Archive for the ‘Review cabernet sauvignon wine’ Category

Luscious: Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet

h3I like horses. I like wine. And I like the romance that I hear in this name: “Horse Heaven Hills.”

Horse Heaven Hills is the name of a wine-growing region in eastern Washington State, and is also the home of a winery called Columbia Crest. There really were wild horses way back when, but for the two decades or so that Columbia Crest has been there, “H3″ has been producing some killer grapes — among the best in Washington State.

And that’s saying something. If you haven’t read many of my posts, you’ve probably missed the occasional rants about my love affair with Washington State wines. So here goes again…cab

Washington State has two totally different weather zones: the wet, cool west side that borders the Pacific Ocean and the dry, warm side east of the Cascade Mountains. This region, the Columbia River Valley area, is heaven for wine grapes. Its northerly latitude means that there’s more daylight hours during the growing season, with cool nights that allow the grapes to develop good acid and structure. The typical result is wine with intense fruit flavors balanced by good acid and soft tannins (my favorite kind of wine).

So getting back to Horse Heaven Hills, this area is blessed with a unique feature: unusually active winds that produce grapes with extra flavor and structure. While several wineries use grapes from these vineyards, Columbia Crest’s H3 wines represent unusual value. In fact, the one is drank last night got a Top 100 Value Wines rating.

I smelled and tasted the ripeness of the fruit in Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. The richness started with the deep berry and sweet vanilla aromas. The palate was bursting with fruit — sweet blackberries and cassis — that quickly turned to mocha. For a minute there I thought I was drinking a chocolate/coffee/berry milkshake: Not that that’s a bad thing… The finish was so soft and supple that it got me searching for the tasting notes. Sure enough, this wine is not all Cab: there’s also 8% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.

The blend may account for the extra softness and richness. It might also be Washington’s exceptional 2008 growing season, which produced fully ripe grapes and good yields.

Either way, it made for a really seductive, luscious wine. That’s not surprising, since I’ve really liked the other wines in the H3 line, a Merlot and a Chardonnay. Grab any of them if you catch them at your local wine shop, and enjoy. Cheers!



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Benziger Again: Cab, Cab and More Cab


Benziger's bowl-shaped vineyard on the mountain

If you drive northwest from the town of  Sonoma, California, up the amazingly beautiful Valley of the Moon, you’ll see Sonoma Mountain looming on your left. And if you get off the highway and head up into the hills behind the town of Glen Ellen, you’ll run into Benziger family territory. On the slopes of the Sonoma Mountain, someone found a pretty unique topographical feature: a giant bowl that sits in its own valley 800 feet above sea level, formed by volcanic explosions from the mountain some two million years ago .

What makes this bowl unique, and uniquely suited to grape growing, is that the surface around all 360 degrees of the bowl is exposed to a variety of sun exposures, elevations, soil profiles and drainage. In this one extended 85-acre vineyard, they have ideal conditions for planting…just about everything. While most of the acreage is devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, they also grow other Bordeaux varietals, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

Yesterday I reviewed a Zin and two vintages of  Bordeaux blend from this estate vineyard, and today I’ll talk about two more.

I’ll start with Benziger Obsidian Point Sonoma Mountain 2007, which is a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine was slow to open, and in fact it didn’t show well until a few days later. The nose was more herbal than fruit, with a sharpness and off note. I thought it might be a spoiled bottle, because the palate, too was light on fruit and didn’t show a lot of depth or complexity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Benziger Zinfandel and Oonapais

benzMike Benziger has been called a pioneer. He’s probably also been called crazy by the folks who didn’t believe in his experiments in organic farming. But whatever you call him, he’s been instrumental in introducing and developing methods for growing grapes while nurturing and improving the land through his Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic farming practices.

