Tag Archives: cabernet

Destination: SF Vintner’s Market

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Its like a farmer’s market, but for wine! Can it get any better than that?

Twice a year, winemakers from all over Northern California converge on the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion in San Francisco. A sprawling warehouse space, the Festival Pavilion is part of the Fort Mason National Historic Landmark District, located right on the bay. One a clear day, like this past Sunday, the views are absolutely stunning! But inside the Pavilion is where the action is!

The SF Vintner’s Market started in 2010 to provide a venue for independent winemakers to sell directly to wine lovers, and get some market exposure to trade reps. With up to 200 wineries in attendance, this is a wine lover’s dream. Some are well-known brands, but many are small, family owned producers, making some very limited quantity cult wines. This is a great opportunity for someone (like me) who has a smallish wine budget, to try wines that are otherwise out of range for purchase.

There are three levels of admission: General, Reserve Room, and Cult Lounge. By some amazing good fortune, my friend and winemaker, Bridget Raymond, was in attendance with her wines, and offered me complimentary entrance at the Cult Lounge level. Bridget makes an amazing Merlot wine, Intertwine, for NakedWines.com. (I’ve reviewed a couple of vintages of Intertwine on my blog.) In addition, Bridget has two personal projects under her Courtesan label. Her Brigitte line includes a Bordeaux-style red blend, and a Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. The current release of the signature Courtesan wine is a Cabernet Franc-based blend. You can find her wines at Courtesanwines.com.

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That’s Bridget on the left. I’m blurry and I haven’t even started tasting yet!

I started the day in grand fashion, driving the two hours from my home to San Francisco, where I met my son and a friend for brunch. They live in The City, so they know all the best brunch spots! After our visit, I was off to the event. In my efforts to get hammered taste wine in safe and responsible manner, I left my car at my son’s, and took Lyft to Fort Mason. I also managed to leave my notebook and phone charger in my car. As a result, I was only able to take so many pictures, and my tasting notes are all from memory. Accordingly, they are mostly from the earlier wines I tasted. Surely you understand.

It was a beautiful pre-Spring day in The City, with temperatures unseasonably warm in the low 70’s. Upon entering, I headed straight to Bridget’s table to check in and say hi. Situated upstairs in the far corner, the view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge was simply spectacular! An amazing venue for enjoying some amazing wines! Naturally, I tasted the Brigitte and Courtesan wines first.

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Brigitte Oakville Red Wine 2014

Fabulous Bordeaux style blend. Blackberry, cherry, blueberry, and oak. Soft tannins and rich mouthfeel. Definitely ageworthy, but enjoyable now.

Retail: $29.00

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Courtesan Napa Valley Proprietors Red Reserve 2012

A Cab Franc based blend, this is a spectacular wine now, and will continue to improve for several years. Classic Cali Cab Franc, deep purple color with blackberry, black cherry, and green bell pepper notes. Soft, smooth tannins and perfectly balanced acidity. Long, satisfying finish of dark berry.

Retail: $125.00

Moving on, I enjoyed a number of superb, hand-crafted wines; mostly Napa Cabernet. Along the way, I came across a sensational Syrah Rosé by Scalon Cellars. After so many big, hefty red wines, a light and lively Rosé was just the ticket!

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Scalon Cellars Syrah Rosé 2015

Delicious! Bone dry, crisp and refreshing. Strawberry and raspberry with lively acidity. #roseallday!

Retail: $30.00

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Like I said, this was a great chance to try some wines that are way outside my price range. One such wine was the HL Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. It was toward the end of my tour, so…um…palate fatigue, yeah, that’s it, palate fatigue was setting in, so I can’t provide detailed tasting notes. However, I can tell you it was spectacular! At $375 retail, I think this was the priciest wine I sampled that day.

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In addition to all the wine; way too much to taste or photograph; there were food vendors in the house. I only sampled a couple of bites, but everything looked and smelled amazing! Alas, the battery on my phone was fading, so I couldn’t take any foodie pics. Trust me, it was all delightful!

The organizers of the SF Vintner’s Market really know how to throw a party. I definitely plan to attend again, even if I have to pay my own way in! (Thanks again for the ticket, Bridget!) If you’d like to go, visit the website for details. The next Vintner’s Market will be coming up on November 4 & 5, 2017. Mark your calendars, and I hope to see you there!

Cheers!

