Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché is a Napa Valley Classic

I’ll admit that I spend my wine days and nights in New York chasing the obscure. Bring me all your wonderfully weird wines! Sometimes, though, this is at the expense of the classics. Case in point would be the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché.

I had the pleasure of tasting this wine with Ted Edwards, director of winemaking. He’s been responsible for the wines at Freemark Abbey for over three decades. Now that’s a hell of a tenure.

After a very nice 2016 Chardonnay (extremely satisfying for $30) we dove into two library wines.

The 2003 was in an outstanding place. I have to confess to not liking super-old wines. OK, if you want to open a top Bordeaux from 1945, 1961, 1982, etc. for me I would be absolutely delighted. But in general I do not like wines that have lost all their fruit, particularly white wines.

So at 15 years, this wine was perfect. Plenty of primary fruit flavors with a blend of those secondary, more savory characteristics that only come with bottle age. The decade-old 2008 was remarkably youthful.

I tried the “regular” Napa Cab, which at $50 is a very good deal for a wine from the region. It also, if I may say something that sounds facile, tastes like Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon should. Not a syrupy booze bomb with an oak popsicle stick.

Finally, I had a sneak preview of the 2015 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché. I believe time will tell it belongs in good company with the 03 and 08.

Oh, and one thing about the name of the wine, specifically the “Cabernet Bosché.” It’s not the name of the grape but rather Cabernet from the Bosché vineyard.

Pricing on the Cabernet Bosché trio: 2003 $200, 20008 $185, 2o15 $150. Regarding the library wines, Freemark Abbey has a super-deep collection of back vintages available to taste and sell. That’s some real foresight, particularly considering the winery has vintages going back to the late 1960s (!).

So how do you like your Cabernet?

The post Freemark Abbey Cabernet Bosché is a Napa Valley Classic appeared first on Jameson Fink.

Loving Grana Padano

You're at the store with two pieces of cheese in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is Grana Pandano the other is Parmigiano Reggiano.

You'd buy the Parmigiano right? The king of cheeses, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two pieces of cheese are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line Grana Pandano, while the Parmigiano is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the Parmigiano spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the cheese?

You're at the store with two bottles of wine in your hand. They are equal in size. They are the same price. One is cabernet sauvignon the other is syrah.

You'd buy the cabernet right? The king of wines, why not go for the best? But think for a second. These two bottles of wine are the same price. That means you're probably getting top-of-the-line syrah, while the cabernet is almost certainly mass produced and on the lower end of the cabernet spectrum. Do you want to pay for the name or the wine?

Grana Pandano and Parmigiano Reggiano are the same type of cheese. While at its pinnacle many connoisseurs consider Parmigiano the ultimate expression of this style of chesse, there are many passionate producers and consumers of Grana Pandano that would take exception with their position.

One thing I've learned is that dollar-for-dollar you get better value for Grana than you do with the more famous Parmigiano. Often it's a far better choice to buy the most expensive product with a less famous name than the lowest price product with a more exalted name.

I apply the same strategy to buying wine. If I have $30 to spend cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and chardonnay don't even enter my mind. My thoughts go to gamay, syrah, tempranillo, aglianico, vermentino, chenin blanc and on and on. Today it seems the choices are limitless.

Like the Reggiano cheese place name, many wine appellations get bonus points for name recognition that spot them extra dollars on each bottle over their competitors. When you buy wine from a famous place name you pay a premium for that privilege. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes. There are experiences you can get from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and Napa that are truly sublime. But with the $30 I want to spend, sublime will not be found in those appellations. You can find extraordinary wine experiences on a budget if you're willing to go beyond these famous place-names. Think El Dorado, Mendocino, Rogue, Sablet, Madiran, Languedoc, Corsica, Sardegna, our own Applegate Valley and, as with the varieties, the options go on and on.

Never in the history of wine has it been easier to drink great wines without spending a fortune. Next time you're in a wine shop hold that bottle of cabernet in one hand and a different wine from a place or variety you don't know in the other and ask yourself what you want to pay for - the name or the wine?

A Fool and His Money…

"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public," perhaps H.L. Mencken.

"There's a sucker born every minute," perhaps P.T. Barnum.

These quotes are part of American folklore even though there is every reason to believe they were never uttered by the the two men who are given credit for them by popular culture. However, the basic truth they convey is not in dispute. There always is the fool and his money, a story which goes back to the bible and before.

These phrases where brought to mind by the recent article in Wine-Searcher titled "The Most Expensive Wines in California." While it is no surprise to find the name Screaming Eagle at the top of the heap the real revelation is that it's not their Cabernet Sauvignon at the pinnacle, but their Sauvignon Blanc.

The Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc is selling on the open market at - wait for it - $3706 a bottle, which importantly at that price, does not include tax. Most people will be shocked that someone would spend that much money on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. I am not shocked. I am offended.

I am not offended by the obvious stupidity of such a purchase, I just find such waste an insult to the human race. It is impossible to comprehend how an individual can be so hollow, so vacuous as to spend that much money on a bottle with no history. Perhaps I could understand such a price on a bottle that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, but, come to think of it, those also turned out to be frauds.

