt score in Wine Advocate and Hobbs was named “Most Important Winemaker in California” by Robert Parker

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

 

Paul Hobbs Winery focuses on single vineyard varietal wines sourced from some of the best sites in Northern California – Hyde, Beckstoffer, Stagecoach to name just a few. A farmer at heart, Paul is a true vigneron. They have put together a solid team of vineyards and growers. It is these strong relationships that the winery is built on. The focus is small production, vineyard designated wines. Meticulous vineyard management, hand harvested, low intervention winemaking, all native ferment, aged in French oak, all unfiltered and un-fined mean that these wines taste of place.

“Terroir- driven chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet are the focus at Paul Hobbs Winery.” –Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

In addition to his eponymous winery his second label CrossBarn is not so much a lesser wine but a place to put all that fruit that he finds. CrossBarn began as just one small lot of Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2000 vintage but its popularity has inspired the introduction of chardonnay, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and more.  With CrossBarn, Paul ventures beyond the vineyards sourced for Paul Hobbs wines while holding to his ideals of sustainable vineyard practices and gentle winemaking techniques, to bring you wines of stunning quality and exceptional value.

With as much as Paul has going on it is not surprising that he needs a little help.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at Heart

Greg Urmini a Sonoma native and graduate of Cal Poly came to work as a summer intern in 2007. Greg progressed up the ranks from Cellar Worker to Production Assistant then to Assistant Winemaker. In 2014, he was promoted to Winemaker at CrossBarn. Then in 2016, Greg was promoted to Director of Winemaking.

“Working for Paul Hobbs has been a true honor and blessing. To learn and grow with an organization makes me feel like I’m part of a family. Paul’s winemaking and personal philosophies coincide with my own. Care and nurture for the fruit from vine to bottle which then turns that great fruit into a beautiful glass of wine. I enjoy waking up each morning with a burning passion for the industry as well as curiosity of how we can make our wines great,” said Greg.

Paul Hobbs : A Farmboy at HeartCrossBarn is named for the Family farm in upstate New York. His father grew apples, as well as few table grapes. He and his father always talked about planting Vinfera and making wine. He tells the story of tasting Chateau Yquem with father at an early age, and how he was transported by the experience. Seems poetic that would name the winery after his Father’s farm. Goes to show you can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take farm out of the boy.

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Underground Wine Project

“With my idle hands there’s nothing I can’t do
But be the Devil’s plaything baby and know that I’ve been used”
-Idle Hands by the Gutter twins


To say Mark McNeilly and Trey Busch like to keep busy is literally an understatement. Both have made a name for themselves in the wine business, not just as winemakers but as leaders in the industry. Both Mark Ryan Winery and Sleight of Hand Winery garner scores in the 90’s across the board in the press. Both, these guys are not just successful winemakers but champions of the Washington wine industry. They are also great friends, lovers of good food and great music.

Underground Wine Project
“Let your hands do what they will do
Stand inside, make your maker’s move”

Launched in 2009 with a wine called Idle Hands, the wine quickly became a cult hit. ‘Idle Hands’ was named after a song by Gutter Twins – Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs.

Both of the Underground wine project wines are sourced from Red Mountain. Idle Hands is a 90% Syrah 10% Cabernet Blend sourced from Red Heaven Vineyard. Devil’s Playground is the inverse, 90% Cabernet and 10% Syrah sourced from Quintessence Vineyard. Both these wines are great expressions of Red Mountain fruit.

“My eyes have seen, they have been shown
This is an occupation to stand alone”

In the highly competitive world of wine it is rare to see this sort of collaboration and camaraderie. These guys make great wine and are the sort of guys that make working in the business fun.

Underground Wine ProjectDEVIL’S PLAYGROUND CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014 (WA)  $37.99 

This is a delicious, lively and very luxurious Red Mountain Cab for the price. Lots of vanilla laced blackberries, cassis and mocha flavors, with bright, refreshing acidity and juicy tannins. The wine is full bodied and definitely drinks with some sizzle. A nice buy in small batch, top shelf Cab.

Underground Wine ProjectIDLE HANDS CAB SYRAH 2014 (WA) $32.99

Super rich and full bodied Syrah based blend From Mark Ryan and Trey Busch using Red Mountain’s top vineyards. Dark, sexy and full of mocha, blackberry, plum and roasted coffee bean notes. Delicious with a big steak.

