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Cab. Sauvignon

Michael PozzanAnother long hiatus! So much has been going on that updates are proving difficult. But I will persevere and continue to post the fine wine bargains until circumstances allow this blog to return to a normal schedule. With marriage imminent, and excitement growing beyond my ability to readily process or contain it, I thought it would be nice to get grounded with my steadfast favorite wine in the whole repertoire: Cabernet Sauvignon. Yep, once again, I’m goin’ Cab.

So many reasons to keep coming back to this noble grape. First off, it’s one of the primary blending grapes in Bordeaux, that most prestigious appellation, and has what I consider an ideal blend of structural potential in its tannins and delicious, dark fruit character. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes; all others are mere barons or dukes. And California makes wines from Cabernet that are generally my unabashed favorites; probably something to do with my background.

So today’s wine, the 2008 Michael Pozzan Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, is exactly and ideally typical of Cabernet from the Sonoma region. Knights Valley is one of the original five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma, and has the warmest climate in the county. All of the fruit sourced for this wine is Knights Valley fruit, and while I wouldn’t say this is a wine of terroir, expressing a unique sense of place, it definitely does show great varietal character with Californian exuberance. 18 months of aging in French oak helps, too. A rich plum color with red brick edges, this bursts with aromas of plum, black cherry, and mocha in the glass. Smooth as silk on the palate, with great tannins buttressing juicy cherry, raspberry, cassis, vanilla and caramel flavors. Long finish; again, smooth as silk. Not flabby at all, this wine has enough acid to pair with food (think T-bone steak, or Beef Wellington), and could age for 3-5 years if you’re of a mind to cellar a bottle or twelve. $15.

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Cape Mentelle Margaret River Cabernet Merlot, 2005We’re fast approaching the end of 2012, and yet another crappy day! The sky was leaden throughout, with nothing on the horizon but drizzle or worse. A weekend to forget, or at least slog through to better times. But there is one quick solution to conditions outside: go inside! Retreat to the (hopefully) toasty interior of your apartment/house and pop some corks while eating lasagna/pork loin/another family oriented comfort food. And this is just what I did, all weekend. With January being Diet Month, there’s no better time than right now to indulge in favorite foods… and wines.

I like to keep my anti-social bad weather wines varied; keeps it interesting. So for this most recent departure from rainy reality, and in acknowledgment that New Year’s is right around the corner, I resolved to try something I would not normally try: a completely unfamiliar Australian red blend. Risky? Absolutely. Without good knowledge of vintages across regions, you can easily pick an Aussie red that falls flat on its face; these wines are very much at the mercy of the weather. But as with all good resolutions, this one paid off.

A little background on Australia’s Margaret River region: easily one of Australia’s premiere winemaking locales, this region is both extremely isolated and extremely good for grape vines. It is also very young. The first vines were planted in the mid-to-late 1960’s after Dr. John Gladstones wrote a book titled Viticulture and Environment outlining how ideal Margaret River’s climate and soils are for vineyards. Wines produced here tend to balance their typical Aussie big character and round, fleshy fruit with nice definition and poise. Unlike the Barossa Valley, which is renowned for its Shiraz, Margaret River produces especially fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blends. Cape Mentelle is one of the pioneer wineries in the region, and has vineyard blocks dating back to 1970.

With none of this in mind, I opened the 2005 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot to pair with a variety of grilled sausages. And DANG. Deep purple in the glass, inky and slinky: liquefied desert flowers. The aromas were striking, too, with jammy blackcurrant fruit and touches of spice. Great silky mouthfeel, fine soft tannins throughout, round but not flabby; just enough acidity. More dark berry fruit and spices in the mouth, with notes of black pepper and cocoa. Great finish; my only complaint here is that the finish is shorter than I would like, considering the fruit. Well-balanced overall, and a steal at $15. Pair with spice-rubbed lamb rack, grilled sausages, or any other meaty comfort food.

Clos de los Siete Red BlendDecember has so far been a cold, bleak, windy affair. No snow as of yet, and very little to recommend in terms of scenery. In fact, I would much rather go somewhere else entirely at this time of year. Some far country where I could forget about the artificial urgency of the holidays, truly kick back, and relax. New York winter weather makes me crave wines with opposing qualities: warm, lush, and full of cheer. Big, hearty numbers that shout “it’s time for STEAK, b****!” – or perhaps they’d shout something more mature, yet equally bold. Wines with hot bluster and tannin to match. And because I’m feeling the wallet crunch of the coming Christmas, I also want to enjoy wines that I know cost the makers many millions of dollars. Wine is a form of wealth redistribution I can get behind.

