Archive for the ‘Review cabernet sauvignon wine’ Category

Putting the Heart Back in Winemaking: Hart Family Winery

Welcome to the Hart Family tasting room.

Hart Family Winery Is a long way from Napa. Really.

It’s in Temecula, about 500 miles away in the rolling hills of sunny Southern California. This pretty little town has a little bit of everything, from palm trees to cowboy bars. What it doesn’t have is Napa’s slick, corporate feel.

Hart Family Winery reminds me of Napa 20 years ago, when tasting rooms were just set-ups in a working winery, the owner/winemaker was leaning on a barrel chatting with guests, and the passion of everyone in the room was abundantly evident.

When we walked through the door at Hart Family, the party was in full swing. Not only was founder Joe Hart chatting away by the tasting bar, but assistant winemaker Daniel Denison was pouring behind it. Dennis filled us in on the unique features of the Temecula AVA.

Like its northern counterparts, the Temecula AVA sits less than a mile from the cool Pacific Ocean. But down here south of Los Angeles, there is no cooling fog layer like up in Sonoma County, or brisk afternoon breezes like in Paso Robles. The temperatures here climb to 90 or so during the day, but don’t drop much below 70 at night. That’s not much of a diurnal temperature shift, and that temperature shift is one of the key factors in creating structure in wine grapes.

Here's Daniel Denison, with a photo of Joe Hart looking over his shoulder.

Here’s how Dennis put it: “Our main challenge here is to maintain acid levels and control sugar levels. We don’t want overly “jammy ” wines.” Careful canopy management (pruning or shaping the leaves on the vines that shade and protect the grapes) helps mitigate summer heat. Irrigation is also necessary in the dry climate.

So what about those wines? We were very pleasantly surprised by a wonderfully snappy Sauvignon Blanc (Hart Family Temecula Valley 2012) that showed just a hint of grapefruit along with a nice core of juicy apricot. It apparently sees a bit of oak, but it’s not obvious except in the slightly rounded mouth-feel. I thought the winemaker did a great job of balancing fruit and acid.

Downtown Temecula has a small-town feel.

We made our way through a series of red Rhone varietals, which along with Mediterranean varietals have become the favored grape varieties for Temecula’s Mediterranean climate. My favorite was the 2010 Hart Family Vineyard Syrah, which offered soft berry flavors and an almost Pinot-like mouthfeel. It was fruity (but not jammy), and the velvety finish showed just a hint of white pepper to keep it lively.

For a visit to more traditional California flavors, we tried the 2011 Temecula Valley Huis Vineyard Zinfandel. Wow – what a departure from the typical prune-y, overly-alcoholic Lodi Zin. Daniel said they actually bring their Zinfandel grapes in early, when alcohol levels are lower, to maintain a more elegant balance in the wine. I loved the delicate blueberry and raspberry notes that offer flavor without weight, and the amazingly restrained 13.2% ABV. When was the last time you saw that in a California Zin??

Another favorite was the 2009 Hart Family Driveway Red (made from grapes grown adjacent to the winery’s driveway!). This is a true field blend, made in the traditional style with three varietals co-fermented and aged together in barrel. I think this method produces something like “sibling harmony” – you know, where three sibling voices blended together will make the best musical harmonies. This blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc has plenty of richness and body, with cassis, blackberry and a bit of chocolate all dancing on the tongue. This is one of the bottles that went home with us.

Thanks to Joe Hart, who helped pioneer grape growing in Southern California and leads the way for Temecula today with top-quality wines. We’re looking forward to visiting the area again.

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The Santa Ynez Valley: “A little paradise for wine grapes.”

Main Street, Los Olivos

“Toto, we’re not in Napa anymore…”

I felt as disoriented as Dorothy and her little dog when I landed in the middle of Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley. I was supposed to be in Wine Country, but where were the sights so familiar in the Napa Valley? Where were the gigantic Tuscan tasting rooms crowded together along the roadway? Where were the high-end restaurants grudgingly serving $200 a plate lunches? Where were the traffic jams?