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Ross Andrew Michel and Red Mountain Cabernet

10 years ago, the 2007 vintage marked one of the best in Washington State. Quilceda received another 100 pts score, Cayuse and K Vinters both received 99 pts for Syrah and a little project on Red Mtn got the highest score 97 pts, for a Cabernet sauvignon from Red Mountain in the Wine Spectator.  The Grand Rêve Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Collaboration Series Reserve 2007 was jointly made by Ross Michel and Mark Ryan using Ciel du Cheval fruit. “No Washington Cabernet has rated higher in Wine Spectator annals.”

Grand Reve Vintners started as a collaboration between Paul McBride and Ryan Johnson to focus on the Red Mountain AVA. This was a fascinating project where five top winemakers made wine from the same vineyard. Ben Smith (Collaboration I) made a Cabernet blend, Ross Michel (Collaboration II) a Rhone blend, Mark McNeilly (Collaboration III) a Syrah, Carolyn Lakewold (Collaboration IV) a Merlot, and Chris Gorman (Collaboration V) a Grenache.

One of the releases was that Cabernet Reserve. Harvey Steiman wrote, “Supple, generous and beautifully focused, accenting its ripe currant and raspberry fruit with hints of licorice, sage, red meat and mineral, lingering on the expressive finish. Combines ripeness with power and exceptional grace.” Only 100 cases were made of this wine. Drink ‘em, if you got ‘em.

Ross got his start in the wine biz working at Canlis with Master Sommelier Rob Bigelow. He went on to work with Chris Upchurch at Delille. (Interestingly Chris’ Eponymous vineyard is on Red Mtn.) He then went on to work with Master of Wine, Bob Betz. For almost ten years he worked at the masters side fine tuning his skills not only as a winemaker but as a scholar and taster.  He has traveled the world (Australia, South America, Europe and South Africa) to learn all he could about wine.

Let’s just say Ross knows his way around Cabernet and Red Mountain. What I am writing about today is his 2013 Red Mountain Cabernet.  This is made using Red Mountain fruit: Quintessence & Ciel du Cheval and just flat out rocks!

ROSS ANDREW RED MOUNTAIN CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 $19.99 btl / save $10

Ross Andrew Michel and Red Mountain CabernetRich and dense with black fruit, licorice and spice. Well-structured and refined. This is a powerful blend of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon & 4% Merlot. This is what Washington State Cabernet should taste like! Seriously the best deal on Cabernet in the state!

 

This is a great example of Red Mtn Cabernet and $29.99 it is a remarkable value. At $19.99 well it’s just stupid.  get yours while you still can!

Lenny

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Bare-Knuckled Boxer Inspires Cabernet Sauvignon

The Heavy, a powerful Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with “depth, complexity and finesse,” called for a label design that would mirror those characteristics. Designers at Tank Garage Winery, which makes the wine, found just the image: legendary boxer John L. Sullivan, considered both the sport’s first heavyweight champion and the last recognized bare-knuckle fighter.

Known as the “Boston Strong Boy,” Sullivan dominated the timeframe that bridged boxing’s bare-knuckle and modern gloved eras during the late 1800s.

“Sullivan wasn’t just a brute,” says James Harder, co-founder of Tank Garage. “He was a strikingly dynamic, athletic and complex fighter who could dazzle the crowd with speed and swagger, or shut his opponent’s lights out with one punch. There were just too many parallels with this wine not to put him on it.”

A  rare 1898 photo of Sullivan conveys the spirit of a Napa Valley blend.

The design team chose a screen print of a 1898 photo of Sullivan to convey the spirit of the heavy-hitting 2014 Napa Valley blend of 73 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 20 percent Merlot and 7 percent Cabernet Franc.

A flashy dresser known to proclaim that he could “lick any son-of-a-bitch in the world,” Sullivan was the first athlete to earn more than $1 million.

Bare-Knuckled Boxer Inspires Cabernet SauvignonWhat Makes a Good Wine Label?

The bouts were brutal endeavors that could last 100 rounds or more, and Sullivan was brutally good at it. He went undefeated, suffering just two draws in 42 fights. Gloves were introduced gradually in the 1880s and Sullivan fought with both bare knuckles and gloves during the transition. His ring dominance came to an end in New Orleans on July 9, 1892, when he lost the title by knockout to James J. Corbett in the 21st round.

