Cabernet Sauvignon

Rodney Strong, Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

by Tim Elliott on August 23, 2008

My wine education started with Cabernet Sauvignon in the early 1980′s. After a brief time with Bordeaux blends, I discovered California Cabernet and used to almost exclusively drink this variety daily. I soon discovered the magic of single vineyard Cabs and the majority of my most memorable wines are from these vineyards. Places like To Kalon, Fay, Martha’s and Monte Bello are etched into my taste memory.

So I was pleased to be included in the blogger sampling program for a new single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Rodney Strong Vineyards: Rockaway. In a move I expect to see more of in coming months, Rodney Strong has pre-released samples to a few wine bloggers before submitting them to more traditional critics such as Jim Laube and Robert Parker. This gives you, dear reader, the short-lived opportunity to acquire this wine before 90+ scores are published elsewhere and demand exceeds supply. I’ll be posting a bit more on this from a marketing perspective over on my company blog, as well.

This wine is made from 3 blocks of the Rockaway Vineyard in Alexander Valley which is located between Napa and Dry Creek Valleys. These small areas of the vineyard are where the viticulture and winemaking teams have found the best fruit that expresses the terroir there. The vineyard soil is primarily sandstone on a clay subsoil at an elevation that rises to 700 feet above sea level. Rodney Strong Vineyards acquired the Rockaway vineyard in 2003 which covers a little over 100 total acres of mostly Bordeaux varieties but this wine is made exclusively from the best fruit the vineyard provides.

To maximize the expression of the Rockaway Vineyard a team of winemakers was brought on including Rick Sayre, Gary Patzwald and consultant David Ramey. Readers may recognize Mr. Ramey’s work from wines he’s made at Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate, Rudd Estate and his own eponymous winery. The viticulture team on this project includes Doug McIlroy and consultant Bob Steinhauer who’s worked at Beringer for three decades.  So it’s clear from the vineyard selection to the viticulture and winemaking teams to the 2 years in new French oak that Rockaway is intended to compete with the best Cabernets in the world.

Like other wineries, the folks at Rodney Strong have decided to allocate Rockaway on a mailing list. This is becoming more common after cult Cabs such as Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate pioneered this direct marketing technique a few years ago. The heavy glass and beautiful graphics on the bottle also signal a cult-style effort but the true test would be tasting the wine contained therein. To be honest, other cult Cabernet blends I’ve tried have not lived up to their reputation or price level so when I opened this wine I cast a somewhat skeptical eye, nose and palate on the subject.

Tasting Notes:

Rodney Strong Vineyards, “Rockaway” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2005 ($75/sample) – A blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, and 4% Petit Verdot, this wine is very dark purple-black in color right now. The wine’s aromas unfold with a complex mixture of dark cherry, black-currant, green olive, sage, cocoa, fennel and vanilla. Tightly wound and concentrated blackberry and dark currant flavors with mint and black pepper finishing long with moderately firm but well integrated tannins.

A fine, well balanced California Cabernet blend with 5-10 years of additional cellaring recommended before it begins its drinking window. This will be a brand to watch for the next few years as it delivers quite good value when compared to other wines at its expected release price. I recommend you sign up for the mailing list soon before this wine is unavailable.

15.4% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 93
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Related Links:

A Master Sommelier Candidate Takes on the Allocated Rockaway Release

Finding a Wine You Love? Priceless.

Rockaway—A New Allocated Brand from Rodney Strong

History in the (Wine) Making: The Inaugural Vintage of Rockaway Vineyard

Rockaway Baby in the Vineyard

Rockaway Cab, Rodney Strong, and Allocations

2005 Rockaway Cabernet

2005 Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet, Sonoma ($80 est.)

Disclosure (posted 8/27/08): Due to posts and comments from other wine bloggers, I would like to state that I received this wine as a sample from the winery. At no time did I communicate directly with anyone at Rodney Strong Vineyards or feel any pressure to write a positive review. Jeff Lefevere of Good Grape arranged for the samples to be sent to us and asked us to post our reviews last week. I complied with this request as a personal favor to Jeff.

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Pillar Box Red 2005

by Tim Elliott on December 4, 2007

Henry's Drive, Pillar Box RedI first heard about this wine on the 3 Wine Guys podcast (thx, T-bone) so I picked up a bottle when I saw it at a wine store this summer. And I’m glad I did as it really shows off what blending young vines can do for a wine.

This is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot from noted winemaker Chris Ringland. I’ll have to check out his other efforts given what magic he casts on this modest wine.

Henry’s Drive, “Pillar Box Red” 2005 ($10) – Deepest purple-black in color. This one needs to unwind a bit before it shows it’s best but once fully open it features nice black and red fruit aromas with fennel and a bit of chaparral. Full and rich black cherry and strawberry fruit gives way to a bit of licorice, vanilla and spice on the finish. A delicious fruit bomb for everyday drinking.