Instead, I saw the brick-front Lompoc Chamber of Commerce, Circa 1892. It sits across from Sissy’s Cafe, where they make a mean lentil soup.  I saw the Los Olivos General Store, and further up the street was Jedlicka’s Saddlery, where working ranch hands still buy bridles and belt buckles. I saw the pseudo-Dutch village of Solvang, which was, well, weird — but features an antique dealers showroom with one of the country’s finest collections of clocks.

And I tasted some very, VERY good wine.

The Santa Ynez Valley is south of San Francisco, just a few hours north of Los Angeles, and  close enough to Santa Barbara for a nice day trip. It’s blessed with wonderfully moderate temperatures, and if you’re a wine geek like me, you know that the valley runs east-west, splitting the coastal hills and allowing morning fog and cool afternoon breezes to blow in from the ocean. This creates the longest and coolest growing season in California, and when you add endless summer sunshine, low rainfall and well-drained soils, you’ve got a little paradise for wine grapes.

Cool-climate Santa Rita Hills

Our first taste of paradise came at Melville Winery, which nestles in the cool Santa Rita Hills appellation on the west side of the valley. This is where the Melville family and winemaker Greg Brewer craft some amazing estate wines. They’ll tell you it’s all about their vineyard practices, using techniques such as these:

  • High density planting creates really intense flavors in the fruit. Vines must compete for nutrients from the soil and yields are very, very low.
  • Leaves are pulled to expose the stems to the sun. The stems become dry and brown so they can be included in whole-cluster fermentation without adding green flavors to the wine.
  • Their Pinot Noirs see no new oak, which seemed like sacrilege: what’s red wine without oak? But the crafty folks at Melville let the dried wood from the stems act as their “oak.” It imparts that soft vanilla undertone without overpowering the fruit.

Alvin is a great host at the Melville tasting room.

I loved several of their Pinot Noirs, including the Estate Pinot which I’ve reviewed in the past (read about the Melville 2009). My first love was Melville Sandy’s Pinot Noir 2010. It’s made with fruit from a four-acre block planted on very sandy soil, and named after a woman named, you guessed it, Sandy. The nose hit me with sweet raspberry notes, and the palate offered intense dark cherry/berry fruit without weight or jamminess. Yumm…

Melville Carrie’s Pinot Noir 2010 uses fruit from a five-acre block that sits atop an exposed mesa, where the roots have to reach deep into the soil in search of nutrients. This creates the “darkest and most powerful” of their Pinots. I loved the luscious berry compote on the nose, and the rich, textured body of this Pinot. Again, there was plenty of lush fruit and layers of spice, but it was all balanced by good natural acidity.

Sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane

A few miles further up the road, we found what looked like a big old Midwestern cattle barn plopped down in wine country. It houses sister wineries Dierberg and Star Lane. Between the two of them, they capture the diversity of the Santa Ynez Valley:

  • Dierberg makes Chard and Pinot Noir from vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, which sits further north and eight miles closer to the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Star Lane grows Syrah and Bordeaux varietals in Happy Canyon, otherwise known as the Banana Belt of Santa Barbara County. The owners were so impressed with this warm-climate region that they bought a whopping 8,000 acres — about one third the total area of the Canyon.

Dierberg’s Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2009 was an absolute stunner. Delicate and rich at the same time, I loved the bright pear and tropical fruit with notes of pineapple and butterscotch. The palate was lush but the finish was tangy and crisp, showing the great natural acidity that balances this wine. Thanks to aging in large oak vessels that impart just a hint of toast, and minimal secondary fermentation that maintains the natural acidity, this Chard will actually age like a White Burgundy. If you can wait that long to drink it…

Besides plenty of high ratings, Dierberg has the distinction of being served to a bevy of international dignitaries at the 2012 NATO Summit (that was the 2007 Syrah). That’s high praise, indeed.

