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Nowadays when people throw the word “green” out there, they are usually referring to something being ecologically sound or environmentally beneficial. When it comes to wine, green means something entirely different. Sure, it can refer to a wine being made organically or bio-dynamically, but it is typically a way to refer to wines (usually reds) as being somewhat under-ripe. If you are a Napa Cab drinker and plan on drinking those wines from these two vintages, you should become familiar with this dynamic.
There is a saying that good wine is made in the vineyard, meaning that without great fruit there is not much you can do with the juice. A large factor leading to quality grapes being produced has to do with the weather that particular growing year which is early spring to fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Yes, vineyard location plays a pivotal role and so does vineyard management, but without the right temperatures, rainfall and climate… those vines can be in danger of producing a small amount of grapes and not very quality ones at that.
The last two years have been tough weather wise in Napa, and for a late ripening grape like Cabernet Sauvignon that can mean trouble. When grapes are not ripe enough at harvest they can be a bit green… but what does that mean? It could result in a stalky characteristic, possibly an herbaceous or grassy nature or even reminiscent of a rhubarb flavor. However it comes out, unless it is in minmal amounts it is not very desirable. In these last two vintages, that green effect is going to be tough to avoid in Napa Cabs. Of course the best vineyards and the best winemakers will still be making quality wine, but it may need some aging and there won’t be a lot of it so it will most likely be more expensive than the previous vintages.
So what can you do as a consumer? Taste some of these Napa Cabs from 2010 and see if they suit your palate. This under-ripening of grapes can also give wine a lot of acidity and low tannins which some people prefer. But if you like your Napa Cabs big and bold then you may want to check out some of the Paso Robles Cabs as they seemed to fair better. Or venture out to some of the Rhone wines from 2010. It was a fantastic vintage there and practically all the wines, from the everyday Cotes du Rhone to the single vineyard Chateuneuf du Papes, have been excellent thus far. Think of it as a good reason to expand your horizons or to buy some Napa Cab cellar selections instead of the everyday ones that are usually ready to drink.
If you have seen the movie Sideways, the title should make perfect sense. For those who have not seen it (in which case it needs to be at the top of your Netflix list), the main character (Miles) is a huge Pinot Noir snob. The thought of drinking Merlot while out to dinner enrages him to the point of dropping a well placed F bomb that has become legendary in the cinematic wine world. But I’m here to tell you, Miles is f*#&$^g wrong! There is so much great Merlot out there right now, and from various wine producing regions. Below are my top three in ascending order.
3. Bordeaux – Even though Bordeaux is infamous for it’s Left Bank Cabernet Sauvignon wines (the wines of Margaux, St. Estephe, Pauillac, Medoc, etc.), it is Merlot that is the basis for the majority of Bordeaux wines. St. Emilion and Pomerol wines are almost exclusively made from Merlot and offer some of the best value in the region. Merlot from here is typically soft, floral and even a bit earthy and usually carries a raspberry component along with black cherry flavors. It can soften some of those powerful Cabernet driven blends and can stand on its own when grown in the right areas. So go and find some 2009 or 2010 St. Emilion or Pomerol wines and then tell me you don’t like Merlot.
2. Napa – Good Merlot in Napa is like Cabernet Sauvignon light. It can carry all the same cassis, black cherry and plum flavors but with softer tannins and even some floral notes. It’s typically not as bold or powerful, but can be just as flavorful and alluring. I have to stress that I am talking about GOOD Merlot here, which most of it is in Napa. But don’t confuse this with your cheap California style of Merlot, I am definitely in full agreement with Miles on that one. However I’ll drink Whitehall Lane Merlot for around $20 over most Napa Cabs at that same price point.
1. Tuscany – I have tasted a number of Super Tuscan wines as of late that use Merlot as the main, or even ONLY, grape variety that have been simply stunning (Il Fauno di Arcanum 2007 and Re di Renieri 2009 to mention a couple). The coastal Tuscan influence does wonders for this varietal imparting blueberry and blackberry fruit flavors along with licorice and floral nuances. This was a large factor why these Super Tuscan producers basically told the Chianti DOC to go screw…because they thought they could make better wine by blending Sangiovese with Cab and Merlot, and man were they right!
So try not to be a sheep and hate on Merlot…next time you are at your local wine shop pick up a bottle. Just make sure it’s from one of these three regions and if it’s any of the specific wines mentioned above you are in for a real treat!
Well, obviously not. But this has all the traits of a quality Napa Cab without the high price tag… Check out my tasting notes below.
Catena 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, High Mountain Vines, Mendoza:
Better known for their arsenal of Malbecs, this High Mountain Cab from Catena is some pretty serious juice! The nose is super aromatic showing black currant, cola, plum and tobacco notes. It’s a big and coating wine on the palate displaying its youth. Yet the tannins are fairly smooth and the finish is long and dry. The best review I can give is that my wife thought this was a pretty expensive Napa Cab…and she knows her Napa Cabs!
From Bodegas Catena Zapata comes this rich, dense 100% Caberent Sauvignon that they call “High Mountain Vines.” The grapes are sourced from three of their vineyards at very high elevations; La Piramide Vineyard, 3,117 feet, Domingo Vineyard, 3,675 feet and Adrianna Vineyard, 4,757. The high altitude means brilliant sunlight for ripening and cool temperatures at night for slow, even development of flavors and complexity. The Catena family has been producing outstanding Argentine wines for four generations and they have learned the best methods for handling these grapes. No cold fermentation and a 12-16 day maceration followed by 16 months of aging in French and American oak about 30% new.
