By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Cabernet Sauvignon & Blends for the
For those of us that have been cutting back on red meat over the last few years, it is a time of temptation when the corks are pulled from Cabernet Sauvignon and blends. Moderation is the key, and I can think of no better way to moderate than to enjoy Chef Ted’s mixed grill of top sirloin steak and lamb chops with a wide range of Cabernets.
It must be said that winemakers in the new millennium have been taking a New World approach to Cabernet. More oak, more extraction and higher alcohol contents are now an accepted norm but can often disguise the Old World Cabernet character. Up front, Old World Cabernet offers black currant (cassis), cherry, herbs and hints of oak and vegetative notes of olive and pepper – not GIANT wines. New World Cabernets offer oak, intense plum and blackberry, toasty spice from oak, inky dark cherry, vanilla and tannin. The best winemakers try to find a happy medium of power and finesse. Presented here is a selection of wines to please every palate and pocketbook.
L’Ecole No 41
Before we go too far, bookmark www.lecole.com/walla-walla-valley and read the sections on vineyard sources for these first two wines. Winemaker Marty Clubb has crafted Apogee and Perigee since 2002 and each vintage offers new insights into Walla Walla Valley fruit... and L’Ecole winemaking. Marty strives to offer Old World character in his wines. Look for cassis and black cherry with ample toasty spice, tobacco, coffee, vanilla and herbs – very good with lamb and beef.
L’Ecole No 41
L’Ecole No 41 is partners with Leonetti Cellar and Pepper Bridge Winery in the Seven Hills Vineyard near the Oregon/Washington border, planted in 1981. The wines from this mature plot are elegant, earthy and seductive, lending themselves to Old World treatment and restraint. Earthy mineral marries with rich black cherry and plum on the nose and with notes of blueberry, toasty cedar and herbs on the palate.
Quilceda Creek Vintners
Quilceda Creek winemaker Paul Golitzin learned at the side of his father Alex who learned with the guidance and encouragement of his “Uncle Andre,” Andre Tchellischeff. Now THERE is a bloodline connection to Old World winemaking. Tasting a Quilceda Creek wine is not a slap-you-in-the-face event; instead it is more intellectual and thought provoking. Washington has a handful of insightful winemakers who can judge a vintage and know just what to do to craft the best wine from it. Paul Golitzin has donned the QC mantle to offer you: aromas of complex cassis, citrus, anise and French oak leading to rich flavors of cassis and blackberry with notes of herbs, caramel and vanilla. Bring on the lamb!
From his years as a semi-pro winemaker and sommelier, Chris Upchurch now presides over a stable of wines that offer challenges with each vintage and a chance to meld his Francophile Old World tendencies with the powerful fruit of Washington’s Red Mountain. As Upchurch says, “a winemaker cannot make great wines without first defining in his or her own mind and palate what a great wine tastes like.” Chaleur Estate offers aromas of red and black fruits with highlights of barrel spices and floral/citrus notes. A palate of mixed berry, cedar and vanilla define this tempting, elegant wine from a powerful vintage. Blend: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon | 23% Merlot | 7% Cabernet Franc | 2% Petit Verdot
Is Pat Spangler Oregon’s best winemaker? One could make an argument that he is. Working with varietals from Southern Oregon’s warm climate, he excels at Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc. His Old World style produces wines that are balanced and forward at the same time showing complexity and nuance on both nose and palate. A great food wine for beef or lamb, look for tart cherry, plum, cassis, herbs and spicy cedar with a finish of dark chocolate and vanilla.
star quarterback Drew Bledsoe grew up with Chris Figgins just a quarter
mile from Leonetti Cellar winery in Walla Walla. His path led him
to fame and fortune in professional football, but when he retired in
2007, he sought out Chris Figgins to help him realize a newfound dream
of entering the wine business. Doubleback is the result of that
collaboration in both vineyard development and winemaking. The
soon-to-be-released 2010 vintage (January) offers the power of ripe
black fruits with cassis and plum with a spectrum of spicy oak notes
ranging from vanilla to baking spice to cardamom. The palate is
rich in the New World style with juicy flavor and ample balancing of
acidity that make you reach for your fork and steak knife.
Winemaker Gary Figgins blazed the trail in the 1980s and 1990s defining the New World Washington style for Cabernet Sauvignon. Development of new vineyards and the addition of his son Chris to the winemaking team improved the finesse and complexity of the wine to more of an Old World style. Faultless structure and balance highlight flavors of cassis, spicy oak, earthy mineral and blackberry. The 2009 Cabernet is a delicious wine that complements both beef and lamb.