15% ABV
Stelvin closure
Score: 90
Rating: ★★★★☆

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Silver Palm, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

by Tim Elliott on December 2, 2007

Silver Palm Cabernet 2005There are two trends that I hope will develop steam in 2008: the rise of the blend in American wine and restaurant wine at reasonable prices both in bottle and by the glass. This wine touches both of these trends with Cabernet Sauvignon making up 82% of the blend joined by 10% Merlot, 5% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah. It’s also targeted exclusively at restaurants in the U.S. with a suggested retail price of $30 a bottle and $10 per glass.

Winemaker Melissa Bates has created a rich and balanced wine ready for enjoyment now and, unlike many California red wines these days, not overpowering to food. Another interesting differentiator is the great design of the bottle graphics making this an impressive choice on the table. I hope to see more wines targeted at restaurants that are a cut above most choices in this price range.

Silver Palm, Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast 2005 ($30/sample) – Very dark purple in color with aromas of black currant, fennel and cedar. Spicy black cherry and currant flavors with fresh bell pepper, cracked black pepper and some vanilla on the finish. Seems more like a Chilean Merlot or Carmenère than a Cali Cab but still very nicely done.

13.9% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 87
Rating: ★★★½☆

WBW 34: Washington Cab

by Tim Elliott on June 13, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday rolls into June with a cooler weather theme of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. Catie over at Through The Walla Walla Grape Vine is hosting and has asked us to look beyond the mega brands of Washington State such as Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle in our selections which I thought would not be a big problem here in the Twin Cities.

As it turned out, I found that the Cabernet aisles of many wine stores here are dominated by Napa Valley brands and some stores only stocked Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle. But I was able to track down a selection at one of the larger warehouse stores here but didn’t come up with a bottling from Walla Walla (sorry Catie!). I also noted some older stock from 1996 and 1998 which either indicated slow turn-over or some close-out deals with the distributors here. But I took the plunge and picked a wine from a producer I know nothing about. I figured that is half the fun of this WBW thing, anyway.

Barnard Griffin LabelSo the wine selected was Barnard Griffin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley 1998 which I picked up for less than $20. The store where I found this wine is not known for their great storage conditions so I took the chance this wine would not be over the hill (likely) or corked (maybe 5% chance). With no “Plan B” if this wine was spoiled, I extracted the slightly dried out cork and broke it in half; not a good start. But once the wine was in the glass, I noted good color and sound aromas so I knew I might have something interesting to taste.

Barnard Griffin Winery was founded in 1983 by Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard and produces a range of under their “Tulip” and “Reserve” labels. This Cab is from their value priced tulip range. The winery is located in Yakima Valley in south-central Washington just up the road from Walla Walla but the grapes for this wine came from the well known Columbia Valley AVA further north.

Tasting Notes:

Barnard Griffin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley 1998 ($17.50) – Rusty garnet in color getting a little tawny at the rim. Ripe black current, licorice, menthol and pencil lead aromas. Rich and mouth-filling blackberry and current fruit with some cracked pepper and chocolate finishing with dusty, but still noticeable, tannins and good acidity. This must have been a tannic monster at release but has now settled down and is drinking quite well. Given it’s maturity and price point, I think this is a nice value in Cabernet that will hold for another year before decline.

13.1% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 86

Thanks again to Catie for hosting this month and for opening my eyes to Washington State Cab outside of the big brands. I’ll keep my eye out for some Walla Walla Cab to try in the near future and post a review here. See you all next month when I’m guessing a white or rose theme might be the plan.

Chateau Camensac 1995

by Tim Elliott on December 27, 2006

Christmas dinner in our family is centered around a standing rib roast. To match with this meat, I almost always grab a Cabernet; not sure why, but this seems to be the classic accompaniment. Perhaps it’s the English origin of our tradition, where “claret” is often served with this entrée.

This year’s selection is the last bottle of Chateau Camensac 1995 that I picked up on sale a few years back for around $20. The Chateau is in the Haut-Médoc and was named a Fifth Growth in the 1855 Classification. Like a lot of Bordeaux estates, Camensac fell onto hard times for much of the 20th century but has made a resurgence of late and now employs famed consulting winemaker Michel Rolland. The blend is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot aged in one and two year old barrels for about 20 months before fining and bottling. A little over 20,000 cases are produced each vintage.

Chateau Camensac, Haut-Médoc 1995 ($25) – Medium garnet in color with no browning at the rim. Blackberry, chocolate and pencil lead aromas. Nicely balanced black cherry and currant flavors finishing fairly long with plush tannins. Elegant, understated and at it’s peak now. I’d say it should hold for another 3 or 4 years before decline. A nice value in aged Bordeaux if you can find it under $30.

12.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 89

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My Christmas Feast Is All About Cabernet

by Tim Elliott on December 23, 2006

The 5th Growth I'll Be Drinking This Year

At Christmas we always make standing rib roast for our dinner. Almost every year this means a Cabernet to match with the meal. Sometimes it’s from California, other times from Chile, but most times it’s from Bordeaux.

This year’s choice is a Château Camensac 1995 that I have been cellaring for a few years. I can almost smell the pencil lead now… hope it’s not corked ;-)