Recently I have been teaching a wine class along with a colleague of mine (Josh Farrell of Wine Express) and we were going over the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Classification. For those who don’t know what that is, over 150 years ago professionals from the wine industry ranked the wines of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most prominent grapes used) according to a certain Château’s reputation, price and of course on the quality of wine.
However there were some politics involved and many equivalent quality wines did not get the top distinction because they didn’t have the brand recognition nor did they demand the ludicrously outrageous prices. Four wines at that time (now five wines) were awarded the elite distinction of Premier Cru Classification and this system is still in tact today. After discussing this in class my friend Glenn had a great question…”so what are the Premier Cru wines of California?” That got me thinking…
While California has never classified wine this way, there are certainly a small group of wines that are considered elite. If you have ever heard the term “Cult Cab”, many of those wines would fall in that top classification category. Cult Cabs are typically an extremely low production, high quality wine that you cannot even purchase unless you wait years to get on a mailing list or go to auction and pay 2-3X what the winery retails it for. They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars and while they are some of the best wines you may ever taste in your life, they can also be the most disappointing.
The reason being is the expectations are set so high for a wine of this nature, that it is almost impossible for it to deliver. Think about the first time you were able to afford to go to that fancy five star restaurant that you had heard so much about. By the time you finally were able to dine there, did it live up to everything you had envisioned? Usually the answer is no… how could it?! With expectations that high, unless it is an utterly life changing experience it almost has to be somewhat of a disappointment. That’s not to say these wines are disappointing, as they are arguably some of the best wines produced in the world. But when shelling out that kind of dough, it’s tough to monetize the level of enjoyment of a wine.
With all of that said, I have listed below what I consider the “Premier Cru” Wines of California, the “Grand Cru” Wines (a small step below in terms of quality, price and a bit larger production and availability) and my “Value Cru” Wines ($20-25 wines that over-deliver on a Quality-Price Ratio, or QPR, and are consistent values every vintage). The Value Cru Wines are readily available at most Westchester wine stores as well as online.
Harlan/Bond Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa Valley (Top Pick)
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District
Grand Cru (2nd Growth)
Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville
Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa/Sonoma (Top Pick)
Opus One, Oakville
BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
Duckhorn Merlot, Napa Valley
BV Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Rodney Strong Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma (Top Pick)
Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma
Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Sterling SVR(Platinum) Reserve Red, Napa Valley
For those BV Tapestry fans out there, you don’t want to miss the latest red blend from Mr. Stambor. It has a softer feel to it, and the fruit is a little more approachable rating it higher on the drinkability scale than the Tap, which usually needs a bit of aging to develop. Lots of lush dark fruit blend in nicely with the vanilla, smoke and notes of brown sugar and mocha. The tannins have already softened a bit making this just a smooth and lovely wine.
Fun Facts: Here’s the latest from Beaulieu Vineyards; a red blend from all of their vast vineyard lots throughout Napa Valley. Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor put his blending skills to the test with this very unique and delicious cuvee. The blend starts with 32% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Zinfandel. Then he adds 9% Syrah, 6% Petite Sirah, 5% Sangiovese plus a dash of Carignan, Grenache, Petite Verdot and even a touch of Touriga Nacional. All of the varietals are carefully vinified and the blend is aged 12 months in 50% American, 35% French and 15% Hungarian oak barrels.
To follow up on my Father’s Day post, this week my wife gave birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl and we couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s one of those surreal events that changes your life forever and is deserving of a proper bottle to celebrate the occasion. While it may seem like a trivial afterthought considering what a blessing it is just to have a healthy child enter the world, it’s those small yet meaningful celebrations that can stick with you for years to come. I still remember my epiphany wine (the bottle that first sparked my passion), the bottle I opened when I proposed to my wife (and she miraculously accepted), the over-sized bottle we had everyone sign at our wedding, the bottle we opened to celebrate my son’s birth and the bottle we served at his Baptism (coincidentally the same bottle from our wedding). So deciding what to open with my wife to celebrate this joyous occasion is not so trivial in my book.
Over the past day or two I have had some internal debate about the subject. My first instinct was to go with a high end Napa Cab that we acquired from one of our trips to wine country. While it would clearly be delicious and memorable, without the right meal it may be a bit overpowering. I’m not sure we are quite ready to fire up the grill and cook up some big boy steaks to pair with such a wine just yet. So I thought about a Pinot Noir from the same trip, something that may not need the meal alongside it to enjoy. But Pinot is not really my wife’s favorite and I want it to be as enjoyable for her as it is for me.
So this led me to the somewhat obvious answer… bubbles! I was thinking it really should be a Champagne for an event such as this, but at the end of the day I know my wife prefers the California sparklers which tend to be a little less yeasty. And then it dawned on me…we picked up a couple of bottles of Domaine Carneros (owned by famed French Champagne producer Taittinger) Brut Rosé Cuvée de la Pompadour on our last trip to Napa. While at the vineyard we sipped it on their outdoor veranda on a beautiful day overlooking the Carneros vineyards with two of our closest friends and of course our son running and playing around the garden. Yeah, that was a pretty good day. The idea of bringing back some of those memories and starting some new ones with that particular bottle sounds pretty good to me! Oh, and of course… it’s pink
The purpose of saving those special bottles, and opening the right ones at the right time, is all about creating long lasting and meaningful memories. I am sure I’m not the only one that associates certain wines with monumental events that are relived when that same bottle is opened at a future time. Wine can encompass so much nostalgia and emotion which is one of the main reasons people (including myself) are so passionate about it. It’s not just about drinking, it’s about embracing and celebrating life with those that are closest to you.
So the next time you are in the midst of an occasion that is deserving of opening a special bottle, take some time to think about what you select. After all, it may be something you hold with you for many years to come.