After he retired from the ring, Sullivan was involved in several ventures, owned a bar, but later gave up alcohol to promote temperance. He died in 1918 at age 59, and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

Located in Calistoga, Tank Garage Winery operates from a 1930s mechanic’s garage and gas station. The wine is a partnership between Harder who owns James Cole Winery in Napa, Jim Regusci of Regusci Winery in Yountville, and T-Vine Winery in Calistoga, in which Regusci is also a partner.

Cabernet Classic: Porsche Bellevue

CABERNET CLASSIC

Saturday, March 4th

Porsche Bellevue
11910 NE 8th Street, Bellevue
6 – 9 pm – Tickets $75 / VIP $100
To Purchase Tickets

Join us for our 7th Annual event featuring the king of the grapes, The Cabernet Classic! This prestigious event is located at the new Porsche Bellevue!

Cabernet has long been the “KING OF WINES!” Experience the class act of the wine world & the range of this famous grape varietal with a dazzling array of over 50 of the best Cabs from 25 of Washington’s premier wineries.
Enjoy An Array of Cabernet & Cab Based Blends
Featuring 25 of Washington’s Best Cab Producers
Light Noshes
Help Raise Funds For “Talk It Up TV” – changing the world thru positive messaging and acts of kindness for those in need.

 

*Complimentary Valet Parking From Butler Valet

If you love Cabernet, you’ll love “The Cabernet Classic!”

Featuring Cabernet’s From:
Ambassador Wines of WA
Avennia Winery
Bookwalter Winery
Bunnell Family Cellars
Charles Smith / K Vintners
Corlis/Tranche/Secret Squirrel
Côte Bonneville
DeLille Cellars
Den Hoed
EFESTE’
Five Star Cellars
Guardian Cellars
Goose Ridge Estate Winery
Hedges Family Estates
JM Cellars
Lauren Ashton
L’Ecole No. 41
Lobo Hills
Long Shadows
Love That Red Winery
Mullan Road
Noviello Vineyards
Pepperbridge/Amavi
Reininger Winery
Smasne Cellars
Ste Michelle Wine Estates
Upchurch Vineyards
Walla Walla Vintners
Produced by Sommelier David LeClaire & Seattle Uncorked

Benziger Family Winery: five new reviews

 

I’ve followed Benziger’s fortunes for decades, and one thing I can say, they’re always striving to boost quality. The Benziger family began with the hugely successful Glen Ellen Winery, which pioneered “fighting varietals,” before launching their boutique Benziger brand, which they sold to The Wine Group in 2015. These five wines are the first I’ve tasted since the sale—although all five of them were made prior to it. We’ll have to see if the winery continues on a quality trajectory under the new ownership. The Cabernets are from the estate vineyard, in Glen Ellen, the heart of Sonoma Valley, on slopes of Sonoma Mountain. The Pinot Noirs hail from the estate de Coelo Vineyard, way out on the coast between Freestone and Bodega Bay. I first visited it years ago when it was being developed. My sneakers sank inches into the deep, seabed-derived Goldridge soil, as fine as moon dust. One of the best soils for Pinot Noir in the world, Goldridge drains readily, and lends the wine an expressive elegance.

Here are the wines, in the order I tasted them.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Terra Neuma” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 14.0%, 230 cases produced. This is from a higher-elevation block of de Coelo. The color is pale and translucent, hinting at delicacy. As in previous vintages, the alcohol is lowish, giving the wine a light, silky mouthfeel. Dusty tannins give it plenty of grip. The fruit suggests persimmons, with tarter cranberries, highlighted by mouthwatering acidity. There are more exotic notes of green tea, white pepper, Chinese 5 spice, and wild mushroom. The finish is severely dry, which is a compliment. Yet, toasted oak barrel aging lends it a vanilla sweetness. Complex and elegant, and so easy to love, this beauty will age for at least eight years. Score: 94 points.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Quintus” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 13.5%, 625 cases produced. The family resemblance with the other wines from de Coelo is marked in this block-derived wine, which is lower in alcohol than Terra Neuma. It’s slightly tarter and more delicate, but the same persimmon, raspberry, cranberry, tea, orange peel, mushroom and white pepper notes carry through, as do the silky tannins and magnificent acidity. This is exactly what we look for in Goldridge-derived Pinots: enormous complexity, delicacy undergirded with power, extreme drinkability. If there is ever going to be a Freestone appellation—and there ought to be—this wine could stand as its exemplar. I cannot imagine a better companion for lamb or steak. Score: 94 points.