Review: Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

This is the first review in my Judgment of Paris wines series. I came up with the ridiculous idea of sampling recent vintages of each of the 10 reds and 10 whites represented in the famed blind tasting of 1976. This will probably take a couple of years to complete, but they say it’s good to have goals, right?

Freemark Abbey was one of 11 wineries representing Californian wine at the 1976 blind tasting event. In addition, Freemark Abbey has the distinction of being the only producer to have wines represented in both the reds (Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux) and whites (Chardonnay/White Burgundy) competitions. The wines entered were hand-selected by the organizer, Steven Spurrier. Each of the wines chosen were considered the best of the best, and was selected over hundreds of others. So even though the Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon placed 10th out of 10 entries, it’s still a very impressive showing.

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Photo Credit: FreemarkAbbey.com

 

Freemark Abbey has no connection to nuns or monks, or any religious institutions for that matter. Nevertheless, the winery has an intriguing past, with many notable mileposts. Freemark Abbey Winery’s history dates back to 1886, when Josephine Tychson, a Victorian widow, built a redwood cellar on the site, becoming the first female winemaker in the Napa Valley. 12 years later, in 1898, a friend of Ms. Tychson named Antonio Forni bought the winery. He renamed it Lombarda Cellars in honor of the Italian town of his birth. Forni constructed the winery building which still stands today. The current name came about in 1939, when three southern California businessmen bought the winery. Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert “Abbey” Ahern combined their names to form Freemark Abbey. Of course the role Freemark Abbey had in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the impact that event had on the Napa Valley, remains one of the winery’s crowning moments.

Freemark Abbey Cabernet 2012

Here’s my review of this historic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:

I decanted the wine for a little over an hour. Deep, inky purple color. Aromas of ripe blackberry, Marionberry, and cassis, with soft oak. As the wine opened up, the luscious aromas filled the room, and some light violet scent emerges. On to the tasting! This is a rich, full-bodied wine. There are flavors of blackberry, cassis, black plum, mild oak, and pepper. The tannins are soft and smooth. The berry and oak flavors continue into the medium-long finish, with the addition of some baking spice and dark chocolate. There is also a little lingering alcohol on the finish. Paired well with grilled ribeye and roasted rosemary potatoes.

4.0 Stars (88-91 points)

Total Wine & More: $32.99

So, one down, 19 to go! Now it’s on to the next one. Wish me luck!

 

Review: Bruno Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon. The king of the grapes. The stuff of Grand Cru Bordeaux, and Napa legends. From poets to journalists, critics to bloggers, much has been written about this most famous varietal, and much more will be in the future. None of the words put to print can adequately capture the magic that happens when a skilled winemaker plies his art on this noble grape, and produces the fine elixir sought by kings and paupers alike.

Ah, but I wax poetic. Who am I kidding? That’s not my style! Let me just say that Cabernet Sauvignon is some darn fine wine! It is one of my favorite varietals, and if you believe the stats, it is my #1 favorite. And you can’t argue with stats! I had always considered Zinfandel my favorite, but looking back on my wine apps, I have consumed and rated more Cabernet Sauvignon than any other varietal! So much so, that Vivino considers me an Expert of California Cabernet Sauvignon! I don’t know that I’m an expert of much of anything, but if Vivino says it of me, I’ll take it!IMG_0917If you follow my blog, or have read my very first post, Appetite for Wine, (found under the About tab), you know that I tend to live in the Under-$35 world of retail wine prices. Most of my purchases are in the sub-$20 region. At this price point, you can find quality, but a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon in this range is rather one-dimensional and uninspiring. Not that it’s all bad…many have very good flavor, but are often blends that dilute the unique terroir, and/or spend very little time in oak, which I consider to be very important for Cabernet. As I discussed in a previous post, A Cabernet is a Cabernet. Or Is It?, not all wines are created equally, and things like climate, soil, and blending can change the character of wines made from the same varietal. Generally speaking, as with most things in life, the higher the quality, the bigger the price tag.

Another thing you probably know about me is that I am a NakedWines.com Angel. NakedWines.com is a crowd funded winery, whose winemakers produce high quality, boutique wines, which they sell directly to Angels. By avoiding the costly and archaic three-tier system, NakedWines.com is able to pass their savings to the Angels by selling at reduced prices. Therefore, Angels get better quality for the price. NakedWines.com seeks out the best and brightest winemakers. Many of them have worked in big name wineries, and have years or decades of experience.

