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Advice from the wise: Older wines? ‘Grip ’em and rip ’em’

February 21, 2018 Comments off
Bonotto 1959

Holding on to wines in hopes they improve with age is a gamble. Pictured are 1959 Raboso from Antonio Bonotto in Tezze delle Piave, Italy. Photos and story by Dave Buchanan.

I recently posted about the joys of finding and drinking older wines. In this particular case, it was regarding a wine from 2006, which really isn’t old as far as wines goes but as I pointed out,  the wine was totally unexpected to be as delightful as it was after 11 years under my benign care.

The point I was trying to make is that older wines can offer insights into a winemaker’s thoughts during the original production. And, more key to the post, that you might come across an older wine, forgotten in a rack or in the case, and find yourself learning first-hand how a wine ages and the benefits a few years of patience can offer.

Curiously, a few days later, writer Michael Franz said in a post at Wine Review Online that holding a wine too long for wine can be a mistake. I’ve known (or better, known of) Franz since a trip to Italy in 2007 and have always enjoyed and appreciated his insights about wine and all the circus fuss that often accompanies it.

In this case, Franz makes several keys points. One, “there’s no way to know whether you’ll be catching the wine at the optimal point of maturity until you’ve pulled the cork”; and two, “And if it seems like you’ve waited too long, there’s no undoing the damage of an overly delayed opening.”

A sort of vinous “buyer’s regret,” I suppose. You buy a wine you think might be better in a few years and then you forget you have the wine or you spend years mentally relishing how nice the wine will have aged, only to find once it’s opened you missed the window of opportunity.

So what does Franz (the editor of WRO and a highly respected wine judge and critic)) recommend?

“After years of wrestling with the issue, I now find it quite easy to advise (owners of older wines), and I invariably advise them to get over their reverence and just drink the damned things,” he says succinctly.

In the case of the 2006 wine (a Grand Mesa blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Plum Creek Winery), I wasn’t being patient so much as forgetful. I simply forgot I had the wine. And, yes, I got very lucky to find winemaker Jenne Baldwin-Eton intentionally made this vintage to be shelved and opened years after bottling.

“For me, reserve status is carried all the way through fermentation,” Jenne recently emailed in response to my query. “Reserve wines were made with the idea that they needed to age in the bottle, so I was looking for different aspects through the fermentation process.

“Those that appreciate or recognize this evolution of the wine are the ones that buy cases of it to cellar and look forward to opening bottles with more bottle-aging time,” she wrote.

But, a Franz points out, maybe you should just drink that wine instead of forcing it to be something it might never be. Too many times you simply wait too long for something that isn’t going to happen. And, after all, you have an entire world of wine from which to choose for the next bottle.

“… a truly revolutionary diffusion of technology and expertise over the course of the past generation has now transferred potential excellence so widely across the globe that there’s no such thing as a bad year,” Franz states.

So the next time you pull out a surprise from that dusty box hidden behind the skis and the long-forgotten VCR, remember what Michael Franz suggests: “… grip ’em and rip ’em (because) even the luckiest person isn’t guaranteed another day, and you can’t drink your treasured wine tomorrow if you get hit by a bus today.”

 

 

 

 

Late bloomers: Wines that share their secrets only when they are ready

February 14, 2018 Comments off
Old wines on racks

You can’t judge wine by its bottle. Proper storage, which doesn’t always include regular cleaning, is one key factor in making sure a wine will improve with age. Here, a cellar in Spain shows its age and its promise. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

What is it about older wines that attracts us, like moths to a flame?

Maybe it’s akin to the daring of an older lover, or the mystique of yet-to-be-revealed secrets, or simply the call of the unknown and unexpected.

Opening a bottle of wine older than, say, five years, which really doesn’t make it old except under today’s standards of winemaking, shouldn’t be such a risk.

There are many people tonight who are opening wines bottled before they were born and, sure, some bottles won’t pan out.