Benziger 2014 de Coelo “Arbore Sacra” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast): $75. Alc. 13.5%, 641 cases produced. Another block bottling from the estate vineyard. Aromatically it’s a little shier than the other two, showing more mineral and earth notes, like tree bark, brittle, dried leaves, cloves and dust. But the fruit is there: raspberry tea, pomegranate, orange peel, tart cranberry. There’s also a crispness that lends vitality to the mouthfeel, but the tannins are as light as air: they give a hint of astringency. The mouthfeel is as silky and delicate as an old tapestry, yet the depth is very great, with complex impressions extending out through a long, spicy finish. Of the three wines, I’d have to say this is my favorite. It is ultra-refined and elegant, a wine that would have been unthinkable in California not that long ago. Score: 95 points.

Benziger 2013 “Signaterra” Obsidian Point Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): $65. Alc. 14.4%, 486 cases produced. This is a very proper Cabernet, by which I mean it is classic, balanced and delicious. It’s one of those wines that you take a sip of and think, Wow, is this going to be easy to like. Bone dry, with thick but fragile tannins and just-in-time acidity, it’s rich in black currants, anise, unsweetened cocoa powder, sweet toasted oak and just a hint of herbaceousness: sweet green olive especially. The grapes are from Benziger’s estate vineyard, in the heart of Sonoma Valley on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain, and were biodynamically-grown. I have not been an ardent supporter of biodynamique, but there is a purity to this wine that is notable. Interestingly, the wine is already throwing some tannins. Drink now-2020. Score: 93 points.

Benziger 2013 “Signaterra” Sunny Slope Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): $59. Alc. 14.5%, 562 cases produced. The wine is just a little bit less concentrated than Obsidian Point, but it’s also six bucks less. It’s quite lovely, with classic black currant, cassis, cocoa and green olive flavors, enriched by 20 months of aging in French oak. It has an inherent elegance due mainly to the splendid acid-tannin structure. It’s not clear to me that it would be worth aging this wine for any length of time, but it is an enjoyable, complex sipper. Score: 90 points.

*****************************************************************************************************

OAKLAND FIRE VICTIMS

“WE REMEMBER”

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

 

Gus and I headed up to the Alexander Valley yesterday for a tasting. It was chilly and foggy in Oakland when we left early, and the ride could have been worse: only 1-3/4 hours. We drove up the 101 to Alexander Valley Road, turned east through some awfully pretty wine country, and then—before reaching the winery—stopped by the old Jimtown Store

for a late breakfast and bracing cappuccino. The temperature in the valley already was in the 80s, under a cloudless, azure sky. While I was eating Gus checked out the flowers.

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Our destination was right around the corner:

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Stonestreet Wines, owned by my employer, Jackson Family Wines. From the winery itself

 

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

you can look further east, to the west wall of the great Mayacamas Mountain Range, and see the mountain

 

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

Jess bought years ago, for which we’re currently trying to establish an A.V.A., since it makes no sense to say that mountain wines come from a valley appellation. The family long has called it Alexander Mountain Estate, and it was the Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays off this sprawling, beautiful property I had come to taste.

The thing to understand is that this very large estate is broken into a series of smaller vineyards, with extensive wildland corridors inbetween through which wildlife–bears, cougars, deer–can pass on their millennial expeditions. Each smaller vineyard was planted to particular varieties depending on soil analysis, elevation and exposure. (They have this wonderful schematic model in the tasting room that explains everything, but if you can ever arrange a tour of the mountain, I highly recommend it.)

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

The first flight was white; the second, red. All the wines are Stonestreet. Here are my abbreviated notes. There was no need to taste blind.

CHARDONNAYS

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

2013 Broken Road. Rich golden color. Complex aromas of wet stone, tropical fruit, white peach, crème brulée, baking spices. Rich and delicious, with bracing acidity and a creamy texture. Score: 95.

2013 Upper Barn Vineyard. Rich golden color. Similar to Broken Road, but more saline and minerals. Ripe white peaches, tropical fruits, buttered toast, crème brulée, vanilla bean. Insanely rich, with bracing acidity. Notable for its superior structure. Score: 96. This is the white wine I brought home with me.