The wine I am reviewing today is an excellent example of both Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, and what makes NakedWines.com such a great deal. The winemaker, Richard Bruno, has more than 20 years of experience, making award-winning wines at such notable wineries as Francis Ford Coppola and Sebastiani. He is a recent addition to the NakedWines.com family, and this is the first of his wines that I have tried. It will not be my last!

Since Vivino considers me a California Cabernet expert, I am making an “Expert Recommendation” for this wine!

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Oh wow! I had to double check the Angel price on this beauty! $19.99? Must be a typo. This is at least a $40-45 bottle of Napa Cabernet!

This wine is a great example of why Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of grapes. Deep garnet in the glass, the nose is a basket of freshly picked boysenberries, blackberries, and blueberries. On the palate these berries are joined by deep, dark black currant, spice, and hearty oak. The oak enhances, but does not overpower the wine. This is a dry wine with bold tannins. But even straight from the bottle without decanting or aerating, (yes, into a glass! I’m a oenophile, not a wino!) the tannins are not harsh, but are smooth and chewy, and balanced with bright acidity. After decanting for an hour, the tannins are even smoother, the flavors enhanced, and the acidity nicely balanced. The finish lingers long with berry, spice, leather, and smoke.

This wine will age gracefully for several years, but if you have a slab of beef or lamb laying around that needs grilling, open this one up and find out what everybody is talking about. 4.5 hearts (92-94 points) now. Definite 5.0 with a couple years of age.

NW LogoIf you’d like to try this, or any of the other outstanding wines available from NakedWines.com, click here for a voucher worth $100 off a first-time order of $160 or more. You’ll be glad you did.

Cheers!

 

A Cabernet is a Cabernet. Or is it?

Cabernet Aisle

Not all wines are created equal. There are many variables that can affect the quality and profile of a wine; from weather conditions, to the quality of the grapes harvested, to the winemaker’s skill. Some wineries create their wines for specific demographic markets and price points. Large scale productions may want to make affordable wines that appeal to a mass audience, by blending grapes from different locations to achieve consistency year after year. Boutique wineries may craft single-vineyard wines that highlight the unique characteristics of the region’s soil and climate- the terroir.[1] These are just two examples of different winemaking philosophies and goals that can result in dramatically different styles from the same varietal.

While the information in this post applies to all varietals, I am partial to Cabernet Sauvignon, so that will be my reference and examples throughout. Also, though Cabernet Sauvignon is grown all over the world, my focus is on California, because that is where I live, and the wines I know best.

I was at my local Total Wine & More store a few weeks ago, partaking of their weekly wine tasting. They were pouring two Cabernets; one from Sonoma, and one from Lodi. A couple at the tasting bar next to me was enjoying the wine, but they were asking questions that made it clear they were relatively new to the wine experience. They did not understand why two wines made from the same grape, both from California, would taste so different. Always eager to educate people about wine, whether they want it or not, I talked to them about the differences in climate, terrain, and soil and that influence the resulting wines. (They appreciated the tutelage…or so they said.)

Climate

Both Sonoma County and the Lodi Region (in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties in the Central Valley) are in Northern California. While both regions have a lot in common, they have their differences, too. Perhaps most notable is that Sonoma is a coastal county, whereas Lodi is inland. Several mountain ranges separate the two regions, isolating Lodi from the cooling marine influences found in Sonoma.

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Sonoma Wine Region

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Lodi Wine Region

Although I can personally attest that both Sonoma and Lodi can be darn hot in the summer, Sonoma can get a bit cooler at night from the influence of evening ocean breezes. This cooling can make a difference in how grapes taste, with the Sonoma grapes ripening slightly slower and later. I find that Lodi Cabernet is often bursting with ripe fruit flavors, because of the hotter growing season, while Sonoma Cabernet tends to be more restrained and nuanced.

Terrain and Soil

Wine grapes grow best when the vines are stressed.[2] This sends the vine into survival mode, and causes the roots to dig deep to find water. As the roots dig and locate water, they absorb minerals from the soil. Soil in different regions has varying mineral composition and density. The influence of these minerals in the grape causes variations in taste. This is the terroir that we wine geeks talk about. Terrain and location also play a factor. Grape vines like hillsides. An east-facing vine gets morning sun and evening shade, but west-facing vines get the afternoon heat. Thus, terrain and location affect the speed and timing of ripening.