Star Lane is like the big, bad-ass sister next to refined Dierberg. Their vineyards in Happy Canyon are unexpectedly warm for Santa Barbara County,

The beautiful Happy Canyon

with more degree days and less rain than almost all of the Napa Valley. They’re also among the highest elevation, with grapevines climbing up the lower slopes of the San Rafael Mountains. They can make big reds here, like Star Lane Estate Happy Canyon 2007. Five years after vintage date this beauty is bold, rich and soft. A blend of Bordeaux varietals plus Syrah, it opens with rich creme de cassis and vanilla, following with dark berries, mocha, and a little exotic spice. The mouthfeel is juicy and the tannins are beautifully supple. A few bottles left the winery in the back of my car, and I can’t wait to revisit them with an appropriate meal to match.

There’s more to tell but I’m out of space and out of time. Stay tuned for the final installment of our adventures in the Santa Ynez Valley. Cheers!





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Big, Bigger, Biggest: Martin Family Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Meet Mike Martin...

OK, this one’s for all you lovers of unabashedly, un-apologetically New-World-style wines.

I mean wines with boatloads of fruit and voluptuous textures that don’t feel obliged to meet Old World standards of restraint or delicacy. (Can you tell I’ve been hanging out with way too many Euro-phile wine drinkers?)

The wine that sent me over the edge last night was Martin Family Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. It comes from a small-production, family-owned winery that, “is basically a passionate hobby that’s gotten a bit out of hand…. sort of like starting out collecting baseball cards and then one day realizing you own a major league ball team,” according to Jim Morris, vineyard manager.

Mike Martin, owner and winemaker, got the ball rolling by making wines for family and friends. They were a thirsty lot, and “because they wanted more free wine,” he made more. Then he planted a vineyard and contracted with some of the best growers in the Dry Creek Valley. He now produces about 4,000 cases of big reds (Cab, Zinfandel and Syrah) from vineyards in this northern Sonoma County appellation.martin

The lazy waterway called Dry Creek is a tributary of the Russian River, which all you Pinot Noir freaks know is the epicenter of a cool-climate region that produces some of America’s best Pinot and Chardonnay.  The Dry Creek Valley AVA lies just north of the Russian River Valley, but has a very different micro-climate. Because its topography lies above the fog line, Dry Creek grapes begin each day in sunshine and cool-ish temperatures that warm considerably through the afternoon. A return to cool temps at night builds the structure that keeps Dry Creek fruit from becoming jammy.

Mike Martin takes it one step further: “the fruit for our wines is primarily from steep, rocky, hillside vineyards that produce super-concentrated, intense fruit flavors.”

Now I get it: that’s why the ripe, round aromas of blackberries jumped right out of the bottle, followed by rich mocha when it hit my glass. The color was deep garnet and almost opaque, showing good extraction and concentration.

The palate didn’t waste any time revealing gobs of rich blackberry and dark cherry fruit, along with some vanilla oak and chocolate. But just when all this opulence threatened to become jammy, the acid kicked in, brightening and cleansing the flavors. And right behind that were the well-integrated tannins that added depth and dimension.

This is what balance is all about, right? We can have our big up-front fruit and 14.8% ABV (that’s what the bottle says!) as long as we cool it down with proper acid and tannic structure.

Did I mention that all this goes for under $20? Yes, you can share the love for what I consider to be a bargain-basement price for wine of this quality. My next mission is to find the Martin Family Syrah — I can’t wait to see what they do with that grape… Cheers!

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Pine Ridge Killer Reds

pine rSorry it’s been awhile. If you’re in the wine retail business, like I am, your life gets put on hold for a few weeks when ‘Tis The Season for the holiday shopping and drinking frenzy. Thank God that’s over…

So meanwhile back at the ranch — I finally have time to write about two killer reds I tasted during an online TasteLive session in December. Pine Ridge Vineyards, one of the Stags Leap District’s most classic wineries, sent me two of their Cabs — the Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008 and Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2008. We (a motley crew of wine bloggers) and winemakers Michael Beaulac and Jason Ledbetter connected online, and we got some great input on where these wines come from and how they’re made.