So let’s combine these elements: wine from a far country that has been really, really expensive to realize, but reaches we happy consumers with minimal pocket pinch. “Clos de los Siete” is of the more expensive wine projects in recent history, fitting all of my winter-and-I’m-depressed-tell-me-a-wine-story criteria. Headed by the star oenologist Michel Rolland, this effort focuses on expressing Argentinian terroir while sparing no expense in sourcing and vinifying high-quality grapes. We’re talking over 2000 acres of vines at 1,200 meters above sea level, right at the doorstep of the Andes mountains, turned into wine at seven wineries designed with extravagant attention to detail by master architects. Truly the kind of place where you’d expect fine wine to be made.

And so it is. The 2008 “Clos de los Siete,” the signature wine from this project, is blended personally by Michel Rolland every year, from painstakingly handpicked Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. It’s a big wine, to be sure: a dark ruby red in the glass, with ripe aromas of plum, cassis, and saddle leather. In the mouth, more dark cherry and cassis fruit rage around like Lindsay Lohan on a road trip in the countryside, stomping all over hints of cedar and loam. In a good way. Finishes long, with definite grainy tannins that cloak your tongue; it could well benefit from a year or two more of bottle aging. While expensive to produce, “Clos de los Siete” will cost you only $20: good for breaking winter doldrums without breaking the bank. Begs for roast meats of any kind or caliber.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m crazy about Bordeaux. Not a guy who goes nuts over the en primeur tastings in April, those early barrel tastings that get wine journalists salivating, mostly because I don’t buy based on hype alone. Nor do I drink the top tier Médoc monsters – Château Lafite Rothschild, Château Latour, and so on… because who can drop $1200 on a bottle on a typical Friday? But still, something about the region – its heritage, its complex classification system, and its astonishing wines – brings me back, reliably, month after month. I can count on my hands the number of months I’ve gone without Bordeaux in the past five years.

A few points to keep us all on the same page. Most people, when they’re talking about Bordeaux wines, are talking about wines from the Médoc – the most famous wine-growing region in France, I’d say, nested along the Gironde river. All of the Bordeaux wines in the famous 1855 Classification are produced in the Médoc , with the exception of Château Haut-Brion, which hails from Graves (another favorite spot of mine for its stony, delicious Cabernet and Merlot-based reds). I won’t get into the classification system, except to note that the Wikipedia article does a good job, and don’t try too hard: it’s pointless to memorize something subject to change. Beyond that, it’s important to keep in mind that five grapes are legally permitted in red Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. White Bordeaux (especially esteemed when from Graves) can include the grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle, although you’ll find odd birds like Ugni Blanc and Colombard in the blend as well.

Tonight’s wine, the 2009 Chateau La Grolet, is an odd bird as well. For all that hubbub above about the Médoc, this wine is actually from the Côtes de Bourg, a little-known, tiny appellation located just across the Gironde river from Margaux. It is produced by the winemaker Jean-Luc Hubert, entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Shows a nice crimson color in the glass. On the nose, you find very forward, savory ripe fruit and a touch of cocoa and smoke. Nice and soft in texture, medium-bodied, with just enough acid to keep things going. In the mouth, it bursts with cherry fruit backed by definite mineral notes, kind of jammy – something I love in my wine. Medium finish, with the acidity keeping you coming back for another sip. Total crowd-pleaser. Totally Bordeaux. $12.

For Valentine’s Day, I’ve a short review of a red wine I haven’t been able to shake from my mind. A wine from Oregon, a region I briefly lived in as a youth. Only bought one bottle, and ever since I had it, I’ve wanted more. Love is so often like that, right? Those little things that stick with you – faint essences in the air, scents, hints of a special something, a special someone. As W.S. Merwin put it:

“Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.”

