Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday's Wines: Derenoncourt Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon

Winery mailing lists are an unusual thing. Most people buy their wine at retail stores near their homes. Depending on the state one lives in, the retail venue may be a grocery store, a liquor store where all types of beverage alcohol are sold, or a wine specialty shop. Those wines find their way on to the retailers' shelves by means of wholesale middlemen who distribute their products only to retailers. This is known as the three-tier system and is the typical model the wine world has operated since the repeal of Prohibition. The direct-to-consumer model of the allocated mailing list is something of a holy grail in the wine world as it cuts out the middleman. Most wineries have a sales option on their website where consumers may purchase products directly from them. The winery then ships the wine directly to the consumer via a common carrier (FedEx or UPS are generally the two main carriers). This process allows the winery to collect the full retail price of the wine instead of selling it at wholesale cost to their distributor. It also allows consumers (depending on where they live) to have access to most of the wines they demand. I still cannot understand, in this day and age, how and why some winery websites still do not have this functionality and why some states restrict this type of commerce. But I digress as this post is not about the disfunctionality of the three-tier system and current alcohol laws.

Some wineries have taken this approach to a different level. Consumers may sign up to receive notification when they are allowed to purchase a set amount of a winery's wine (usually in increments of 3 bottles). Most wineries suggest this as a way to allow more customers access to the wine. In some cases, which continue to become rarer and rarer, there is a waiting list just to be added to the mailing list. For the most part, you can sign up and receive an offer right away for wineries that use allocation lists. Sometimes the amount of wine a winery will allow you to purchase is dependent on previous purchases; as you buy wine, more is offered to you in subsequent years.

In fact, a good portion of the wine I purchase is from a few California producers that utilize this path. For the most part I can expect an email the same time every year notifying me that my allocation is available. I've actually been doing this for six years now. Looking back through my email archives, my first mailing list purchases were in March of 2010. Along the way, lists have come and gone depending on if I enjoy the wine, if wineries raise their prices too much and as I find new wineries I prefer more. I have found Wineberserkers.com is a great avenue to find new and interesting producers. I wish I had the income to purchase wine from all the wineries I would like to purchase!

Derenoncourt 2006 Red Hills Vyd
One of my first mailing list purchases was the Derenoncourt California 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Red Hills Vineyard (15.7% abv, Purchased $40). When I found out StĂ©phane Derenoncourt was starting a California winery, I signed up to get more information. When I saw that most of the wines were at or near the $100 mark I decided that I could only afford the cheapest wine on offer - and $40 still ain't cheap! At the time I knew very little of Lake County, but now know that if the boundaries of Napa extended 30 miles north, the vineyards there would be some of the most prized pieces of land in the appellation. Lake County still offers great value for those who like Napa wines, but it is no longer the secret it once was.

I decided to open this 10-year old Cabernet Sauvignon to have with grilled ribeye steaks the other night. The grapes sourced for this wine come from the Beckstoffer Red Hills Vineyard - the same Beckstoffer of ToKalon fame in Napa. The wine's color is still deep with it starting to change into a more brickish red. Only on the nose can you start to tell that this is a 10-year old wine. Secondary characteristics of cedar and leather are more prominent than the dried fruit aromas. There is good complexity on the palate with flavors of tobacco, carob, dried cherries and currants. I don't think this is going to improve any more with time, but it is already pretty damn tasty. The last bottle of the 2006 awaits me sometime in the future, but I have a few more bottles of subsequent vintages as well. An interesting thing about this wine is that the label is actual linen. Does that make the wine any better, no, but it sure does look cool.

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