In our problem-filled world this kind of wasteful public comsupution is repugnant. You'd think someone could have enough self-discipline to suffer through a measly $700 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and then still have $3,000 left to do something meaningful for our planet and the beings that live upon it without experiencing undo hardship.

If you're going to to throw money in the trash at least be sure it ends up in a dumpster where someone who really needs it can dig it out of your garbage.

This report follows last weeks article by the always erudite Andrew Jefford in Decanter called "Beyond Best" Notes Jefford, "If a particularly commodity is high-status, sought-after and limited in supply, then ‘the best’ will always be disproportionately more expensive than other quality categories of that commodity, by virtue of nothing more than its rarity."

Indeed these "unicorn" bottles as they have become known are no longer wines, but commodity status symbols to be rolled out in situations that gain the owner the greatest visibility and status. It's no longer about the wine, but about who has the means required to possesses the unicorn. Again Jefford gets to the heart of the matter, "In other words, tasting great wine can often be a pre-programmed, ritualised experience. It may be exquisite, but it isn’t necessarily interesting."

I will go along with Jefford in his quest to find the interesting, something which rarely applies to rituals. In its soul wine is a living agricultural product and the production of it is done by people close to the land. Wine is made by winemakers, vineyard workers and nature and the process is dirty, sweaty, exhausting and sometimes dangerous. All to often, especially in places like the Napa Valley the people that own the land are not the ones that work it and make the fruit into wine. The quest for ego gratification has twisted the wine business and the way we make wines. Wine is agriculture not religion.

Someone who spends $3000 on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc should be the subject of ridicule not adulation. They are the proverbial "sucker born every minute" and their waste should be objects of our scorn.

In the early eighties corporate behemoth Heublein was gulping up wineries and had ingested Napa Valley icons Inglenook and Beaulieu. Each year they would have a national road tour to show off their international portfolio of famous wine names. An upscale hotel ballroom would be lined with tables laden with great bottles from around the world. At the head of the room was a stage where ancient Grand Cru Bordeaux would be offered to the crowds. The line for just a sip of old Lafite or Latour would wind out of the ballroom and down the hall and tasters would wait hours for a thimbleful, which would leave them no time to sample the other treasures in the room and wine from the greatest names in the Rhône, Alsace and the rest of France would go almost unnoticed. In the center of the room were two long tables featuring their new acquisitions Inglenook and Beaulieu. On each of those tables were twenty-year plus verticals of Inglenook Cask and BV Private Reserve going back to the 1950s. Much to my pleasure these tables were ignored by the throngs waiting to get a half ounce of old Bordeaux while I tasted and re-tasted these legends. I never got a sip of the old Claret, but I did get to spend an entire afternoon immersed in those sublime classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. That was more than interesting.

It always appears that the great wines are the ones at that head table, in the spotlight, but like most sleight-of-hand that's an illusion. The most interesting wines are rarely the most expensive.

For some reason it almost always seems to be men who drop these outrageous sums on these extreme unicorn wines. I wonder what they are trying to buy? One thing for sure, it's certainly not wine.

Note: The price on the Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc is not what the winery charged, but the resale price set by people reselling the wine.

The Hoax

Cabernet Sauvignon bud break in the "cooler" Yountville AVA on 3/26/16

Cabernet Sauvignon bud break in the "cooler" Yountville AVA on 3/26/16

The Napa Valley is well into bud break for cabernet, yes late breaking cabernet, early varieties like chardonnay and pinot burst weeks ago. Even in the north Willamette Valley bud break is on with chardonnay. There is a new "normal" now when it comes to bud break on the west coast. In the Napa Valley, this year is a bit later than last year, even though it’s weeks ahead of years past hardly anyone notices as it just doesn’t seem so late anymore.

It's a good thing this climate change is a hoax, otherwise California might really have something to worry about. After all, harvesting cabernet before the end of September is much more convenient for the winery crew as they can trick and treat with their kids unlike earlier generations of winemakers who were just too busy at the end of October.

Anyone who grows things knows for a fact that the climate is changing. Perhaps if we actually do something about it now, in the future, winemakers will be missing Halloween with their kids once again. That's too bad for the kids, but very good for our planet and for our wines.

He Had a Gun

He had a gun. The neighborhood was like a war zone. He handed me a brown paper bag with twenty grand in $20 bills. Outside there where dozens of street people huddled in the nooks of the building, most of them savoring pints of MD 20/20. Leaving that run down building with a bag of money was more than a little intimidating in a neighborhood where they would probably kill you for five bucks.

I made to to my car and hightailed it out of there. I had made my first big score. The twenty thousand dollars in the brown paper bag was my first payoff. I had just collected on a big gamble. This was my first payment for the 1982 Bordeaux futures. There would be more than a few of the brown paper bags of money from the man with the gun over the next few months.

This is a true story and what selling wine was like in the Chicago of the early 1980s. Such were the logistics of the red-hot 1982 Bordeaux futures campaign. I had finally made it in the fine wine business. However, the gun and the brown paper bags full of cash were not exactly what I had envisioned as I poured over Edmund Penning-Rowsell’s The Wines of Bordeaux and dreamed of the glories of the Premier Grand Crus.