Pine Ridge owns vineyards in four Napa appellations. Michael and Jason talked about their unique characteristics, and explained what grapes from Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville and Howell Mountain bring to their party. It was a blast to pick out those characteristics in the wines we tasted.

We started with the Napa Valley 2008 Cabernet, which is a blend of fruit from Rutherford, Oakville and Stags Leap. Before I fill your head with lots of technical mumbo-jumbo, let me say simply that this is a kick-ass bottle of wine. Rich fruit and sweet oak make it positively hedonistic — and there’s nothing wrong with that!

But to get technical again… Beaulac explained that the 2008 growing season gave winemakers the conditions to create softer, lusher, enjoy-it-right-now kind of wines. He used 60% Rutherford fruit that gives intense, rich, palate-coating flavors; 30% Oakville grapes for bright red fruit flavors, good acidity and structured tannins; and 10% Stags Leap for chocolate and mocha notes with fine tannins.

The result — there’s blackberry jam on the nose, with vanilla and mocha sneaking in behind. The palate shows plenty of blackberry fruit, balanced by good acidity and well-integrated tannins. There’s good depth and concentration, and this oh-so-yummy “sweet” finish.

Michael and Jason shared some interesting information on this wine’s creation. Each appellation lot was fermented and aged separately, and then “assembled” to spend another year getting to know each other. They used only American oak barrels: they say Napa Cabernet needs American oak to impart volume and texture. I guess that explains all that sweet vanilla I enjoyed.

So let’s move on to number two — Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. Again, to cut to the chase — lush, powerful and balanced. Michael used only Stags Leap fruit from a vineyard that stresses the vines to produce thick-skinned grapes with intense color, cocoa powder and mocha flavors, and fine-grained tannins.

Wow, does it ever. The nose knocked me out first: there was sweet blackberry and mocha that morphed into pomegranate and blueberry, and I could have sat with my nose in the glass all night. Michael called this “volatilizing aromatics,” and I’m all for that…

The palate was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t get a big fruit bomb, but instead a (relatively) light touch with power behind it. I tasted dark berries and dark chocolate, with more juicy red fruit on the end. I got well-integrated, fine tannins for a long finish that didn’t “bite.” Again, there was intensity without jamminess or “heat” — my kind of Cab. And the oak used in the Cab is all French — for this wine, Michael wanted to emphasize elegance.

The Stags Leap is 0nly 91% Cab: the balance is Merlot and Petit Verdot, also grown on the Stags Leap property. At 14.7% ABV, you might expect some heat, but Michael explained that 14 – 15% adds to the mouthfeel as long as it’s balanced by good acidity. When asked how this wine will age, Michael offered that seven years is the optimal drinking point for a Napa Cab. At that stage it should show some maturity but still retain some of that bright California fruit that we love to enjoy.

At around $75, Pine Ridge Stags Leap is a bargain compared to a lot of premium Napa Cabs. I’d go grab a bottle, if I were you… Cheers!


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Elderton “Friends” Cabernet: Bold and Elegant

edenWhen I see an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon coming my way, especially one with “Barossa” on the label, I’m tempted to jump fast and high to get out of the way.

It’s not that I don’t like Australian wines — I love many of them. But unless I’ve got a 16 ounce Rib Eye nearby, an Australian Cabernet can be just too big for my britches: the big, jammy fruit and high alcohol needs a lot of beef to tame it.

So I was pleasantly surprised recently when I uncorked a bottle of Elderton “Friends” Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. I already knew the Elderton winery by reputation — they’ve won a boat-load of awards over the years for their Barossa wines, and have made a name for themselves with reds and whites from a sub-appellation of Barossa where some good friends (like in the name, right?) own vineyards.

Eden Valley is a different beast than the hot, dry Barossa Valley floor. The Eden vineyards are scattered up the hillsides, at elevations of 1200 to 1500 feet. So what does this do? The elevation creates cooler temperatures, and combined with more minerally soils, it produces grapes with more acid and structure. And of course, acid and structure act to balance big fruit.

