By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
Is Cabernet Sauvignon the king of red wines? Many Pinot Noir lovers would disagree, but when the holiday season rolls around, it is Cabernet Sauvignon and blends of other Bordeaux varietals that lead the way to the dining table to accompany our festive meals. We tasted Cabernets and blends with delectable meats – lamb and beef are two favorites – to evaluate and enjoy the finest wines for both quality and value.
Two distinct styles of Cabernets and blends emerged. The first style is bold and powerful with dark fruits on both nose and palate featuring cassis (black currant) and dark cherry. This style often shows bold oak character framing the intense wine. The second style – most often blended wines with ample amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and the like – show elegant, “feminine” flavors of cherry and plum with notes of tropical fruits, citrus and floral perfume. Both styles have merit as we discovered.
Winemaker Marty Clubb makes two vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Perigee from Seven Hills Vineyard and Apogee from Pepper Bridge Vineyard. Both vineyards are in the southern part of the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Blended from 56% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder from the four other Bordeaux varietals; the complex wine offers black cherry, herbs and caramel on the nose and elegant flavors of black fruits, toasty oak and spice on the palate – impeccable structure for enjoying with fine meats.
This Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated (78%) blend from Chris Figgins shows the refinement of Leonetti wines that has been achieved through years of experience in vineyard and winery. Aromas of earthy cassis, dried herbs and cherry, cocoa and vanilla lead to an elegant palate with complex flavors of red fruits, toasty oak and notes of dark chocolate and vanilla.
This blend from winemaker Chris Upchurch is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a touch of Petit Verdot. This is the elegant style of Cabernet offering complex aromas of cherry and plum with notes of dried herbs, lavender and citrus. The palate is generous with black cherry, vanilla, caramel and cocoa flavors that offer just the right power and finesse to accompany fine lamb or beef.
First off, if you buy this wine, open it and decant an hour or two before the meal to let it breathe - essential. There is something magical about Charles Smith wines as he manages to pack a suitcase full of aromas and flavors into every bottle and the whole breathes up into a powerful AND elegant food wine. Look for aromas of ripe blackberry, raspberry, orange peel potpourri, floral perfume and coconut-chocolate. A slurp jumps your palate with flavors of strawberry cola, caramel, vanilla, tropical fruits and a berry finish.
Buy this wine now for next year or maybe 2013. It is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot from Red Willow Vineyard in the western Yakima Valley. Aromas of sweet herb, cassis and floral notes lead to dark and brooding flavors of cassis, dried plum, dusty dark chocolate, earthy vanilla and spice. The potential is enormous, but the wine needs time to marry and fully evolve. If you must try it now, several hours breathing time are a must.
Ron Coleman continues his string of successes in crafting vineyard-designated Cabernet blends from some of Washington’s finest properties. This bottling is crafted from fruit grown at Jim Holmes’ Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This intense blend offers aromas of cassis and blackberry with notes of lavender and dried herbs. The palate is rich with black currant and chocolate flavors and has ample tannins to pair up with your holiday roast or meats from the grill.
Another magical winemaker is Pat Spangler in Roseburg at Spangler Vineyards. His wines are always well crafted and frequently top our tasting lists with high scores. All six Bordeaux varieties (the regular five plus Carmenere) are in this tasty, bright bottling showing aromas of cran-cherry, citrus, earthy melon, vanilla and sweet berry. The palate offers flavors of cherry cola, vanilla and tropical fruits for a great pairing with a wide variety of holiday fare.
front page of Hedges Family Estate website names the family as
“Guardians of Red Mountain.” No idle boast, Tom Hedges and his family
have done more than any other entity to establish the reputation of this
important Washington State AVA…and yet their fine Cabernet blend is only
$25! Look for aromas of dark fruits and spice leading to a rich palate
of cassis and cherry with silky tannins and a lingering vanilla finish.
When Oregon’s King Estate expanded into Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with the NXNW brand, they embraced a new geography of the inland Columbia River Valley for sourcing grapes. The sub-AVA Walla Walla Valley is the source of fruit for this excellent wine. Aromas of plums, currants and cherry mingle with notes of baking spice and anise, leading to a rich palate of jammy cherry and plum with notes of cocoa and vanilla.
Three Rivers Winery
Winemaker Holly Turner crafts her ultra-premium Cabernet blend using 100% new French oak and fruit from many heritage vineyards throughout the Columbia Valley. This particular blend includes 34% Petit Verdot, ensuring a concentrated fruit component showing aromas and flavors of blackberry, cherry and plum with notes of caramel, toasty oak and vanilla. Decant to aerate and allow an hour breathing time before serving.
This vintage of DiStefano Meritage is big and brooding with ripe aromas and flavors of dark fruits that demand pairing with your finest standing rib roast or leg of lamb. On the nose: earthy dried cherry, anise and vanilla. On the palate: cassis and black cherry, notes of vanilla and baking spices. Decant for aeration before serving.