Now I'm in the Napa Valley three decades later. While the neighborhood has changed I'm still scratching for bags of money and wouldn't mind a few right now. The economics of winemaking in the Napa Valley requires the biggest bags of money. Oddly enough, those bags of cash given me by the man with the gun seem somehow cleaner than the cash bags required to play in the Napa Valley these days. The buyers that filled those cash bags in 1983 actually got their moneys worth, either in great wine or in huge returns on cases sold on today’s auction market. Dollars invested in the Napa Valley today are highly unlikely to repay such an investment in either financial or spiritual terms.

In 1983, the man had the gun to protect himself from the criminals outside. These days its getting harder to see who has to be protected from who. The wine industry seems at a cross road, with big money wineries on one side and consumers on the other. But there is a world of wine where consumers and winemakers are on the same side.

The "natural" wine movement may be controversial and not all the wines may live up to the hype, but you can't deny you feel more soul in these wines than in the high end cult wines of the world.

I'll take the music of Aretha Franklin over Celine Dion anyday. It's just got more soul. I feel the same way about wine.

A New Cabernet for Cornerstone Cellars: Michael’s Cuvée

Essentially all wines are cuvée blends to one degree or the other. Unless a wine comes from a single barrel or tank that passed from fermenter to bottle with no additions all wines are are blends. They’re either blends of barrels or vineyards or varieties or all of the above. The important thing is why you make a cuvée. Like so many wine terms, reserve for example, there is no legal restrictions in their use so it is only the integrity of the producer that gives these terms their meaning.

We have the privilege of working with some of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley, which means some of the finest vineyards anywhere in the world. They are so exceptional that we have decided to bottle them in small single vineyard lots in order to let their beautiful personalities clearly sing in their own voice. The first of these single vineyard wines will be released this fall.

However, sometimes even the finest singers love to sing with others finding a new harmony and complexity in blending the textures of their voices. It’s the same for winemakers, we can’t help but explore the new layers and personalities that can be created by blending.

It is in this spirit that our Cornerstone Cellars Michael’s Cuvée was born. A selection from our finest vineyards and varieties, Michael’s Cuvée is a unique expression of the best of each vintage brought together in a new and distinctive harmony. Such an important wine could not have just any name and so we chose a name deeply and emotionally tied to the entire history of Cornerstone Cellars. Michael’s Cuvée is named for founder Dr. Michael Dragutsky, whose spirit and passion have fueled Cornerstone Cellars since our founding in 1991.

As befitting the first release of such an important wine, the 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael’s Cuvée is a true statement wine. Combining some exceptional vineyards with an extraordinary vintage we have crafted a memorable wine that will evolve for many years to come. The 2012 Michael’s Cuvée is 91% cabernet sauvignon with 9% merlot. The blend was selected from the Oakville Station Vineyard (To Kalon) 57%, 28% Kairos Vineyard in Oak Knoll and 9% Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain. Less than 250 cases were produced.

The 2012 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Michael's Cuvée is a classic, powerful, but elegantly structured Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Deeply colored with rich, cassis laden aromatics, it is youthful and concentrated at this point and will develop even more complexity and elegance as it ages over the next decade or more. While voluptuous and richly textured it is still bright and fresh with a long, smooth finish.

Giving Thanks: Napa Cab, Willamette Pinot

November in Oregon's Willamette Valley

November in Oregon's Willamette Valley

Just in time for Thanksgiving I’m excited to share my new Cornerstone Oregon releases with you. Certainly there is no better match for the traditional cuisine of this American holiday than wines from America’s premiere pinot noir and chardonnay region: Oregon. With the 2014 vintage I passed my first decade making wine in Oregon and I am more convinced than ever that it is here in the United States that pinot and chardonnay can best show their true personality.

For this reason at Cornerstone Cellars we do not make any chardonnay or pinot in California as, while there are a few examples of wines that are true to these varieties, the vast majority of wines produced in California from pinot and chardonnay speak far more of winemaking than terroir. I believe in pinot and chardonnay grown in the Willamette Valley just as fervently as I do in cabernets, merlot, syrah and sauvignon blanc grown in the Napa Valley.

Very soon Cornerstone Oregon will be at the same production level as Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa Valley (about 5,000 cases each) and so these wines are of the highest priority to me.

As from the beginning of Cornerstone Oregon in 2007, our wines are a collaboration between myself and my friend and the Northwest’s premiere winemaker, Tony Rynders. The style of Cornerstone Oregon reflects my over three decade immersion in the wines of Burgundy and Tony’s two decades in the Northwest, which includes stints as the red wine winemaker at Hogue and a decade as winemaker at Domaine Serene. The wines of Cornerstone Oregon are a synthesis of our perspectives and together we are crafting wines with a classic structure intertwined with a vibrant New World personality. As always, all of the wines of Cornerstone Oregon are grown, produced and bottled in Oregon.

This Thanksgiving I am giving thanks for the privlege of making cabernet in the Napa Valley and pinot noir and chardonnay in the Willamette Valley. Certainly this is having the best of both worlds.