Cabernet Sauvignon

WBW 73: My Wine Spark

by Tim Elliott on January 18, 2012

I first found out about Wine Blogging Wednesday in late February of 2005 when Andrew from Spittoon sent me an email inviting me to participate in WBW 7. Back then the wine blogging world was a small group of sites and we frequently commented on each others posts and traded emails. I was intrigued with the idea of a monthly virtual wine tasting event and have participated in 46 of the 72 past events, hosting 4 times. This month’s host, the writer behind the Corkdork blog, has asked us to revisit the wine that first sparked our interest in wine.

My story starts in 1979 when I was in college. At only 19, I was under the legal drinking age in California where I was born and went to school but I spent summers in upstate New York where the drinking age was 18 at the time. Over the summers of 1979 and 1980 I tried just about every form of alcohol but settled mostly on beer as mixed drinks never appealed much too me and the wine I had locally was mostly from Taylor and not very appealing. Since I was summering in Rochester, New York just a short drive to the Finger Lakes AVA you might think it was this regions’ wines that sparked my interest first but, sadly, it was not. But my early experiences while in New York did plant the seeds that bore fruit when I turned 21 and was back in California.

After a couple years studying film at UC San Diego, I transferred to California State University at Chico. This was about a 3 hour drive to Napa Valley but as college students we had plenty of weekend time and my Datsun got very good gas mileage. We also heard wineries didn’t charge anything for tasting which fit our budget perfectly. So one Saturday not long after my 21st birthday in late 1981 my girlfriend and I drove to the Napa Valley to wine taste. Back in those days I knew nothing about wine. In fact, I was so ignorant that I mispronounced most of the grape varieties (Meer-lot, anyone?). It was with this lack of sophistication we ventured up Hwy 29 and pulled into our first winery. If memory serves this was the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville where we not only got an interesting tour but a very informative guided tasting. And the wines tasted pretty good, too, particularly the whites (Mondavi Fumé Blanc is still a sentimental favorite). I also remember visits to Sutter Home (pre- “Home of white Zin” days) and Louis Martini on this first visit. We liked a lot of the wines with our favorite being the Sutter Home Muscat (now somewhat ironic given Muscat’s resurgence in popularity over the past year). Anything white and sweet filled the bill. Everyone starts someplace.

Grgich Hills ZinfandelMonths past and we revisited Napa Valley a few more times. As we gained a bit more knowledge and confidence we visited new and different wineries. One of these was Grgich Hills Cellar right off the main highway that runs north to south on the western side of Napa Valley. This was in early 1982 and the winery had only been open for 5 years. I remember entering the nondescript tasting room and tasting their Chardonnay. And while this wine was very good it was their Zinfandel that first sparked my interest in wine. Poured by a jovial man in a beret, the wine burst with red fruit on the nose and in the mouth finishing with supple tannins that seemed to melt like bittersweet chocolate. I had tried Zinfandel before but this wine was the first that truly spoke to me and compelled me to learn more about the variety. It was a couple years later that I figured out the man in the beret who poured me this Zinfandel was none other than winemaker Mike Grgich.

Four years later the second wine spark happened. By then I was working for Kodak and we had lived in Rochester, New York for a year and a half. This was the time I first discovered Finger Lakes Riesling and we spent many weekends tasting along the wine trails there. But it was not the local wines that produced this second spark but a well-known Napa Valley Cabernet. Over the previous 4 years I had read several wine books and had tasted a lot of wines. And while I still liked Zinfandel quite a bit drinking Lytton Springs vineyard as often as I could afford it, Cabernet Sauvignon was my latest obsession. I read all about the top Napa Valley Cabernets and drank Bordeaux as often as I could. I had received an award at work that was a gift certificate to a nice local restaurant with a very good wine list. I thought I might find a nice red Bordeaux to match with my prime rib as there were not a lot of California Cabernet on upstate New York wine lists even in the mid-1980′s.

