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Tag Archives: California wine

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.

Mini-reviews 67: Black Friday wine edition

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Black Friday wineBecause what’s better than four cheap wine reviews — none more than $10 — for Black Friday? Plus, you don’t have to get up at 3 a.m. or wait in line to read it.

La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 ($9, purchased, 13%): This vintage of the Hall of Fame Italian red isn’t as interesting as previous versions — not as deliciously tart and missing the earthiness that made me want to buy a case. Still, it’s worth drinking, with mostly cherry fruit.

Melini Orvietto 2013 ($7, purchased, 12.5%): Soft white fruit and bone dry, this Italian white is a wonderful food wine. The problem is that the various parts are disjointed, so you get one swallow of fruit and one swallow of acid instead of it being all of one. But still a terrific value.

El Sancho Escudero White NV ($5, purchased, 11%): This Spanish white is a knockoff of the much loved Rene Barbier white, made with the same cava grapes. It’s not as lemony or fresh as the Barbier, but delivers $5 worth of value. May be Whole Foods private label.

Rare Rose NV ($10, sample, 13%): Surprisingly tasty given that it seemed, from all appearances, to be just another California sweet pink wine. But it’s just barely sweet, and the red fruit (strawberry?) balances the sweetness. This is wine for someone who wants to try something other than white zinfandel.

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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