Robert Karl Cellars
Spokane physician Joe Gunselman is the founder and winemaker of Robert Karl Cellars and has a special passion for the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon bottling was sourced from the McKinley Springs, Phinny Hill and Gunselman Bench (estate) Vineyards. Aromas of earthy black currant, vanilla, mint and leather lead to flavors of juicy berry, cocoa and a finish of spicy, toasty oak.
Sourced from Cold Creek Vineyard in the Columbia Valley, and Pepper Bridge and Windrow Vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley, this Cabernet exhibits complexities and terroir from the different sites. On the nose, dark fruits of black cherry and black currant mingle with notes of spicy cedar and tobacco. The palate offers these flavors as well as dried herbs and green olive, finishing with vanilla and spicy oak.
Thurston Wolfe Winery
This wine is dedicated to the memory of winemaker Wade Wolfe’s best friend Stan Clarke who passed away in 2007. Stan was a great friend and teacher to many in the Washington wine industry and a lover of Cabernet Sauvignon. Wade’s 2009 edition of The Teacher offers aromas and flavors of red fruits, toasty cedar, vanilla and caramel – a tasty accompaniment to grilled lamb chops.
Agate Ridge Vineyard
The Kinderman family is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of their vineyard in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, where 30 acres of wine grapes provide the fruit for their winery, also located on the century farm site. Look for aromas and flavors of cherry and cranberry with notes of juicy raspberry, green olive and earthy herbs.
Brothers Roger and Philip Mackey came north from California to Walla Walla in 2007 and purchased a small farm with an existing vineyard. The vineyard has been rehabbed and the brothers also own Frenchtown Vineyard near Lowden. This Cabernet Sauvignon shows the herbaceous side of Cabernet with aromas of dried herbs, green olive and green bean over a base of red fruits and vanilla. The palate opens with flavors of dark cherry and vanilla with a finish of toasty oak and green olive.
Barons V winery was founded 10 years ago by a group of friends interested in trying their hand at winery ownership. The winemaker is Matt Loso, founder and former winemaker at Matthew Cellars in Woodinville. This vintage was crafted from grapes grown at a number of respected Columbia Valley wineries and was aged in 100% new American oak. Look for aromas and flavors of black cherry, floral perfume, vanilla and toasty oak.
Wines from other areas
Many of our tasters feel that this is the finest Cabernet in our tastings. The combination of expert winemaking, superb estate grape sources, new French oak and years of experience make Insignia the most consistently excellent Cabernet from California since the first vintage it was produced in 1975. Complex aromas of cassis, coffee, anise, herb and cedar lead to ripe flavors of spicy black fruits, mineral, toasty cocoa and earthy vanilla on the finish.
Robert Mondavi Winery
The Mondavi brand has expanded and seen many changes over the past 30 years, but the RMW Reserve line continues to offer some of the finest bottlings available from California. A unanimous second in our tastings (only to Insignia, above), this wine is sourced from the famed To Kalon Vineyard, parts of which date back to the 19th century. Impeccable structure is the key to its success, but also pause to enjoy aromas of berry and cherry with notes of cassis, dried herb and mint. The palate offers flavors of cassis, dark chocolate, roasted coffee and vanilla with velvety tannins pairing perfectly with lamb or beef.
California’s Alexander Valley owes its topography to several geologic events – ancient landslides and earthquakes – that changes the course of the Russian River and redistributed whole sections of land. A variety of soil types and accommodating climates produce superb grapes for winemaking. Look for aromas and flavors of toasty black cherry, spicy dried plums, cedar, tobacco and a finish of cassis and vanilla.
Visitors to the Napa Valley will be familiar with the Franciscan Estate Winery as it lies right on Highway 29 just north of Rutherford. This property was founded over 30 years ago and was part of the Napa Valley revolution in small lot winemaking spearheaded by Justin Meyer and Agustin Huneeus. In the more elegant style, aromas of spicy red fruits, dried cherry and cedar lead to a medium-bodied palate with flavors of blackberry and toasty oak.
Big House Wines
There is always room for humor in holiday gift giving. From Big House Wines (just down the road from the original big house, Soledad Prison) comes this self-described “bomba de fruta,” a Cabernet with little oak influence. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe cherry, jammy raspberry and notes of herbs and spice. Also available in a 3-liter box.
addition to producing a wallet-friendly line of flavorful varietals,
Bota Box has gone green with recycled paper in the box, soy inks,
cornstarch adhesives and no-BPA plastic bags. This well-made Cabernet
is perfect for an informal get-together and offers aromas and flavors of
black cherry and spicy blackberry with hints of vanilla and toasty
# # Copyright
© 2011 Chuck Hill
© 2011 Chuck Hill