Blending and Labeling

What many casual wine drinkers don’t realize is that winemakers blend to achieve their desired result. It surprises a lot of people to learn that, in the United States, a wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon need have only 75% Cabernet in it. The other 25% can be any combination of other varietals, used to soften harsh tannins, or add structure, or simply to achieve a desired taste profile.

Carnivor California

The other key factor with blending and labeling has to do with the region, appellation, or American Viticultural Area (AVA.) Once again, labels can seem misleading. Laws relating to location designations vary, depending on the designation. If a label identifies a wine as a California Cabernet Sauvignon, then 100% of the grapes used in production must have come from California. CaliforniaMap(For other states, that requirement is just 75%)[3] However, this means the grapes could have been grown all over the state, from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Amador, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, or any other location. These grapes are processed and blended to produce the wine. This regional blending eliminates any sense of terroir, but results in smooth, easy-drinking wines.

If the label specifies the AVA (Lodi, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc.), including sub-appellations (Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Calistoga, etc.), 85% of the grapes must have been grown in that AVA.[4] This allows for blending of up to 15% of grapes from other regions. Again, this blending is used to balance and improve the wine. However, with AVA designated wines, dominated by local grapes, will retain the characteristics that made those regions great.

Oak Grove CaliforniaNoble Vines LodiRodney Strong SonomaProvenance Rutherford

I Just Want My Cabernet

For many wine consumers, none of this matters. They just want a Cabernet and don’t care where it comes from. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I live by the motto: Drink What You Like. Yet, if you want to learn more about wine, compare different bottles of the same varietal. Grab a California Cabernet, in which the grapes could have been grown anywhere in the state and blended. Compare that with a Lodi Cabernet, grown in the hotter Central Valley, or one from cooler Sonoma County. Finally, splurge on a sub-AVA specific Cabernet from the Napa Valley region, like Rutherford, for example. Or explore Oakville, or Calistoga. Take your pick. Now that you have three or four wines for comparison, prepare some hors d’oeuvres, invite some friends over, and have yourself a tasting party. I predict you will be surprised at the differences between the wines. Yes, same grape, but different location, different terroir, and different blends. Let me know in the comments what you think, and which you like best.

Cheers!

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[1] http://www.terroir-france.com/theclub/meaning.htm

[2] http://www.wineanorak.com/struggle.htm

[3] https://napavintners.com/wines/how_to_read_a_wine_label.asp

[4] http://www.wine-searcher.com/wine-label-usa.lml

Something About Rutherford

There’s just something about Rutherford. Centrally located in the heart of the Napa Valley, Rutherford is one of 16 sub-appellations within the greater Napa Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Rutherford AVA is noted for intense Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and other varietals (Napa Valley Vintners, 2015).

NapaValleyAppelationMapMy favorite Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Rutherford AVA. I have found that certain growing regions set the standard for certain varietals. For example, the Willamette Valley is the standard by which I judge Pinot Noir, and the Sierra Foothills AVA, specifically Amador County, produce what I consider to be premier Zinfandel, by which I compare examples from other areas. To be sure, everybody’s preferences are different, but in my opinion, Rutherford Cabernet is the best. How well I like Cabernet from other regions depends on how closely they resemble Rutherford.

The Rutherford AVA is noted for its legendary Rutherford Dust. The term is often credited to André Tchelistcheff, former winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards (Swan, 2011). According to Andy Backstoffer, who worked with Tchelistscheff, the term refers to the terroir of the AVA.

When Tchelistcheff said, “The wines must have Rutherford dust in them,” he did not mean they had to taste of dust. “André meant they needed to taste like they came from Rutherford’s vineyards,” Beckstoffer explained. Tchelistcheff was talking about terroir. (Swan, 2011).

Terroir is the influence the climate, soil, and terrain on a wine (Puckette, 2013). The concept of terroir is a bit nebulous, since the word is French in origin and has no direct translation into English (Balik, 2012). However, it is that terroir that gives wines from a certain region or appellation its distinctive profile and taste. Such it is with Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, for me.