So let’s taste Elderton Friends Cab. The color was as purple and opaque as I’d expect, but the nose was relatively delicate. I got mint and eucalyptus right off the bat, with dark fruit notes chiming in. Blackberry and dark chocolate were up front also.

The palate was multi-layered and delightful. The fruit came first, with blackberry and sweet black currant opening the door for gentle mint. There was a peppery note too, and all of this was wrapped up in soft tannins. But it didn’t finish there — that Eden Valley acid lifted up the finish with a bright end-note, and made a package that was bold and elegant at the same time. No jamminess here — just rich, bright fruit.

The Elderton “Friends” series (there’s a good Shiraz, too) represents a good value. At just under $20, you’re getting big wine without a big price tag. Cheers!


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Andre Lurton and Chateau de Rochemorin

If you, my loyal reader, have been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that my blog posts are always about wines I’ve enjoyed. Why waste time writing about lousy wines when there are so many good ones, right?

And the first thing I do, when I want to write about a wine I’ve enjoyed, is research. I want to learn about the wine’s region, the people who contributed to its creation, and the winery that produced it.

So after drinking this really good Bordeaux the other night — Chateau de Rochemorin 2009 – I set out to do my usual. But what I discovered in my research wasn’t “the usual”. Take the winery’s history, for example: this Chateau traces its roots back to 1520. Really! That’s a long time ago.

And over the next 400 years the Chateau at Rochemorin was home to Lords and Ladies, Poets, one of the great philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, and even an honest-to-God Musketeer! (the dashing, sword-wielding type, not the candy bar type).

Vines were planted on Lord Rochemorin’s estate in the region we know as Graves in the 16th century, and good-to-very-good wine was made there continuously for four hundred years. Holy cow! That kinda puts the “Old” into “Old World” wines.

Then in 1919, the estate was sold to a lumber baron, and it wasn’t until 1973 that it  was rescued  by Andre Lurton, a man whose family wine history isn’t too shabby, either. The Lurton’s have been wine producers in Bordeaux since 1650, and at this point there are “no fewer than 17 family members of the currrent generation working in the wine trade today.” In fact, the appellation within Graves where the winery sits, Pessac-Leognan, was created in 1987 after 20 years of lobbying by none other than Andre Lurton.

So enough preamble: let’s get to the wine. Bordeaux is arguably the King of Old World wine. Reds from Pessac-Leognan, which is part of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, can be blended from the six traditional Bordeaux grapes (the Lurton website includes Carmenere as the sixth grape). The Chateau de Rochemorin is blended from just two grapes — 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Read the rest of this entry »

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Great Value Napa Cab: “Cult” Napa Valley Cabernet Saivignon

A few years ago we spent a wonderful Fall afternoon touring the Napa Valley. We were with friends who were the best kind of friends for this kind of adventure, because they were LOCALS. Locals know the best places to visit, and usually have a special relationship with winemakers and winery owners.

During our wonderful afternoon, our friends took us to a small, family-owned winery that owns premium real estate in the heart of Napa Valley. Salvestrin Winery sits on the valley floor in St. Helena, and is the home of third-generation grape growers Rich and Shannon Salvestrin. Rich was the first to decide to bottle wine under the family’s own label, and not long after the inaugural 1994 vintage, their Cabs started getting some very impressive ratings from the most influential critics in the business. And I mean really great ratings!cult

So fast-forward to yesterday, when I found a wine called Cult Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. “Cult” Cabernet is a wine that doesn’t fit the mold these days: it’s non-vintage! I wondered if that meant it was somehow sub-standard.


Cult Cabernet pours out like a big, rich Cab. The nose offers lots to work with: blackberries, blueberries, chocolate and a hint of spice.

The palate is rich and soft, with boatloads of ripe berries, chocolate and vanilla. And there’s structure — there’s depth on the palate  and  acid and tannins that attest to the quality of the grapes and the winemaker.

To cut to the chase, Cult Cabernet drinks like a $50 Napa Cab. It’s got “the stuff” up front, on the mid-palate and the finish. And it’s only $25! The happy surprise is that this quality effort is a huge bargain.