Heitz Cellar Marthas Vineyard Cabernet 1974So imagine my surprise when I saw Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet from the 1974 vintage on the list. And it was even available by the glass at the absurd price of $25 for a small pour ($52 in 2012 dollars according to WolframAlpha). It took me only a millisecond to order this glass since we were spending Kodak’s money and I couldn’t imagine ever seeing this wine by the glass again (I haven’t). And the wine didn’t disappoint. I still remember the aromas of mint and eucalyptus that this vineyard is known for along with tobacco and a pleasing earthiness. In the mouth this wine defined Napa Cab to my developing palate. Cassis, blackberry, and spices finishing long with great balance. I can’t remember the level of tannin but I think they were still settling down as the wine was only 12 years old at the time I tasted it.

I would have liked to have revisited one or both of these wines but I’m afraid the Heitz Cab is selling for $800 a bottle and I would bet the current vintage of Grgich Hills Zinfandel is vastly different than the 1978 or 1979 I tasted at the winery. But I don’t think this matters much as these wines live in my memory as turning points that made me want to learn more about wine. Eventually this led me to start this blog in order to have a place to send friends who were always asking about which wines to buy.

Without Wine Blogging Wednesday I probably would not have told this story. Thanks go to the Corkdork for hosting and for a great theme. A lot has changed in the nearly 7 years I have participated in Wine Blogging Wednesday but there is nothing like it. Hopefully this will again be a monthly feature here if we get enough bloggers participating.

Jean Farris Winery “Tempest” 2007

by Tim Elliott on January 16, 2011

Tempest bottleYou never know where the next emerging wine State will be here in the U.S. but if this wine is representative of the wines coming out of Kentucky these days, this might be the place. Given as a gift from the parents of a friend of my son visiting over the holiday break, the wine is a blend of Spanish and French varieties grown near Lexington, Kentucky. Since the winery also makes Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, Eastern Kentucky must have a more extended growing season than other States in the region. Indeed, the most surprising thing for me about this wine was how big it is, both in fruit concentration and in alcohol.

There’s not a lot written about Jean Farris winery aside from their website and a few other blogger notes (I think I’m the first to review Tempest). But I think you will hear more from this winery given the quality of the wine here. The rather unconventional blend of Tempranillo works well with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. I hope to have the chance to sample some of their other wines soon.

Tasting Notes:

Jean Farris Winery, “Tempest”, Red Wine, Kentucky 2007 ($35) – A blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Garnet in color with aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, sage and cedar. Bold blackberry fruit with cassis, white pepper and vanilla finishing with moderate tannins, nice acidity and just a hint of heat. Shows that world class wine can be made in the land of Bourbon.

14.3%ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 87

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Snooth listing

Rodney Strong, "Symmetry", Meritage 2007

For a long time now the Rodney Strong brand has stood for value regularly over delivering in their price category. Whether it’s their entry $18 Cabernet or their single-vineyard, allocated Rockaway bottling, when you see Rodney Strong on the label you can be assured you will get some thing interesting in the glass. The house style is to create round and harmonious wines with loads of sweet fruit surrounded by toasty French oak.

Their “Symmetry” Meritage is a Cabernet Sauvignon led wine that could have been labeled as this variety since it makes up 85% of the blend. But the winemaking team is aiming higher here producing a Bordeaux style blend from several vineyard sources in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. The addition of traditional blending grapes Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot adds to the complexity in the aromas and flavors, elevating what would be a very nice Cabernet to another level. My only concern was the rather generous French oak treatment which will likely work itself out with further aging.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong, “Symmetry”, Meritage Red Wine, Alexander Valley 2007 ($55/sample) –  A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Very deep purple in color with complex aromas of blackberry, blackcurrant, cigar box, sage and black licorice. Bold and rich blackcurrant and blackberry flavors with cassis and black pepper finishing with toasty oak and firm tannins. Decant for 2-3 hours now or put in the cellar for 5-7 years. Delicious, if a bit over-oaked, at this point but I expect this to integrate as it ages.

