We concluded our Cabernet GTi this past Friday with a small gathering of the faithful. Admittedly scheduling, or rather rescheduling, this PTP tasting for a Friday caused conflict with many attendee's calendars but the show must go on so with sporadic assistance from some of my fellow Snooth employees we managed to slog through a reduced roster of 9 wines.
Continuing our reliance on primarily domestic producers, our line-up was decidedly California heavy this week, with only one interloper. We had a decidedly mixed bag none the less with a surprising group of rather expensive wines, admittedly performing well, but I'm not sure there is a much of a market for these wines today.
Not to begin a diatribe against rather expensive wine, there are of course reasons for such, but it remains a challenge to truly recommend wines past a certain price point. Purely on a qualitative level it is in fact easy to do, many $70 wines are excellent, as the damn well should be. Sadly many are neither excellent nor particularly distinguished, except perhaps for their slavish mediocrity. But I digress.
My point here is simply that past a certain price point recommending a wine is fraught with the peril of value. A misguided recommendation not only results in a waste of money but the opportunity that money represented could easily have been diverted to several bottle that could have delivered more satisfaction.
I am certainly comfortable in a failed recommendation at $20. These things happen and we all have palate preferences, some easily understood, others less so. Crossing the $50 line, to draw an arbitrary boundary, changes the game. Not that I will, or should refrain from recommending wines priced above $50.
I am happy to continue to offer my opinions of these regardless of price. Instead what I would suggest is that perhaps the supply chain can adjust to our current situation and make wines available at more comfortable prices, for awhile at least.
Now that's a shock, ain't it? Imagine wineries, distributors and retailers all taking a bit of a mark-down to help us all out during these tough times. A bit of sharing the pain. I understand that times are tough for all, and the purveyors of an expensive, discretionary purchase may very well be hurting more than most but therein lies the honest truth. In the long run a producer who is able to bring his product to market at, say, a 25% discount, to grab another convenient yet arbitrary number out of the ether, will not only be rewarded with new customers, with whose fortune the winery will rise in future, better times, but will also differentiate themselves from the pack in the eye of the media.
Becoming a media darling while producing excellent, affordable wines sounds like a path to success in these days of rising personal savings rates and falling disposable income. If any producer thinks there is something to this I would love to hear from them. As a gratuitous, and totally out of context, adjunct to what may have turned into a diatribe let me just single out Edmunds St. John winery for pretty much doing just this. But that too is best left to another day so for the moment: on to the Cabernet!
Flight 1 – Cabernet Blends
2005 Montevina Terre d'Oro Forte 55% Amador Sangiovese/ 45% Napa Cabernet 13.5%
Groups #5/ My #6 $23
Matt found this to be “very closed” though with time he did get “ some sort of creamy pinot-like notes on the nose.” Yet found it lacked “much distinctive flavor.” Toni felt this had “nothing to it but a little bit of vanilla oakiness.” Though she did not that while the “finish was smooth it got dryer and dryer and dryer.” I definitely had a different take on this finding it fruity on both the palate and the nose and while it lacked a bit of complexity it made up for it in friendly, juicy appeal.
2005 Paraduxx 60% Zinfandel/32% Cab sauv/6% Merlot/2% Cabernet Franc 14.5%
Groups #9/ My #8 $40
Toni felt that this “smelled very harsh at times with a lot of earth and strawberry but not in a good way” and continued that while this “may be way too young, finish was harsh too.” Matt noted “heat and cotton candy” on the nose adding that this” smells like an oaky Washington cab.” While Matt did find some “sour cherry on the finish” he felt the wine was “very sour and just too hot.” I was pretty much of the same thought. This was a hot, simple and generally uninspiring wine.
2005 Pininfarina vino rosso nap valley 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/29% Cabernet Franc/ 6% Sangiovese/5% Petit Verdot 14.5%
Groups #4/ My #5 $75
Matt felt this smelled Italian with a “barnyard type smell and a little bit of manure” and found the tannins to be “very bitter” with “not much fruit showing just a little bit of cherry and a bitter finish” finding it to need “a couple more years.” Toni “liked this wine” finding that “once it opened there was a richness to the aroma,.” She continued that while it is “medium bodied it got stronger as it sat with good notes of plums and black fruit with a very dry smooth finish.” For me this, while fairly oaky, had a lot going on in a slightly firm style with plenty of fruit held in check by attractive notes of herb and mineral. I look forward to trying this again.
Flight 2 - Cabernet from near and far
2006 Duck Shack Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.4%
Groups #8/ My #9 $30
Mark found this offered up aromas of “sugary red fruits” yet was “light, bright and very acidic with subdued flavors” though he did add that “the tannins are a bit harsh and too astringent.” Toni also commented on the “ very high acidity and very rough and woolly dry tannins” but did find “great herbs and minerals dancing with some fruit but not a good mix” feeling that this was simply “not put together well.” Matt felt this was a “wine trying to very artisan but the fruit isn't up to the quality of the wine making.” I found this to be clumsy and hot with aggressive tannins and acids that lingered long after the candied flavors where a mere memory.
2006 Penley Estate Phoenix Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 15%
Groups #7/ My #7 $15
Matt this wine to be “very gamy on the nose and on the palate with a generic feel, astringent and tasteless.” Toni- though the “nose is on the light side with violets and black cherries” and found the palate offered up “spicy, earthy, herby, almost not ripe enough fruit” adding that this was “not a wine I would buy.” Mark noted the nose was “slightly herbal and cherry” with “bright red fruit flavors with leather and spice in a very refreshing style.” I found this to be very typical new world Cabernet with big candied fruits on the nose and a creamy mid-palate that was cut by aggressive acids. Solid as opposed to inspiring.
2003 Pietra Santa Cienega Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Collection 14.9%
Groups #1/ My #2 $45
Toni noted that this had a “very high alcohol nose that was very complex and intense with jammy black cherries.” In the mouth she found this to be “rich and dark with a long smooth finish and the feel of a good, expensive wine.” Mark found the nose to be “a little bit floral, fungal and earthy” with “deep black fruit and a great smooth mouthfeel, with ripe, deep cherries and a hint of mint on the finish.”
Matt also felt that this showed a lot of alcohol but noted “its very well contained heat” and felt that the wine's “big blackness of the blackberry fruit envelopes the heat and keeps it at bay.” This is not our first encounter with the wines of Pietra Santa and the consistently fair very well in our tastings
Flight 3 - Napa Valley Cabernet
2005 Neyers AME Napa Valley Cabernet 14.7%
Groups #2/ My #4 $70
Matt felt that this was reminiscent of a really big Zin with lots of blueberries, and a big rich, really dark and inky mouthfeel.” Chris felt that this was “closed with a nose dominated by char, toast and marshmallow” but did enjoy “ the bright citrus notes and good tannins.” Mark found the nose to be herbaceous, black olivey and almost oily” and “really enjoyed the bright ripe cherries and black olives with nice notes of gunpowder and sugar.” After not getting much on the nose Toni was “pleasantly surprised by the deep black cherry fruit with hints of herbs and mineral” and while she felt this to be “an excellent wine” she did add the caveat that “it needs a lot of time.” This is a rather massive wine packed with dry extract and while there is a core of lovely ripe fruit it's not easy to get at. A decidedly chocolately and plummy wine.
2005 Miner Family Stagecoach Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.2%
Groups #3/ My #1 $60
Chris left little to the imagination summing this wine up as “oaky, I'm drinking a vanilla, cedar tree.” Matt felt this “tasted a little disjointed” and got only “heat and licorice.” Toni “loved the nose, deep rich and very fruity in a good way” and found “lots of black cherry and jammy black currants” in the mouth adding that the “ acid seems a little too high.” Mark found the nose here to be “interesting with bright fruit and eucalyptus” with “good clean fruit on the palate.” Again while there was obvious oak here I found this to be well balanced and complex with a elegant touch that is hard to find in wines of this size.
2005 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 14.8%
Groups #6/ My #3 $60
Toni found this wine to be “ completely unappealing, full of leather and spice” adding the “only good thing about this wine is a strong black cherry undertone.” Mark noted the “floral nose with honey, black fruit and a powdery light chalk note” and added that this was “ great if you like that minty, cough syrup, medicinal style.”
Matt though he caught an ”Italian vibe” with this wine commenting on the “barnyard nose with a manure element” but did add that this “tastes like an expensive free for all Meritage.” Chris, man of few words, added that this “smells like Ethiopian food, hot and full of tree bark.” This is a tight, tough gamy ball of fruit with an overlay of fine French oak. This needs time but has the balance to emerge as a winner.
Gregory Dal Piaz