He and many other Benzigers (a couple dozen, I think) also make wine at their winery in Sonoma County. Snugged up in the hills above the tiny town of Glen Ellen, and just a short hike from Jack London’s historic home and State Park, they’ve planted 85 acres of red and white grapes on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain.mike

This is a relatively warm-climate growing area, which was immediately obvious in the wines we tasted recently during a Twitter Tasting. In case you don’t know what that is…

A Twitter tasting is a very cool way to marry something very traditional with the latest in social media marketing. Here’s how it’s done: a group of wine bloggers (otherwise known as the “online wine community”) were invited to sit around with winemaker Mike Benziger as we tasted and talked about six of his wines. Only he sat in front of a camera in California and we sat in front of our computers in…wherever. He was on-screen and as we tasted, we tweeted questions and comments and he answered back. Very cool and very effective.

So let’s get to Benziger and their wines. I posted a story giving you background on the whole Sustainable/Organic/Biodynamic approach that Benziger Winery uses in all their estate vineyards and with all their contract growers. I think it’s a tremendous goal to grow better fruit and nurture the land for future generations. The question is — does it make better wine?

Mike Benziger thinks so. The wines he chose for us to taste included a Zinfandel, two vintages of their Bordeaux blend “Oonapais,” two vintages of the Bordeaux blend “Obsidian Point,” and their premium blend, “Tribute.” I’ll review three today and pick up the rest tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

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Indian Wells Merlot

michelleYou know I love Washington State reds. I stumbled across one, or maybe two, a few years ago. I thought, “Damn, this is good.”

But that could have been a random occurrence of goodness. What convinced me was when I kept coming across reds from Washington State, and every one of them made me say, “Damn, this is good.”

So it’s no surprise that my latest Washington State tasting made me go…you guessed it…”Damn…”

I just tasted Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2009. I had ordered several cases of this wine for customers, so I knew it had something going for it, but until I saw it on the glass-pour list at Ken Stewart’s Grille (perhaps Northeast Ohio’s best restaurant), I’d never tasted it.

But before the “big reveal,” let’s do some background research.

Eastern Washington State, where this wine is made, is blessed with some of the best wine-grape-growing conditions in the world. Here’s how Bob Bertheau, Head Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, explains it:

“Low rainfall, extra sunshine during the growing season, (and) cooler days at the end of harvest for longer hang time” produce grapes with “great structure and intense fruit.” That’s short-hand for deep, rich, complex, kick-ass reds (that’s a technical term…). Read the rest of this entry »

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B Crux 2007

fournierThis had to be a no-brainer.

When I saw O. Fournier B Crux 2007, and heard it was a red blend made in Argentina by a family from Spain,  I thought I might be in wine heaven. Spanish and Argentine reds top my wine hit parade, and here they were wrapped up in one package!

Here’s why I love Argentine wines. The Mendoza region of Argentina, which hugs the lower slopes of the towering Andes mountains, has possibly the world’s best micro-climate for big, red wines. The folks at O. Fournuer explain it this way:

The La Consulta region (where the winery is located) is located in the well-known Uco Valley, approximately 1,200 metres (3,950 ft.) above sea level. At this altitude, there is a significant fluctuation between daytime and night-time temperatures of up to 20º-25ºC. This variance particularly favours the production of wines with an excellent colour and suitable for long ageing in oak barrels.

The region´s stony and sandy soils offer excellent drainage during the summer season. The lack of organic material, limited rainfall and prevailing winds are also conductive to high quality, healthy grapes. Furthermore, the water that irrigates the estates comes pure and clean from the snow thawing on the Andes.

Intense sunlight, cold nights, long hang-time, crummy soil, limited rainfall. All these things combine to produce intensely flavored but  well-balanced grapes.

And what about the Spanish part of the wine equation? I love their reds too, both the traditional Tempranillos from Rioja or Ribera del Duero and the more New World style Garnacha and Monastrell from regions such as Jumilla, Priorat or Campo de Borja. If a Spanish winemaker were given the opportunity to work with Argentina’s natural resources — watch out… Read the rest of this entry »

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“Victor Hugo Is Not (Just) A French Author”

hugoI remember sitting outside around a wooden patio table, feeling the hot sun and the still, heavy air. We were tasting wine with Vic Roberts — his wine, in fact.