But far from being melancholy about this longing, I rejoice daily in the inspiration that wine still gives me. I’ve always felt, in fact, that wine has been my only lasting love affair. Each glass makes me more enamored. The way to make this nagging stop is write it out, so…

Back when I lived in Oregon, I’d spend my summer days dashing around the hills, looking at the landscape in constant astonishment. Far different from anything else I’d known, and so wild… the wines reflect this wildness, I’ve found, across regions and across varietals. Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley – Oregon’s dominant red grape from its premier region – often shows a lovely mix of earthiness, gamy animal musk and floral delicacy… but the blackberry fruit beneath is so vibrant and fresh that you can’t stop coming back for another sip. I find this wildness to be the most compelling thing about Oregonian wine. But in wine, as in relationships, I also tend to look to the unusual. So, this post concerns a strange bird: the 2009 Rock Point River Rock Red, a Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Del Rio Vineyards, located just south of Walla Walla, the other important winemaking region in Oregon.

The River Rock vineyard itself rests in an ancient riverbed, and the blend is 63% Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, both hand-harvested in mid-October. Separate primary fermentation, delicate handling, and malolactic fermentation (the least romantic word for the most sensual transformation in wine), followed by aging in French oak for one year. Like love, winemaking is often complicated.

But what results!  Bright berry red in the glass, and a nose bursting with ripe cherry aromas, forest floor, mushrooms, and vanilla spice as well as faint notes of sage and eucalyptus. The body is full and round, with more red fruits as well as plums and black olives in the mouth. This is paired with a deliciously silky texture and snappy acidity to keep the lush tannins upright. Beautiful finish, dry and long. Enjoy this with your sweetheart for just $12.

Summer is hitting heavy, temperatures in the high 90’s Fahrenheit; people stripping down and moving slow. Heat lightning. Sirens. Good grilling weather. To that end, I’m reviewing another personal favorite for cheap domestic Cabernet Sauvignon: the 2008 Pitch Cabernet, from the Columbia Valley in Washington state. Now, for those of you not yet in the know on this one, Washington is what is in American Cabernet. Seriously. California has some good stuff, whatever, but only a few appellations (Alexander Valley, Mt. Veeder, etc.) come even close to the stuff you get out of WA.

Lots of good reasons exist for the superiority of Washington Cabernet. Climate is a big one. The Walla Walla Valley enjoys a fairly cool climate, lying as it does  between the 46th and 47th parallel, near the same northerly latitude as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. Additional daylight hours mean longer growing seasons, which provide greater time for ripening and thus maturity at harvest. The region’s glacially tilled volcanic soil provides a terroir that has gained deserved fame throughout the country; it drains well, and is poor enough in nutrients that the vines must struggle – one of the keys to growing great wine grapes. The Columbia Valley AVA is divided into numerous microclimates due to the high percentage of rivers and its hilly nature (the Cascade Mountains comprise one border, and Reininger Winery’s owner, Chuck Reininger, is a world-class mountaineer). Among these, Walla Walla produces some of the finest Washington State wines.

Which brings me to this post’s wine: the 2008 Pitch Cabernet Sauvignon. An inky purple in the glass, Pitch presents aromas of rich jammy blackberry and cassis, with hints of cocoa, cola, toasty oak, and an herbal garrigue that I just love in my wine. Medium-bodied in the mouth, displaying a velvety structure but with a tannic bite that makes it passable as a pairing for red meat. Nice smooth finish. Would pair well with grilled burgers or steak tips; a great BBQ wine for sure. $12 a bottle.

Been writing an awful lot about rosés lately. Shame, because some of my favorite summer reds are those friendly, approachable blends everyone pretends to pooh-pooh and then swigs as fast as they can when backs are turned. So! Here’s a short and sweet write-up of one of my guilty pleasures.

The 2007 Bodega NQN “Picada” 15 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot produced in Patagonia, Argentina. What a country! What wines! Cooler climate makes for better acidity and more distinct character than Chile overall, while the leading grapes – Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon – are everybody’s favorite, even the trendy wine Poindexters in plaid I so want to stomp.

A nice garnet red in the glass, with dusty berries and other red fruit on the nose, and some fruitcake spice to make it fun. Lush but not flabby mouthfeel, this is a round, medium-bodied treat for the big wine aficionado, the kind of man who wears denim and drinks Sonoma Zinfandel. Or Syrah from the Rhone. And fights bulls. Soft tannins, medium, earthy finish with some pepper notes. $10. Pair this with London Broil and mashed potatoes and green beans, or some juicy rare burgers off the grill.