2013 Gravel Bench Vineyard. Rich golden color. The oak is more apparent (it’s the only Chard aged in 100% new French oak). A big, exuberant wine, with tropical fruit, nectarine and white peach fruit. On airing the oak got more integrated. Score: 92.

2013 Gold Run Vineyard. Rich golden color. Nice, firm flintiness, but the fruit and oak star. Tiers of golden mango, crème brulée, lemon meringue, vanilla bean, honey custard. Excellent acidity. A real star. Score: 95.

2013 Bear Point Vineyard. Good golden color. Nose a bit shy, suggesting lemon verbena, honey, golden mango, white peach, vanilla bean, buttered toast. Really rich and wonderful, in a way my favorite for its exquisite tension of parts. Score: 97.

2013 Cougar Ridge Vineyard. Good golden color. A tangy green apple note brings a bite to the mango, grilled pineapple and crème brulée richness. Lots of oak in the mouth: vanilla bean, buttered toast, smoke. Soft, creamy and opulent. Score: 94.

CABERNET SAUVIGNONS

Tasting mountain wines with a valley appellation

2012 Bear Point Vineyard. Pitch black color at the center, garnet at the rim. Very young and closed now. Jammy plums, tar, coffee and smoke. Thick tannins, bracing acidity. Dense and concentrated. Needs plenty of time. After 2020. Score: 94.

2010 Rockfall. Similar color to Bear Point. At six years, still closed, mute, resistant at first. On airing, hints of dark chocolate, olive tapenade, plums, black currants. Very tannic. Great structure, lots going on down underneath the astringency: creosote, blackberry jam, black licorice, cedar, toast, mushu plum sauce. Reminds me of Lynch-Bages. Needs time. After 2020. Score: 95.

2012 Rockfall. Midnight black without a moon, turning purple at the rim: young, young, young. Hints of blackberry jam, sweet oak, cocoa, rum, plums. Great primary fruit sweetness, plump, fat, rich, but very tannic. Good acidity, elegant structure, great weight and balance, with a very long, spicy finish. Superior if possible to the 2010. Needs time. After 2020. Score: 96.

2011 Christopher’s. The highest point on the mountain, at over 2,400 feet. The blackest color of all, impenetrable. Tight, closed; airing shows blackberry jam, clove, mint (eucalyptus), dust, smoke. Extremely complex but very tannic. Massive core of ripe summer blackberries and cassis; creosote, minerals. Needs lots of time. Drink after 2020. Score: 96. This is the bottle I brought home with me.

2012 Legacy. Another dark black wine with glints of ruby and garnet at the rim. The 30% Merlot in the blend is immediately apparent, giving a floral-violet scent to Cabernet’s blackberries and plums. In the mouth, complex, smooth, more forward than the other Cabs, but still very tannic, with blackberry, cherry, shaved chocolate, anise and baking spice flavors. You could drink it now but it will age for decades. Score: 94.

Wednesday Wraparound: Wine as intellectual delight, and a new Freemark Abbey

 

Wine writer Gus Clemens must be a man after my own heart. In this lovely column he wrote for the San Angelo [Texas) Standard Times, he writes of wine’s “intellectually challenging” dimension—a dimension I love.

All too often, in our industry, we reduce wine to its objective components. Master somms analyze it to a degree unmatched in rigor, winemakers themselves analyze it for technical flaws and blending opportunities, and wine critics (ahem…) analyze it for its hedonistic attractions. We give scores and numbers and puffs and stars to wine, we talk about raspberries or currants or lemongrass or vanilla, about attacks and finishes and ageworthiness—in short, about every physical dimension of the wine we can possibly say anything about. But we too seldom talk or write about its intellectual component, which is to say: we ignore wine’s appeal to that part of ourselves that is distinctly human, distinctly thoughtful, distinctly divine.

Gus Clemens touches on this component, but it’s really worth volumes. I stand second to no one in falling in love with a gorgeous wine, a “100-pointer,” if you will. I’ve had my share; when you experience a perfect wine, the top of your head blows off, your taste-memory explodes, you want to shout about it from the rooftops. But imagine how much richer your experience would be—not only of a perfect wine, but of all wines—if it included the context of history, geography, politics, economics, philosophy, invention, human boldness, notions of the godhead, the presence of the spirit–the entire panoply of conscious adventure we call the human journey. When I think about wine from this perspective, wine turns Biblical: the ancients believed it was a gift from God, or the gods. Perhaps it really is. I will not apologize for “reducing” wine to a point score, but I will hope that it never becomes only that.