Real wine made by real people. That is the stage that Alta Cellars is in right now. Jay and Karen Pederson are passionate about their new venture, and Jay is learning with each day how to handle the nuances of each vintage to craft a better bottle. The 2008 Cabernet has a little more bottle age than many other wines in this review, and thus shows a little more finesse and complexity. Look for cherry and raspberry fruit with notes of cocoa, vanilla and smoky cedar – excellent with grilled meats.
Eric Dunham and Daniel Wampfler craft the wines at Dunham Cellars as a team, working together on each vintage from crush to bottling. Definitely a New World style, the fifteenth Cabernet shows the Walla Walla character as described by the winery... “it brings to mind a Dutch oven blackberry cobbler with cinnamon, clove and, of course, a scoop of vanilla ice cream!” Our tasters found dark berry and cherry with lots of toasty oak and notes of vanilla and coconut from partial American-oak aging.
Va Piano Vineyards
Winemaker Justin Wylie crafted this Cabernet from fruit grown in Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley vineyards. It is an intense wine – not out of balance – that offers dark fruits of cassis and cherry with complex hints of dark chocolate. This style skates the line between New and Old World with the advantage of having a little more bottle age to round out the edges – great with beef.
This tempting Cabernet from Arbor Crest was crafted from grapes grown at a combination of Washington’s finest vineyards: Bacchus, Dionysus, Klipsun, Stillwater Creek and Wahluke Slope. Winemaker Kristina Mielke van Loben Sels crafts well-balanced wines that favor a leaner, more Old World style and this Cabernet is no exception. In addition to bright cherry, red currant and spice, look for delicate floral aromas and hints of citrus and toasty oak.
Rolling Bay Winery
Alphonse de Klerk is the owner/winemaker at Rolling Bay Winery on Bainbridge Island in Washington’s Puget Sound. He sources grapes from the Columbia Valley including this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from the Upland Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. Aromas of black cherry and plum mingle with earthy notes of herbs and smoky cedar. The palate is soft but rich with dark fruit flavors.
This wine surprised my tasters with its ripe and forward character favoring blueberry, berry candy, marshmallow and cocoa-vanilla. The berry-cherry flavors almost jump out of the glass and seem to accompany lamb chops better than top sirloin steak. It is a style that has a following though a non-traditional style in the Old World sense of Cabernet Sauvignon.
There is a battle going on in this bottle, and if you buy one, you can choose sides and participate. In one corner there are flavors and aromas of pomegranate, cherry, grenadine and spicy fruit candy. In the other corner you’ll encounter toasty oak notes and related flavors of vanilla, tobacco, spicebox and smoky cedar. When the bell rings, stab a steak from the platter and slather some garlic butter on a rosemary roll. Swirl, sniff, sip and enjoy the beauty of the battle.
Cathedral Ridge Winery
This medium-bodied Cabernet aspires to the New World style of ripe fruit and toasty oak. Bright acidity on the palate and notes of fresh herbs and cassis lead the wine astray from the New World to the Old and give the wine a great affinity for steak and lamb. Add Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River, Oregon to your itinerary on your next wine tasting tour of the Columbia Gorge.
Fun-loving iconoclast Charles Smith takes pleasure in hand designing his own wine labels in black and white. The gothic label for his Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon is far from the fancy artwork that many label designers create, but it is a personal statement from the winemaker/owner. This lean and affordable Cabernet offers aromas and flavors of red currant, earthy mineral, coffee, cassis and vanilla.
Wines from other areas:
Grgich Hills Estate
This wine was the first-place winner at our first Cabernet tasting this year, and the general consensus was that somehow the California climate has a slight advantage in imparting classic varietal character compared to that of Washington. Let the debate begin. On the nose: blackberry, cassis, plum, toasty cedar. On the palate: spicy cassis, mineral, leather, cherry. With the meat: very tasty.
Many of us old timers have been enjoying Louis Martini wines for our entire wine-slurping lives, and this Cabernet is like meeting an old friend. Aromas and flavors of cassis, plum, green olive, smoky tobacco and vanilla give this a classic Cabernet profile. It is a very companionable pairing with both steak and lamb.
Tin Roof Cellars
Tin Roof head winemaker Mark Rasmussen is adamant that the consumer wine experience should always be fun rather than intimidating. For many consumers, a big part of the fun is the affordable $10 price point of all Tin Roof varietal wines. Grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon came mostly from the cool Central Coast region with a smaller portion from Lodi. Aromas of herbs, black currant and hints of barrel toast lead to a fresh palate of cherry and berry with a moderate tannin grip to accompany your meaty efforts from the grill.
Big House Wines
When you’re making an inexpensive, fun wine, you can take the fun to hilarious extremes. Winemaker (head warden) Georgetta Dane is a serious winemaker but jumps into the fun part of promoting Big House wine with both feet. She describes her “Usual Suspect” Cabernet Sauvignon as a “bomba de fruta” with a juicy and jammy profile. The wine is aimed at accompanying comfort foods of all types.
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