15.1% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 91
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Snooth listing

Rodney Strong, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

by Tim Elliott on January 1, 2010

I’m not sure where to start with this wine since my review of the previous vintage became the subject for the first wine blogger meltdown ever last year. I even thought of not posting a review due to this experience but my curiosity got the better of me and I had to see what the wine would be like on it’s second vintage.

Would I like it? Is it worth $75 a bottle in these recessionary times?

One of my treats for the holidays is a roast beef dinner which usually happens on Christmas Day. This past year, the roast was moved to New Year’s eve and the wine I selected to pair with this menu was not the usual Bordeaux or Napa Cab but the sample of Rockaway Cabernet received some time ago from Rodney Strong Vineyards. If you read my review of the 2005 release, there is a run down of the vineyard blocks involved and production methods used. Approximately the same process was used for the 2006 wine with most of the final blend being Cabernet Sauvignon and only slightly spiced by a dollop or two of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The result is one of the most pure single vineyard expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon I’ve ever tasted from California ensuring Rockaway’s position among the very best wines made from this grape in the state.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2006 ($75/sample) — A blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot. Very dark purple in color, the wine shows the same refined aromatics from the previous vintage. Black cherry, dark currant, green olive, sage, fennel and vanilla return with some cigar box added for good measure. In the mouth the wine is very firm and focused even after more than 2 hours in a decanter with blackberry and black-currant fruit flavors along with black pepper and dark chocolate. The finish is long with very firm tannins at this point but worked as a very nice companion to the slightly fatty roast beef last night.

To be released in February 2010, I would recommend at least 5 years of aging before opening your first bottle. At this point, 3+ hours in the decanter is required to fully enjoy this wine but it is clear this will be one of the best California Cabs to collect based upon the first two vintages.

15.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 96
Rating: ★★★★½

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Clos LaChance, Meritage 2005

by Tim Elliott on January 3, 2009

Clos LaChance MeritageI think we’ll eventually see a renaissance in wine blends here in the U.S. I’m not exactly sure when this will be but it’s clear from the wine I’m reviewing tonight that a blend can be so much more than the sum of it’s parts. A few years back, producers in California recognized that they needed to come up with a marketing term for blends inspired by the wines of Bordeaux and came up with Meritage (pronounced like “heritage”). The term was intended to signify wines of merit that exemplified the heritage of the best wines made from traditional Bordeaux varieties in America.

And this wine from Clos LaChance really delivers on that promise. This family winery started in the late 1980′s as a backyard winery that has grown into over 150 acres of vineyards located just 20 miles south of San Jose.They make a number of wines in three different tiers with the “special select” being the top of their range. I was not familar with this producer, but from the wines I’ve tasted so far, this looks like a winery to seek out.

Tasting Notes:

Clos LaChance, Meritage, Estate Vineyard, “Special Select” 2005 ($50/sample) – Dark purple color with aromas of black cherry, eucalyptus, licorice and vanilla. Blackberry and dark currant flavors with mint and bell pepper finishing with sweet oak and moderate tannins. Well balanced and quite enjoyable now but will continue to gain complexity with another 2-3 years of cellaring. This wine is throwing a fair amount of sediment now, so you might want to decant before serving.

14.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Quick Picks 10 – Santa Ema Rivalta 2003

by Tim Elliott on December 19, 2008

Vina Santa Ema Rivalta 2003I’m back in action on the 4th anniversary of my first podcast with a high-end Carmenere-led blend from Chile.

Vina Santa Ema, “Rivalta” 2003 – ($68/sample) Dark purple in color with aromas of black currant, plum, blueberry, fennel, mint and vanilla. Rich and concentrated dark currant and blackberry fruit with black pepper and dark chocolate finishing with firm tannins. A delicious Carmenere-led blend that will age at least 4-6 more years.

13.8% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆

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