* * *

I want to bring to my readers’ attention the fact that the newly refurbished Freemark Abbey Winery is now open for business. As this article from the St. Helena Star explains, the Jackson Family has invested heavily in the 100-year-old-plus winery, restoring the old stone buildings, building a new restaurant, and launching a museum-style exhibition space, whose content I was honored to help devise. Ironically, Freemark Abbey was the first winery in Napa Valley I ever visited, in 1979, so it has a special place in my mind and heart. I was just getting into “important” wine and wanted an “important” Cabernet Sauvignon to cellar, and so I asked for one in the tasting room. The lady suggested I buy their Cabernet Bosché. In my ignorance, I said I didn’t want “Cabernet Bosché” but Cabernet Sauvignon. The lady told me that Cabernet Bosché was Cabernet Sauvignon. I didn’t trust her; alas, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and I had just enough knowledge to think that I knew what I was doing. Clearly, I didn’t. I have often recollected that incident to remind myself of an important lesson: when it comes to wine knowledge, everybody starts from the beginning. There are no stupid questions. No one of us should ever be impatient with anyone for not knowing what we know. (That is the basis of snobbery.) Besides, what we think we know today may be what future generations call ridiculous. So take things in context; don’t be ideological; be generous, and realize you’re not the measure of all things in wine! And I hope you’ll drop by Freemark Abbey to check out the new digs.

Nice to see the Cabernet bashers come around

 

I’m glad I never joined the bandwagon of protest against California (mainly Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon. It garnered a lot of naysayers, but, as Jancis (what, you need a last name?) blogged the other day, even the naysayers are changing their minds. “There has recently been a resurgence of interest in these wines on New York restaurant wine lists,” she writes, an especially notable statement considering that it was New York somms and critics who led the charge against Cabernet.

They claimed Napa Cabs were too much of everything: too ripe, too oaky, too alcoholic, too extracted. I never could quite understand what they were talking about. Of course there were Cabs that were unbalanced, but there also were hundreds of fabulous Cabernets that weren’t—that were utterly delicious and dazzling. And it’s not as if everything from Bordeaux is fabulous. I wondered if perhaps the New York critics actually had the tasting experience with Cabernet to know what they were talking about. I wondered, too, if they went into their tastings with an inherent bias. When you’re tasting wine, you find what you’re looking for.

It’s become a repeating meme in the last year or two for writers to claim that Napa Valley Cabernet is being made differently than it was even four or five years ago. Jancis herself writes of the “increasing restraint” she finds in the wines. Is there evidence of such restraint, beyond the assertions of critics? Are alcohol levels in Cabernet lower than they used to be? I haven’t seen any proof. On the other hand, winemakers have definitely been feeling the backlash from the anti-Cabernet crowd and, in many cases, took corrective action to lower alcohol levels, but how have they done so? There are known methods for reducing alcohol, adding water, spinning cones and reverse osmosis among them. But winemakers are reticent about talking about these practices, because wine writers—usually the same ones that complain about high alcohol—then criticize them for “manipulating” wine.

Well, I always knew that the anti-Cab crowd would run out of steam sooner or later, and I guess they now have. There is a bandwagon effect in wine criticism whereby somebody—usually a thought leader—coins a critique, which then is borrowed by everyone else, lemming-like down the line, and repeated endlessly; that, indeed, is the definition of “meme.” Yet memes have lifecycles. “Successful memes remain and spread, whereas unfit ones stall and are forgotten.” The bashing of California Cabernet has proven to be an “unfit” meme and therefore it is quickly being forgotten. The fortieth anniversary of the Judgment of Paris—which is actually what prompted Jancis’s July 9th post—has been extensively covered in the media, with California Cabernet receiving near-unanimous praise. As Jancis notes, just about every time the Judgment is replicated, Napa Cabernet beats Bordeaux. So we need a new meme here: California Cab really is as good as Bordeaux (albeit different), by almost every objective standard (and you can’t get more objective than a blind tasting conducted by professionals).

Which is why I say I’m glad I never bashed Cabernet. Now, I don’t have to explain why I changed my mind.