But that’s OK, because the people seeking older wines have learned that wine can improve with age and with that the need to hold the reins on one’s expectations.

Today’s wines rarely are aimed at being around for 15 years or more. It’s certainly not true in all cases but many wines – luscious fruit bombs with soft tannins and little acidity –  are made to be consumed while young, aged no longer than the drive home from the liquor store.

This is due to several reasons, not the least of which are today’s consumer wants fruity, easy drinking wines to please a sweeter palates and to ease the trials of waiting a decade to drink a wine they might not like anyway.

But once in a while, even while searching for a “tonight” wine, you come across a vintage that dares to ask – Drink me now or wait for me?

Patience, grasshopper.

If you purchase and open a recent bottling of a good Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo or any of several other varieties, you’ll likely find it a bit stringent, short on fruit and long on tannins and acidity.

Come back in 10 years (or more) and it’s mellowed, with intense fruit, rounder tannins and a depth unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. These wines, and wines like them – subtle, nuanced, complex – were made to age, unready to share their secrets until time was on their side.

Recently, the Grand Valley received some welcome publicity from a national wine magazine. The article touched on the many wonderful attributes the Grand Valley offers to visitors (and locals) and mentioned the local Grand Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), unfortunately overlooking the nearby West Elks AVA along the North Fork Valley.

But some of us reading the article had the same feeling we get when someone asks us, “You mean they actually grow grapes in Colorado?” Read more…

What’s in the Glass – #4-2018

February 2, 2018 Comments off
TomGore-Wines-Lead

Tome Gore sums up his winemaking philosophy quite simply: Letting the character of the fruit shine through his well-balanced wines. Photo courtesy Tom Gore Vineyards. 

A popular bumper sticker in my farm-to-table part of the country reads “Know farmers, know food.”

Take that a step farther and Tom Gore might say, “Know farmers, know wine.”

Gore prides himself on being a second-generation grape farmer in Sonoma County who several years decided to meld his love of farming with a vision of true-to-nature wines and began his self-named line of affordable, well-balanced wines.

His website recounts his farming and winemaking philosophy: “Great wines start with the work of a farmer” and Gore describes his lineup as “farm to glass” wines.

Here are the latest samples I’ve enjoyed:

Tom Gore 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – $13. Aromas of dark cherries, currants and a hint of leather greet your nose while the mouth is filled lots of dark red fruits, dried red plums, sour cherries and black currants.

Soft tannins bolster the wine to a long finish of hints of faint cedar, dark chcolate and dried cherries and currants.

Tom Gore 2015 Chardonnay – $11. Fermented 60 percent in oak and 40 percent in barrel, this lively Chardonnay carries the best traits of both: a light oak styling brings depth to the fruit (a mix of yellow apple, pear and guava) while the stainless steel adds the right amount of tautness to balance the creamy underside of the oak.

Nothing wrong with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, except the price

June 28, 2017 Comments off
062117 FD wine old vines

(Photo courtesy Creative Commons)
Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Napa Valley command upwards of $300,00 per acre, especially when it means old vines, such as these at Chateau Montelena near Calistoga, Cal. High land prices is just one reason ultra-premium wines command premium prices.

The last time I encountered Rick Rozelle he was working the wine aisles at Fisher’s Liquor Barn in Grand Junction. The meeting wasn’t completely surprising since that’s where I usually find him, dispensing knowledge and turning on clients to good buys in wines.

This time he was doing something I’d heard him do before but always enjoy hearing – talking a customer out of a pricey top-shelf wine in favor of purchasing something more affordable yet just as tasty.

Once the client left, bottle in hand and smile on face, Rick and I spent a few minutes talking and he noted how many people look first to the top shelf, where you find the Screaming Eagles and Opus Ones of the wine world, as the starting point for what’s out there.

Nothing wrong with that, except that both those ultra-premium cabs will put a big dent in your bank account. On the online wine-searcher.com, a 2013 Opus One averages about $150 a bottle, “and you can get a whole lot of great wines for much less,” laughed Rozelle.