We’d just tasted a surprisingly wonderful Syrah Rose, and were working our way through his full-bodied reds. Vic was telling stories and joking, and we were just getting ready to start raving about his wines when…the wind went from zero to 20 miles an hour in about 20 seconds. Suddenly we’re grabbing everything that’s not nailed down, and we can feel the temperature stop climbing and start falling.

That’s why Vic’s wines taste the way they do. His vineyards sit smack in the middle of the Templeton Gap, a natural break in California’s coastal mountains that allows cool ocean breezes to get sucked inland every afternoon, and cool down the grapes growing in this warm inland region.

Templeton is in the Paso Robles AVA, which sits in the middle of the huge Central Coast wine region and is about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Vic Roberts came to Paso in 1983, as has watched (and participated in) the huge growth of the wine industry there.vic

It was bound to happen — Paso has micro-climates and soils that can make great wine, and now they have great winemakers who are helping the region gain national and international respect.

So what about Vic? He and his wife own Victor Hugo Winery. “Victor Who?” you say? Don’t I know him from somewhere?

Sure. You know him as the author of classics such as Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he shares a French heritage with the Paso Robles Vic (Victor Hugo Roberts). That’s about all they have in common, except that Paso Vic stole a name from French Author Vic: The Hunchback .

Vic grows several red varietals, including Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah and all five Bordeaux red grapes. He makes killer Zin, Cab and a Bordeuax bllend called Opulence, but the one we tasted recently is a blend of “everything we didn’t bottle someplace else.” Victor Hugo Hunchback Paso Robles 2008 includes four grapes: Syrah (32%), Petite Verdot (28%), Cabernet France (24%) and Merlot (16%).

The nose showed lots of dark fruit, with the earthy/spicy edge that Syrah gives. Plums and spice also noodled their way in. The palate gave up lots of dark berries, coffee and vanilla, but it wasn’t overly jammy. That’s what I liked most: the verging-on-opulent fruit was balanced by a backbone of acid and soft tannins.

That’s what those cool breezes do: they build structure in the fruit, and allow it to ripen without the sugars going sky-high. Just look at the alcohol content of Hunchback. At 13.5%, it’s a relative lightweight by California standards. And you now it when you drink it — it doesn’t tire out your palate but remains intense but light.

Vic has also aged this wine in French and American oak, which I think accounts for the interesting spice. But he only makes about 600 cases of Hunchback, so you may have some trouble finding. But if you do, let me (and Vic) know how you like it. Cheers!

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A Surprise from a Classic Winery: Sterling Napa County Meritage 2007

If you think you know everything you need to know about anything, then think again.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about Napa Valley’s Sterling Vineyards. I thought they had a classic reputation but weren’t very interesting, probably based on the fact that their wines have very large distribution — i.e. they’re in almost every grocery store. (As a small, independent wine retailer, I look for brands that my customers can’t pick up while they’re shopping for lettuce and milk.)

So when I came across a Sterling label that wasn’t familiar to me, I jumped on the internet to look it up. And I learned that Sterling Vineyards has a rather interesting history. The winery was created more than 30 years ago by successful British entrepreneur Peter Newton, who I’m guessing fell in love with the landscape and climate of the Napa Valley (if you’ve spent much time in London, you’ll now why).

Remember, this was back before Napa was a “wine country destination.” Newton planted some additional vineyards around the valley, including the first significant plantings of Merlot.

What??  You mean Sterling pre-dates, and may even have had a hand in creating, the American love affair with Merlot? (which later became a scornful relationship, thanks to one crack by a wine geek in a movie called “Sideways.”) Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Guy Napa Cab for a Little Guy Price: Soda Canyon Cellars 2009

sodaIt’s pretty darn easy to drop a couple hundred bucks on a Napa Cab. There are cult wines and super-cult wines, and all of them ask us to part with a substantial sum for the privilege of tasting them — IF we can find them.

I just stumbled across a Napa gem because one of my hard-working wine reps (Thank you, Gabe) pulled a bottle out of his sample bag and said, “You know, this thing has been open for five days, but why don’t we taste it anyways?” This Thing turned out to be Soda Canyon Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, a second- or third-label bottling from Beau Vigne Wines.

