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Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

Mini-reviews 71: Vin Vault, Rueda, Arido, Avalon

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vin vaultReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Vin Vault Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California red, part of E&J Gallo’s assault on the booming box wine business, offers much more than $5 a bottle worth of value (since a 3-liter box equals four bottles). Look for red fruit and soft tannins, though it tastes more like a red blend than pinot noir (and my guess is that it has been blended with lots of grenache or syrah). Still, it’s pleasant drinking and a huge step up from most $5 pinot noir.

Marqués de Cáceres Rueda 2013 ($8, purchased, 12.5%): This version of the Spanish white from one of Spain’s biggest producers is made with the verdejo grape. It’s much more balanced than previous vintages — the lemon fruit is more rounded and it’s less harsh. A steal at this price, though it’s still a simple wine, and its tartness may put some people off.

Árido Malbec 2013 ($10, sample, 13.7%): Just another Argentine grocery store malbec with lots and lots of sweet red fruit, some tannins that don’t really fit with the sweet fruit, and not much else. It’s an example of why I liked this malbec so much.

Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($10, sample, 13.9%): This California red is not the old $10 Napa Avalon cabernet, one of the great cheap wines of all time and which now costs as much as $18. But it’s professionally made, if hardly complex, and mostly a value with soft tannins, black fruit, a little mouth feel, and some acid to round it out. If you’re in a grocery store and need a red wine for dinner, this will be fine.

 

Expensive wine 70: Hess Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2008

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Hess Cabernet Sauvignon The wine world, and especially the red wine world, is as class conscious as Victorian Britain. It’s not enough that serious wine drinkers aren’t supposed to drink cheap wine. They’re also not supposed to drink certain brands, not if they want to hang with the cool kids.

Fortunately for the blog’s visitors, the Wine Curmudgeon could care less about the cool kids. Quality and value are way cooler than the cool kids’ idea of wine, which too often revolves around write-ups like this one, about a $5,400 bottle.

Which brings us to the Hess ($45, sample, 14.6%), which is about as quality and value driven as a red wine from Napa Valley can be at this price:

• Terroir. Napa Valley is not a monolith, but made up of smaller appellations. Wines from these sub-regions should reflect that, and the Hess, from Mount Veeder, does. There’s an almost earthiness you don’t see in wine from other places, and it has aged remarkably well.

• Balance. This is more than concentrated sweet fruit, which the cool kids love. You can drink a glass and not wonder if the wine is as dry as it is supposed to be.

• Varietally correct. Cabernet should have grip, and the Hess does. But it still offers the deep black fruit that is typical of Napa Valley.

Highly recommended, both for holiday dinners and as a gift for cabernet drinkers. And particularly for anyone who wants to understand what Napa cabernet sauvignon can taste like when the wine is made without worrying about what the cool kids think.

Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

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Chateau MontelenaThis is the second time this year that the Wine Curmudgeon has been able to talk to one of the participants from the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. I wonder: Do the rest of the people who do what we do realize how lucky we are?

The occasion was a live cyber tasting last week with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, whose family’s chardonnay bested France’s white Burgundies at the Paris tasting. Which was unthinkable 40 years ago, if only because the most planted white grape in California was the colombard used to make jug wine.

We tasted the 2006 Montelena estate cabernet sauvignon ($150, sample, 13.9%) and the 2012 chardonnay ($50, sample, 13.8%), and both were fascinating. The red was so subtle that I didn’t think anyone made cabernet like this in Napa anymore, given the restraint in fruit and alcohol. In fact, The Big Guy (who joined me at Wine Curmudgeon world headquarters for the tasting) laughed after took his first sip. “It doesn’t have enough alcohol,” he said. Then we both laughed when I told him that one of the wine magazines scored it 88 points, which means it’s not any better than many of my $10 wines. And people wonder why scores are stupid.

Look for dark cherry fruit, black pepper and smokiness, enough acidity to offset all that, and an almost dusty finish. This is a food wine, and the more red meat the better. And it will continue to improve with age, getting darker and dustier.

The chardonnay was a worthy successor to the wine that won the Judgment — one of the best California chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The balance was impeccable, especially in a wine this young, with crisp green apple and pear fruit, oak skillfully integrated throughout, a richness that belies all the crispness, and the beginnings of what will be signature minerality on the finish. Highly recommended, even at this price, and a holiday gift for anyone who loves chardonnay.

I asked Barrett what he did differently with chardonnay, compared to so many others in Napa, and his answer was perfect: He made the wine that the grapes gave him, and not to show what a wonderful winemaker he was. There’s no better description for a wine than that.

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