And to hark back to the beginning of my post — this great wine is made by Salvestrin, home of award-winning Napa Cabs. I salute Rich Salvestrin for offering up such a great wine at such a reasonable price. I look forward to more offerings. Cheers!

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Signaterra Three Blocks


Jack London's house

If you go to Glen Ellen, California, you’ll find a charming little town (really little) tucked into a hollow amid a canopy of big old trees.  There are two big names around Glen Ellen: one is Jack London. He lived and worked in the forest above the town, and the remains of his cabin form the heart of Jack London State Park. The other big name is Benziger. The Benziger family has been growing grapes and making wine in the area for — years, and they’ve set themselves apart by being leaders in sustainable, organic and bio-dynamic grape and wine making.

I’ve tasted a number of their wines lately, including this one from their upper tier, single-vineyard line. Signaterra Thee Blocks Red Wine 2007 is made from mostly bio-dynamically grown grapes from three  blocks (now I get the name) in their Sonoma Valley vineyards. The vineyards sit in a big bowl on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, where the aspect ensures maximum sun exposure. And what does that do? It ensures maximum ripeness and maximally delicious fruit.

I started loving three Blocks as soon as I stuck my nose in the glass. Actually, I didn’t even have to go that far — the aromas came up and hit me in the nose. There was sweet, juicy, dark berry compote mixed up with some cocoa and gentle cedar. It kept building, too: this is not a wine that’s done maturing…

The palate showed the ripeness and lushness of the fruit: I tasted boysenberry and plum, with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla. And the best news is what it wasn’t — it wasn’t flabby or overly jammy. Nice acid balanced the fruit and soft but structured tannins brought up the rear.

I think those of us who love this wine should thank the winemaker for some expert blending: the 76% Cabernet Sauvignon is softened just right by 25% Merlot.

This was my favorite of Benziger’s red wines. For my palate it hit the right balance of lushness and structure and offered power with elegance. Cheers!


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Just What The Doctor Ordered: Small Gully The Formula Cab/Shiraz


Stephen is the one sleeping...

I was navigating a busy wine trade show when I saw Stephen Black. He was the dashing, somewhat diminutive man in a black shirt who solidly occupied a space in the middle of a crowded aisle-way.  People-traffic, all laden with semi-filled wine glasses, bumped against him and then parted to flow around him, as though he were a rock in a stream.

I approached to taste his wines, and he waved me away: “I want you to taste the New Zealand wines first!”

OK, whatever you say…

So once I’d done with the grapefruit-y Sauv Blancs and delicate Pinot Noirs, I tried Stephen again.

“OK, now we can talk.” And Stephen can talk. He told me about his first career in the pharmaceutical business, which grew from his background in chemical engineering. While he’d found a fine career, he didn’t find his passion until he found his way into the wine business.

He started at Barossa Valley Estates  in 1992 and then did graduate work in winemaking. It all came together when he hooked up with two grape growers in 1999. One of them, Darren Zimmermann, came from a family that had been growing grapes in Barossa since early last century, and together with Robert Bader they formed Small Gully Winery. It’s in the heart of Barossa, built in (you guessed it) a small gully on Zimmermann’s property.small

They named their wines with a nod and a wink to Stephen’s past — “The Formula” was supposed to be The Prescription until some government wine bureaucrat gave it a thumbs-down.

But what’s in a name, anyway?

Their intent at Small Gully was to make “wines of a distinctive bold and intense style with great expression of fruit character.” In Australian wine-speak, that means “ballsy.”

And ballsy they are. I reviewed one of their wines, The Formula Shiraz 2006, a few months ago, but this was the first time I’d seen The Formula Cabernet Shiraz 2007.

I expected a big giant fruit bomb, but that would have been too simple. The Shiraz alone, harvested from older, low-yielding vines in warm-climate Barossa, brings bold, extracted, rich berry flavors.

But Stephen adds about 50% Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Clare Valley vineyards are at higher altitudes, bringing much cooler nights that allow the grapes to ripen more slowly and develop good acid and structure.

Add Lot A to Lot B and you get — intensity without jamminess.

So let’s get to the wine. The color in the glass was dark purple and opaque, and the nose jumped up to meet me. I got round, rich aromas of dark fruit, vanilla and a hint of savory herbs.

The palate made me go “Wow!” (really). “This tastes like chocolate-covered boysenberries!” which to me is a good thing — a very good thing.

It wasn’t just sweetness, though. There was firm, underlying structure that kept the fruit in check. This is a wine that’s not just “a meal in a glass” — it would be great with a steak (on the barbie?).

It’s no secret that I find Australian wines easy to like. I enjoy the bold style of the wines and the winemakers. Some reviewers love them and give them great ratings.

But the best rating system is my customers: When I recommend The Formula wines, customers buy it and come back for more. What better rating system can there be? Cheers!

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Will Powers Cabernet Make Me a WA Wine Groupie?


Greg Powers, winemaker at Washington State's Powers Winery

It’s gonna look like I’m stuck in a rut, or worse yet, acting as a paid lackey for the Washington State Wine Marketing Board (if there is such a thing).

But the truth is, I just keep stumbling over Washington State reds that knock my socks off. The latest is about as unlikely as they come, at least judging by its packaging. Powers Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 sports a label that I can only call…dumb. With all due apologies to the label designer, it’s just wildly inappropriate for a bottle of big, bold, brawny Cab to sport a label that’s…lavender. Yes, lavender, like you’d expect to see on fabric softener or women’s bath products. Sorry guys, it just bugs me.powers

But let’s forget that, because what’s inside the bottle really rocks.

Powers Winery is relatively young, but is part of a long legacy begun by Bill Powers of Badger Mountain Winery. Bill has been a huge force in Washington State winemaking, as witnessed by the lifetime achievement award he won from from the Washington Association of grape growers.

His son, Greg, is the driving force behind Powers Winery, and he hasn’t done a shabby job, either: under his leadership Powers Winery has been recognized as a “rising star” by Wine Spectator, and as one of the “50 Great U.S. Cabernet Producers” by Wine Enthusiast. Those are impressive accolades for a young winemaker.

Here’s what Greg does at Powers Winery. He sources all the grapes for his wines from vineyard partners, working closely with them to achieve maximal flavors and complexity. And the vineyards he uses produce some of the best fruit in the state, from appellations such as Horse Heaven Hills, Wahluke Slope and the Yakima Valley.

Now let me pause here to talk about Washington state fruit. If you’ve read any of my other posts about WA wines, you’ll have learned that eastern Washington State is damn near heaven for wine grapes. The Cascade Mountains that keep the Pacific coast region cool and wet act as a rain shadow for the eastern half of the state. Over there, in the Columbia River Valley, the climate is warm and arid.

But wait…there’s more! The more northerly latitude gives the grapes more hours of daylight to ripen the grapes, and cool night-time temperatures produce good acid and structure. The result is intense, bright, juicy fruit balanced by bracing acidity. I just love this style…

I strive to create  that realize the fruits’ full potential.

So here’s what Greg Powers does. He focuses on “art of blending,” using the fruit of three different vineyards to create his 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. He says he wants “structured and compelling varietals” with “lush, full flavors that continue to develop and evolve after bottling.” I think he hit it right on the hose.

Right off the cork (or screw cap in this case) the aromas gushed out of my glass. I got sweet berries, vanilla, and that “something”, that quasi-aroma that signals depth and intensity.

The palate served it up big time. Ripe berry/cherry leads the way, with chocolate and a hint of spice following close behind. But the kicker was the deep, dark, concentrated undercurrent created by all that acid and well-integrated tannin. For me, the result was a great marriage of sweet fruit and brawny structure.

And did I mention that this wine goes for less than $15?? That’s truly amazing value, and I can’t see anything from California coming close. Once again, I sound like a WA wine groupie, but is that such a bad thing? Cheers!

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