Friday, November 30, 2012

Sometimes a parent needs to show the child who's boss... (cabernetly speaking, of course)

I occasionally get together with a group of people that I met online at the Wine Spectator Forums. I like to call the group, "The Strange Men I Met Online," but my wife doesn't like that name, for some reason (though she does like the group). About 6 or 7 of us get together a few times a year (most of the time with our significant others) and taste wine. It has been a great experience because these guys are some of the friendliest and most generous individuals I've met. We all love wine, good wine, and like to bring fun and interesting bottles to share with each other. Maybe it was the company, but some of the best wines I've ever had have come on occasions with this group.

So, a few weeks ago we got together to open a handful of cabernets. In the conversation leading up to the tasting, no one ever said sauvignon, so I decided to throw in some ringers and bring two cabernet franc-based blends. The host was kind enough to grill some delicious flank steak and others brought a variety of sides. All of the wines were brought in brown bags, so each attendee only knew which wine he or she brought. I did a quick peek at one bottle that I didn't bring because that individual was trying to decide if the wine needed further decanting; so I new three of the labels. The bags were all labeled 1-8 and pre-poured into glasses at each place setting at the dinner table. I assessed the wines before we ate and then adjusted my assessments as I tried the wines with food.

Wine 1: lots of red fruits; redcurrant and raspberry, cedar, smoke, cinnamon, leather and tobacco. Nice, but not anything special. My #4 (tie) Very Good/Excellent

Wine 2: Similar to #1 but bigger/darker. Blackberries, spicy tobacco, vanilla, great nose. My #2 Excellent

Wine 3: light, funky, cranberries, red fruits, herbal, green, dilly, chemically, flat. Quite a disappointment. My #8. Average/Good

Wine 4: What a nose! Red cherries, raspberries, earth and mushrooms. Lots of fruit; blackberries and raspberries on the palate complemented by licorice, rosemary and roasted meat. Concentrated and complex. Clearly the best of the lineup. My WOTN. Excellent

Wine 5: Most Bordeaux-like of the group right off the back. Tobacco, green pepper, forest floor, mushrooms, kind of a salty nori flavor, very minerally, almost syrah-like. My #4 (tie) This changed a lot in the glass and might have been higher with a few more hours to follow its evolution. Very Good/Excellent

Wine 6: Started off a lot like #3. Dilly, chemically, flat, oaky. This also improved with time and started reveal good complexity and flavors, but still was near the bottom of the pack for me at the end of the night because of how it started. Needs time. My #7. Good/Very Good

Wine 7: Red and Black fruits, leather, cedar, good acidity, spicy tobacco. Like a smaller version of #2. My #3. Very Good/Excellent

Wine 8: Poured after the previous 7 from a magnum. Lots of blue and black fruits. Nice but simple. A little grapey but goes down smooth. My #5. Very Good

Each person voted for his or her top three wines of the evening.

Wine 4 was clearly the group WOTN with 4 first place votes.
Wine 2 was group's second with 5 second place votes.
Wine 8 was third.
Wine 6 was fourth.
Wine 5 was fifth.
Wine 7 was sixth with only 1 second and 1 third place votes.
Wine 1 and Wine 3 didn't get any top 3 votes.

After all the votes were tallied, we unveiled the wines.

Wine 1 = 2006 Caymus Vineyards, Special Selection, Napa Valley AVA
Wine 2 = 2006 Maybach Family Vineyards, Materium, Oakville AVA

Wine 3 = 2002 Quilceda Creek, Columbia Valley AVA
Wine 4 = 2006 Ovid Napa Valley, D7.86, Napa Valley AVA

Wine 5 = 2006 Cayuse Vineyards, Camaspelo, Walla Walla AVA
Wine 6 = 2010 Ruby Trust Cellars, The Smuggler, Grand Valley AVA

Wine 7 = 2001 Lokoya, Diamond Mountain District AVA
Wine 8 = 1999 Trefethen Family Vineyards, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA

The group was surprised to see two cabernet francs in the lineup and one easily coming out on top. They were not surprised to see Colorado represented, as I usually bring a local wine. I was not as impressed with the Ruby Trust as I was when I first tried it a few months ago at the release party. I actually thought it was the Quilceda Creek I noticed before it was bagged. During previous experiences with Quilceda Creek I have found it to show lots of dill and herbal characteristics that I found in both Wines 3 and 6. Wine 6 just seem to say Quilceda Creek to me more. I'm not a huge fan of the QC bottles I've had, but I guess comparing a Colorado wine to a wine that some people say is the best cabernet sauvignon in the U.S. isn't the worst critique!

The Smuggler only saw 30 minutes in a decanter and was in the glass for about 3 hours. Near the end of the evening it had lost most of the unpleasant (to me) characteristics, so I would recommend ample aeration if you plan on opening it any time soon, but best to just wait a few years. It was also the youngest wine, by four years, and the least expensive in the lineup. Despite my thoughts on The Smuggler (74% Cabernet Franc, 13% Syrah, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon), the rest of the group was more endeared to it. It also might have helped had I not been thinking Quilceda Creek; goes to show there can also be a negative label bias for big name wines.

The other cabernet franc was amongst everyone's top three. Ovid produces a flagship proprietary blend every year from its estate in the esteemed Pritchard Hill area of Napa Valley. You can read about Ovid and its neighbors in my Sommelier Journal article on Pritchard Hill. Ovid also produces an Experiment line of wines from barrels not used in the cabernet sauvignon blend. Usually, the Experiment wines are dominated by cabernet franc. I've enjoyed the regular Ovid wines, but still find the unique Experiments more to my liking. The D7.86 was no different. The D7.86 was a blend of 61% cabernet franc, 29% merlot and 10 % cabernet sauvignon. If you ever come across any Ovid wines (and can afford them, as the don't come cheap) give them a try. I actually recommend the same for any Pritchard Hill winery. I think that area in the hills above Oakville is one of Napa's prime places for the highest quality wines.

I also found it somewhat ironic that a cabernet franc showed up some pretty serious cabernet sauvignons at a cab tasting. Cab franc is, afterall, cab sauv's genetic parent. Caberent franc and sauvignon blanc were crossed in the 17th century in southwest France with cabernet sauvignon resulting from that yield night. Even though cabernet sauvignon is king in California nowadays, a parent still has to show the child who's boss every once in a while...


  1. I'm curious, are any of your "Strange Men" now believers/buyers of Colorado wine?

    To quote; "Wine 6 just seem to say Quilceda Creek to me more." While I understand it's not your style/preference it's still high praise, for indeed that '02 Quilceda was a 100pt wine. Not bad for Colorado!

  2. Yes, in fact some of them now have CO wine in their cellars. When lower priced wines from non-traditional regions can be tasted amongst some of the country's best wines and not be easily distinguished, it is high praise. My point with including CO wines in these tastings is to not prove that CO is the best (most definitely isn't), but that it isn't as far behind as many people think. It also helps that the people in this tasting group are not against the idea that CO can produce great wine. It is just an added bonus when the wines perform above their reputation.