062117 FD wine art wall

Finding the right Cabernet Sauvignon (or any wine) at just the right price often entails searching through a wall of wine. Photo by Dave Buchanan

On the whole, I consider most those upper-shelf Cabs over-priced, although that’s subjective to what you have in your pocket at the time, right?

“We’ve had people buy cases of it for weddings and stuff, so it’s not like it doesn’t sell,” Rozelle noted.

Cabernet Sauvignon remains “America’s most beloved red wine,” wrote Food & Wines eminent wine writer Ray Isle way back in 2005. “In 2009, California crushed almost 450,000 tons of Cabernet grapes, an amount roughly equal to one bottle per person for the entire U.S. population.”

One reason Cabernet Sauvignon still is so popular (it’s the second most-sold wine, period, right behind Chardonnay) is that among those millions of bottles are many selling for under $10, although you won’t find many really good California Cabs at that price.

You might find something from my colleague Jeff Siegel  (www.winecurmudgeon.com) , who puts the cut-off line around $10 but has been known to inflate that number a bit when the wine is particularly good.

“Listen, it’s not easy finding cheap Cabernet Sauvignon that tastes like Cabernet Sauvignon,” said Siegel during the 2016 Colorado Governor’s Wine Competition for which he was a judge. “If there were, I’d drink more of it.”

He earlier wrote about Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon, which he described as offering the quality of Napa cabernet “at two-thirds to three-quarters of the price of comparable wines.”

The grapes aren’t Napa – they come from Lodi, Paso Robles, and Monterey County. Which is why Fisher’s Liquor Barn carries the 2014 vintage for under $10.

Siegel, who will return to Denver next month for the 2017 edition of the Governor’s Cup, wrote in a recent blog post that too many “value priced” Cabernets “are fruity and sticky, without the heft and tannins that cabernet is supposed to have— call them cabernet lite.”

“Or, if they taste like cabernet, they cost at least $20, and that’s not the point of what we do here,” Siegel wrote.

Why are Napa Cabernets so good, a fact that helps even inexpensive Cabernets from elsewhere succeed?

062117 FD wine Napa label

Some of the world’s best and most-desired Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Napa Valley. This Beaulieu Vineyard 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a value and can be found for as low as $25. Photo by Dave Buchanan

Simply, Napa Valley has the perfect climate and soils for growing the grape. But Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are the highest-priced grapes in California, which means along with accelerating land costs ($300k-plus per acre), the price of a bottle of wine continues to grow.

Mike Fisher, on the blog Vinsights, wrote that grape costs should not exceed 25-percent of a wine’s selling price for a winery to experience a “reasonable profit.”

Because Napa grape costs are the highest in California, Fischer noted, virtually all red wine made with Napa grapes must be retail priced at $40 or more per bottle for the winery to receive a reasonable profit.

But wait. There are a lot of grapes being grown outside of Napa, and that’s where we should look for affordable Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paso Robles, Lodi, Monterrey, Central Coast, the list goes on of places where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives. And that’s just in California.

What about Washington, Chile and Italy?

Cheaper land plus cheaper grapes equal affordable and delicious California and California-quality Cabernet Sauvignon.

And if that’s not enough, Wines&Vines online recently quoted Tony Correia, a real estate appraiser and consultant from Sonoma, Cal., saying, “Any land that’s in Napa Valley, in the watershed of the Napa River, that can be planted to Cabernet and produce a good crop of Cabernet is being planted today, and they can make a call and sell the fruit for $5,000, $6,000 $7,000” per ton.

That’s about 3.5 times what those grapes cost in 1995, when the average price per ton was $2,000.

One more thing. One reason some of the ultras are so ultra is cachet. People want to feel important and have other people say nice things about them and one way to impress is to pour a wine everyone knows cost a king’s ransom.

“But that’s not what we’re here for,” to repeat Siegel’s riposte.