Napa Cabernet, in general, and Rutherford specifically, tends to be pretty pricey in comparison to that of other regions. A recent search of the Total Wine & More website revealed the lowest priced Rutherford Cabernet was BV Rutherford Cabernet at $24.49 for a 750 ml bottle. The highest price was Inglenook (Niebaum-Coppola) Rubicon, 2009, for $199.99. Compare this to Cabernet from the Central Coast (California) region, for as low as $7.97 for the same sized bottle, from Cupcake. I’ve never tried this one, and frankly doubt I ever will, but I’d bet there’s more than a little difference in quality and taste.  Not to suggest that Central Coast Cabernet is bad, but the fruit from which it is made is less expensive. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Speaking of the cost of fruit, one of the reasons Napa and Rutherford Cabernet is more expensive is that the grapes from that region fetch a higher price. In 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon from District 11, generally southeastern Sacramento County and northern San Joaquin County (e.g. Lodi), sold for an average $709 per ton. Compare this to District 4, Napa County Cabernet grapes, which sold for an average of $5,499 per ton (Adams, 2014), nearly 8x the price!mediumCutout

I’ve said before that my wheelhouse for wine is $10-18, with $25-35 for special occasions. Suffice it to say, I don’t get to enjoy as much Rutherford Cabernet as I’d like. When I do indulge, it’s usually on the lower end of the spectrum, such as it is. I’ve tasted more expensive brands at wineries, but Beaulieu Vineyards and Provenance are usually what I buy, but as a Naked Wines Angel, I also have access to a new release from Matt Parish.  At Angel price, this sells for $29.99, and it is as good a Rutherford Cabernet as any I’ve tried – even in the $80-100 range. It’s a very small lot, so the two bottles I bought recently are probably all I will get of the current, 2013 vintage. I plan to save one for at least a couple years. In the meantime, hopefully Matt will be able to make more in another vintage. It’s worth the splurge!

Whatever your favorite is, whether its Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford AVA, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, genuine Bordeaux, or any other wine from any other region, just remember to drink what you like!

Works Cited
Adams, A. (2014, March). Wines and Vines. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from Record California Wine Grape Harvest: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=features&content=129025&ftitle=Record%20California%20Wine%20Grape%20Harvest
Balik, A. R. (2012, July 19). Napa Valley Register. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from Terroir: What does it mean?: http://napavalleyregister.com/lifestyles/food-and-cooking/wine/columnists/allen-balik/terroir-what-does-it-mean/article_593f6df8-d205-11e1-81a6-0019bb2963f4.html
Napa Valley Vintners. (2015). Napa Valley Appellations. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from Napa Valley Vintners: http://www.napavintners.com/napa_valley/appellations.asp
Puckette, M. (2013, November 6). Wine Folly. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from Terroir Definition for Wine: http://winefolly.com/tutorial/terroir-definition-for-wine/
Swan, F. (2011, July 14). NorCal Wine. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from What is Rutherford Dust?: http://norcalwine.com/blog/51-general-interest/523-what-is-rutherford-dust

Appetite for Wine

We enjoy wine. A lot. We are not wine professionals. We hold no certifications; we have no experience in the wine industry. We just enjoy tasting and drinking wine, and exploring wine regions.

Most of the wines we drink are from California, mainly because that is where we live, so when we go wine tasting, that’s what we buy. Nevertheless, we enjoy wines from other states in the U.S., and all over the world. We have an affinity for Spain (Rioja, Cariñena), Italy (Tuscany, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Barolo), and France (Red Bordeaux, Loire Sauvignon Blanc). We enjoy finding affordable wines from under-rated regions.

Over the years we have tasted several hundred wines, and can only recall a handful that were so bad we could not drink them. (One of those was early in my (Kent) wine journey and I now believe it was corked, but I didn’t know it at the time.) While we have favorites, and prefer big, bold reds, we haven’t met a grape – red or white – that we don’t enjoy in some measure.

Our main format for micro-blogging is Instagram. We are very active there, posting several times per week to share what we’re drinking, and what we’re thinking. Please visit us @appetite_for_wine and @robz_lyfe. If you like what you see, please follow us.

You may also want to follow Kent on Vivino, the wine rating app. He’s consistently rated in the top 140 users in the United States. That’s out of more than 5.5 million users! You can find him here: http://www.vivino.com/users/kent-rey. His Vivino reviews also post to his Twitter feed at https://twitter.com/k1reynolds.

If you’d like to reach us directly, or are interested in having us review your wine (samples gladly accepted), please send an e-mail to appetiteforwine (at) gmail (dot) com. Cheers!

– Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael