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Posts Tagged ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’

I’m sure we all have one: a Worst Valentine’s Day Ever. Mine involved teddy bears holding Mylar balloons, and I’m sure it’s partly to blame for the little shiver I get every time I’m sent a heart-sprinkled press release advertising a Valentine’s special. So I was relieved to see that instead of doing something schmaltzy on February 14, Napa’s Ehlers Estate winery is doing something classy on February 4.

To honor National Heart Month, winemaker Kevin Morrisey will preside over a tasting party from 6 to 8 p.m. at MO Bar in San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. For the $30 price of admission, guests will enjoy appetizers paired with several Ehlers Estate wines, including the winery’s signature “One Twenty Over Eighty” Cab blend. Proceeds from the event will go toward a gift to the San Francisco Chapter of the American Heart Association.

This pairing between winery and cause is much more than a well-timed marketing campaign; all year long, 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of Ehlers Estate wines goes to the Leducq Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to international cardiovascular research. For more information, visit fondationleducq.org.

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A couple of weeks ago I brought a bottle of 2008 Gramercy Cellars Columbia Valley Tempranillo to a book club meeting. I’d been curious to try the wines of this Washington state–based outfit dubbed Best New Winery, 2010, by Food and Wine magazine, and while we all liked the Tempranillo quite a bit, our comments about it were less interesting than our various opinions on how best to smell it.

Elizabeth had just been to an informational wine and cheese tasting where she’d been advised to do big swirls with her hand sealing the top of the glass and then sniff. Heather, on the other hand, brought up a notion many wine experts agree with: that little sniffs (like a dog) are better than one big snort for really getting the full bouquet.

In the week that followed that meeting, I tried out these dueling techniques on both another Gramercy wine, the 2008 Walla Walla Syrah, and on a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend from Napa’s Melka Wines. And I discovered that little sniffs just don’t work a bit for me—I think it’s a personal thing, everybody’s different—but I did get different aromas when I sniffed a swirled-while-covered glass of the Syrah (tar!) versus an uncovered one (lots of blackberry). This technique paid off most with the Melka, however. I loved this wine in large part because of a deeply floral bouquet that my hand-covered swirl seem to release—but that made little sense, since Cabs have a distinctive aroma that’s rarely if ever floral. I was validated when Peter, who is the olfactory equivalent of a supertaster, tried the wine and gushed about it—adding, ‘Can you believe how floral it is??’

The nose knows…

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A couple of weeks ago, Peter and I recruited two friends to help us with the difficult work of tasting three premium Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. Due to a way-too-strong fondness for alliteration in my old budget-wine column, these friends appeared in that space as ‘the Tuscan Tipplers’ — a honeymoon reference. Here we’ll just call them the TTs.

The wines we tasted with the TTs were, in order of price, a 2007 Cab from Mount Veeder Winery ($40), a 2005 Stag’s Leaps District Cab from Clos Du Val ($70), and a 2006 Reserve Cab from Robert Mondavi Winery ($135).

I really liked the Mount Veeder and noted its strong tannins, which indicated to Peter that the wine could benefit from a few more years of aging. Mr. TT was neutral on this one, but it was Mrs. TT’s favorite of the bunch: “smooth and yummy.”

I loved the Clos du Val 2005, especially that pencil-shaving aroma I always associate with great Napa Cabs. Mr. TT found it open and pleasant, with berries on the palate. Mrs. TT really liked it too and found it pungent—”fumey,” she said, but not in a bad way, as well as strong and rich. Finally, Peter praised its super-dark fruit; nice, not-overpowering oak; and good balance.

None of us were big fans of the 2006 Mondavi Reserve: the TTs complained of its “puckery” quality, and Peter simply said it was “going downhill.”

Mondavi redeemed itself to me a few days later, however, when I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of the 2007 Cab from its Oberon label, which I found online for as little as $14.99. Another lesson that with Napa wines, you don’t always get when you pay for — except when you do.

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During my years of writing a newspaper column about bargain wines, Ironstone Winery got a lot of ink—in large part because they often source grapes from Lodi and sell several wines for $10 or less a bottle. Now that I have a reason to write about higher-end wines, I thought—a little wistfully—that my days of reviewing Ironstone were behind me. Not so: I recently received samples of several of their reserve wines, mostly made with grapes from the Sierra Foothills and priced above $25 a bottle.

My favorite of these was the 2006 Ironstone Reserve Meritage ($45), a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (80 percent ), un peu Petite Verdot (10 percent) and five percent each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. With strong notes of cedar, vanilla, and menthol, it was a deeply satisfying sipper—and would make a great beach-bonfire red.

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My friend Diana is my vacation hero—she’s always hatching a plan to go someplace fabulous and/or exotic. Diana’s next big adventure brings her to the Hotel Portillo in Portillo, Chile, where she’ll spend a week this summer skiing and sipping local wines.

Located in the Chilean Andes about three hours from Santiago, Portillo is adjacent to the vineyard-filled Aconcagua and Maipo valleys. The latter is a wine region that’s found particular success with Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carmenére (which grows so abundantly here that it’s often misidentified as a grape native to Chile). Maipo is also home to the esteemed Santa Rita label.

Hotel Portillo is hosting two wine weeks this summer; the first, its ninth annual Top Wines of Chile week, takes place July 31 through August 8 and features both tastings and information sessions with local winemakers. The second week, Wine Fest, takes place August 28 through September 4 and offers more of the same—plus daily opportunities to win a free bottle based on how well you’ve learned that afternoon’s wine-themed lessons.

For more information, visit www.skiportillo.com.

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Recently earning raves in my household was a 2007 Merlot from Napa Valley’s Shafer Vineyards. I found the aroma on this wine oh-so-very Napa, evoking cedar and pencil shavings, while my husband noted blackberries and plums. He commented that the Shafer was bright and ripe with great acid and good balance, and I agreed — although we parted ways on its finish, which I found smooth and delightful. Peter complained that it was just a little too hot (high alcohol) — although at 14.9 percent, the alcohol content is actually pretty modest for a Napa red.

At $48 a bottle, the price of Shafer’s Merlot is fairly modest as well, coming from a winery whose Cabernet Sauvignons range in price from $70 to $215. Interesting bit of trivia on that topic: Shafer’s vineyards are overseen by David Ilsley, whose family business, Ilsley Vineyards, happens to be right next door. The Ilsleys’ land abuts Shafer’s reknowned Hillside Vineyard (the two properties aren’t even separated by a fence), whose grapes produce the highly acclaimed $215 Cab known as Hillside Select.

Now, the scuttlebutt in the Stags Leap District that is home to both these wineries — at least among devotees to the concept of terroir — is that Shafer Hillside Select and Ilsley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) are nearly identical wines with a $160 price difference. While this theory doesn’t do justice to the obvious talents and varied techniques of Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez or Ilsley winemaker Craig MacLean, you can’t argue against the Ilsley Cab as a great value.

Just like that Shafer Merlot.

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I mentioned in my last (and so far only) post that my husband is a winemaker, so during the harvest months of September and October, his long work days begin before dawn, and his weekends are nonexistent. You can therefore imagine the twinge of panic we felt upon learning that our first child’s due date was September 3 of this year — a date that can often mark the harvest period’s beginning.

Well, it turns out that our happy and healthy new daughter, Willa, sensed the urgency and decided to arrive a month early — which accounts for the long lag between that first blog entry and this one. Her considerate timing afforded Peter a few calm weeks with her before harvest chaos descended (which happened, at his winery at least, on September 4th).

My return to the blog coincides with the October issue of Marin Magazine hitting the stands, arriving in mailboxes, and appearing online. I plan to devote the next couple of posts to ‘outtakes,’ if you will,  from “Original Zin,” the article I wrote for the October issue about Zinfandel, California’s signature grape. But let me quickly address here one correction:

A sentence in the story’s introduction refers to Zinfandel as the second-most-planted grape in California. While it’s true that Zin is the second-most-planted *red wine* grape in the state, after Cabernet Sauvignon, both Thompson and Chardonnay have it beat in the non-wine and white wine categories, respectively. My apologies for the error.

Finally, with all due respect to my beloved Zinfandel, I want to mention a great-value Cab I recently discovered. The 2007 Bon Anno Cabernet Sauvignon, from Napa Valley, has an aroma of leather and dried cherries, with big, ripe, flavors and soft tannins on the palate. At $20, it’s a rare — and delightful — Napa bargain.

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