Who is Beau Vigne? Well, Beau Vigne makes great Napa reds that earn huge ratings and sport a price tag that’s respectably high ($– ish) but seem a bargain compared to the stratospherically priced cult wines.

And then they have this “lower tier” called Soda Canyon Cellars that didn’t taste “lower” to me.

Backstory first: Soda Canyon and Beau Vigne are owned by Ed and Trish Snider, and until recently their winemaker was Dave Phinney. Ever heard of “The Prisoner?” “The Prisoner,” “Saldo” et al are the private project of Beau Vigne’s now-ex-winemaker.

Are you following me? Read the rest of this entry »

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Worth Dying For? The Executioner 2007

George warned me about this wine.

He (and by “He” I mean George Shinas, owner and winemaker) warned me that I better grab a lot of this wine, because there’s not much of it and it’s the best thing he’s ever made.

That’s saying something, because George makes really good wine. You can read all about it in my other post, “Taking Australia to Court.”

But here’s the story behind his latest creation. Shinas Estates makes three wines at their winery in Victoria, Australia: a Shiraz called “The Guilty,” a Cabernet Sauvignon called “The Verdict,” and a Viognier called “The Innocent.” From the 2007 vintage he left some wine in the barrel after he did his primary bottling, and early in 2011 he blended all three and bottled it as “The Executioner.”

You’re seeing a pattern in those names, right? And if I tell you that George is a criminal court judge, you’ll get it, right?

So The Executioner blends 55% Shiraz, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and just a touch (2%) Viognier. You may think, “Hmmm, Viognier is a white grape, so what’s it doing in a red wine?” Well, it’s actually quite traditional in France’s Rhone region to blend Viognier with Syrah and other red grapes, and many Aussie winemakers do it, too. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Good Food Wine Celebrates an Anniversary: Murrieta’s Well Anniversary Blend

murrietaSo there was this horse thief — or Mexican entrepreneur, depending on which history book you read. His name was Joaquin Murrieta, and while Joaquin was “gathering” wild horses in the Livermore Valley, he’d stop to water his herd at an artesian well bubbling up through the valley floor.

That’s the lineage of Murrieta’s Well Winery, which dates well back into the 19th century and the early days of both California and its wine industry. Today, it’s owned by Wente Vineyards, another century-old, family-owned winery. In fact, it was Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso who bought the out-of-use winery 20 years ago, and have now created Murietta’s Well Anniversary Blend 2008.

I’ve written about other good wines from this winery (Great Format, Great Wines…), but this one is part of their Small Lot series made for tasting room and Wine Club use. With only 200 cases produced, I was pleased to be able to taste the Anniversary Blend in our recent Twitter Tasting.

The blend is one we don’t see often: Cabernet Sauvignon (63%) and Tempranillo (37%). You may know that Tempranillo hails from Spain, where it’s used to create long-lived wines with bright cherry fruit and good acid. The Murietta’s Well Cabernet is grown in a vineyard first planted in 1884, which sits in a micro-climate similar to Bordeaux, France. That led me to expect a well-structured, elegant style.

So what happens to these two champion varietals when they meet in this blend?

In the nose, the Cab led the way with a blast of black currant fruit, and then the Tempranillo kicked in. I was suddenly getting lots of jammy plum and raisin, with a hint of spice.anniversary

The palate showed this wine’s Spanish side. There was a good burst of acid to tame down the very ripe fruit, but now caramel or toffee chimed in. Vanilla from French and American oak came through on the end, with relatively soft tannins.

I was tasting a little too much raisin and toffee for my palate, until I tucked into my dinner, which involved pasta, pesto, fresh tomato and chicken. The Anniversary Blend hooked up beautifully with the food. Like a true European “food wine,” the fruit blended with the pesto and tomato, and the acid in the wine set off the flavors in the food. The wine’s balance and structure were very nicely revealed.

If you can get your hands on a bottle, try Murrieta’s Well Anniversary Blend with a plate of Mediterranean-inspired food. You can create a very nice celebration of your own. Cheers!

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