International Cabernet Day: Sueño Profundo 2012 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

I Love Cabernet

I Love Cabernet

Happy International Cabernet Day!

This is one of my more frequently enjoyed varieties, and I’m always happy to enjoy it with friends and family, or even alone, if I must. I saved a doozy for the occasion. My sister and I are both enjoying the wine very much, but given the pedigree of its terroir I can’t say I’m surprised. And without a doubt, 2012 was a stellar vintage in the region. They’re saying it might be the best vintage here since 1976. While we’ve all opened something before that had a better reputation than presentation, this one does not. I got it through a special at

Sueño Profundo 2012 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Sueño Profundo 2012 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa is very much about the family wineries. The first commercial winery to make its roots in the area was that of Charles Krug (now owned by the Mondavi family) and more than a century later — and a short unfortunate stint known as prohibition — the region is still dominated by family-run wineries with decades or more of wine-making under their belts. Inglenook (now owned by Francis Ford Coppola), Beaulieu vineyards (France’s Latour family) and Beringer are just a few others of the families you might recognize who make wine in the region. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the region many years ago, riding on the Napa Valley wine train and a dinner and tasting at Markham in St Helena. I hope to get back there soon on business.

Stag’s Leap is one of the notable appellations (or AVAs), consisting of 19 wineries and vineyards, their own growers’ association and a reputation for exceptional Cabernet. There is no better example of that than Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars taking best Cabernet at the 1976 Judgement of Paris, that put California wine on the map for good. While this wine is not from that vineyard nor does it snag the prices of some of the wines from the region, it is an elegant, expressive, and delicious Cabernet that did not disappoint nor did it break the bank. A perfect pick, if you ask me.

The wine pours a deep purple in the glass, with notes of tobacco, blackberry, cassis and subtle well-integrated oak on the nose. On the palate, bright notes of succulent blackberries continue to dominate, with good acidity and balanced tannin and a lingering finish. Everything in the right place, and it should only continue to age well. However it is worth noting that I had only one bottle, so it won’t get the opportunity! Rest assured, I will be buying more, if there’s any left. This wine clearly demonstrates the success of the 2012 vintage, and Napa (and Stag Leap’s) best.

There are around 500 wineries in Napa now, all working to further the fine reputation of the area and its grapes as well as supporting its own local community through charity fundraisers and programs. After seeing much of the damage in the area from the recent earthquake last weekend, I hope the 2014 vintage pulls through alright. With such a tight community, I feel confident they will. Go pick up a nice bottle and help your favorite Napa producers at the same time.



Big Names in California Wine, Part 3: Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

First off, Happy National Wine Day to all my readers in the USA! This is definitely something I can and will celebrate on this dreary rainy day.

In part three of this series, I enjoyed Beringer’s 2010 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Beringer is one of the renowned Napa, California wineries, established in Victorian times by German winemaker Jacob Beringer. He and his brother purchased the first property in 1875 after a short time in New York where the climate was not what they were looking for. The warm climate and rocky, well-draining soil in Napa County was more like their homeland in the Rhine Valley and hence they settled and started their American dream here. Workers who had just helped build the trans-continental railroad, dug the tunnels where they still store and age their wine. They then built a mansion house that was a reconstruction of their home in Germany, called the “Rhine house.”  Today, they have vineyards up and down the valley from Howell Mountain to Carneros. They are the longest continually-running vineyard in the valley, surviving the dark days of prohibition. Currently under the helm of Winemaker Laurie Hook and Winemaker Emeritus Ed Sbragia, they are doing delicious things.

This particular wine comes from their Knights Valley vineyard which is located 17 miles north of the winery just over the border in Sonoma County. They grow and vinify several Bordeaux varieties here and have named a few wines after the alluvial soils the vines grow in. This vineyard has been active for three decades and makes excellent Bordeaux-style wines.

This is a very nice example of Napa Cabernet. It is deep ruby in color and on the nose are blackberry, anise, cinnamon and pepper as well as subtle toasty oak aromas. The fruit is very ripe, and with the nicely balanced tannins and acidity, this is a fine wine indeed that I suspect would age well long after the roughly 3 years this one lasted!  It has a medium plus body and finish, and is very elegant. Definitely in the class of equally-priced Bordeaux. I am so glad I have given some of these larger California wineries another chance to impress me. There is some really fine wine being made here, even if they’re not cult/boutique (read: very expensive) wines. Plus, I’ve learned a lot about their history which has brought me new-found respect for them. At $33 it is a premium wine, but not unreasonable for a quality wine from this region. Perhaps I should have shared this one with my friends, but at least I shared it with you, my readers…

Next week, I will conclude this series with a Chalone!

Big Names in California Wine, Part 1: Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2009

Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2009

Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2009

Before I get to reviewing the wine, I wanted to give you a little background on my choice for this first entry in this series, and the inspiration behind it. Because wine isn’t just about taste, its about the experience and the story.

I’ve been having a great time reading “The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World” by Lawrence Osborne. In the book, the author explores the meaning and experience of taste by visiting many vineyards and winemakers in France, Italy and the United States. We all know taste is that thing that so many people have wasted countless amounts of breath and ink trying to pinpoint, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the individual. Though the book also explores taste as a factor of the market.  It’s a memoir of his own personal quest for answers and that is all it attempts to be. There are many parallels in the book to my own journey of discovery here (including the necessary humor and humility) so it is all the more rewarding.

The book starts with the author in Sassoferrato, Italy where Robert Mondavi’s family was from, to attempt to trace the inspiration and roots of a man that would become American wine royalty by the 1970s.

Back in California, he travels to meet and taste with Mondavi himself, before venturing onto Coppola, Beringer, Opus One (a Mondavi-Rothschild venture of much acclaim), Sterling and the more off-the-beaten-path Chalone in Edna Valley. It doesn’t take long to realize that in Napa these days, clusters of large-scaled and architecturally-themed wineries are just another kind of Disneyland, as much for the experience as the product itself. That being said, it is a beautiful place. I rode the Napa Valley wine train many years ago and visited Markham for a dinner and tasting and I was in heaven. That was the first time I had a wine and said “whoah.” Nowadays with the region thriving, there are many a smaller, traditional winery making boutique wines at higher prices. But even these ‘garagiste’ wineries are larger in scale and distribution than many of their foreign counterparts, with plenty of money backing their ventures.

Currently in the book, and I mention this because I got a good laugh here, the author is in Russian River Valley,  in the company of a French tourist also obsessed with tasting great California wines. Despite the reputation of Rochioli Pinot Noir, both are struggling to taste the ‘Russian Riverness” in the glass.  It is this same experience we all aim for when trying to taste terroir or a sense of place in the glass that is so humorous and validating. And trying to actually taste anything from ‘cigar-box’ to ‘tutti-frutti’ can be fruitless (thank you), all the while winemakers declaring their product ‘hedonistic’ are everywhere, begging the question: “I don’t  necessarily agree. Is it me?”

But this all got me thinking again about how my earliest introductions to wine were large producers from California. So while at the wine shop today, I picked up a few of them to revisit the subject and taste some from the author’s travels. Mondavi – check. Coppola – check. Beringer – check. I don’t have the means very often to pick up an Opus One or a Screaming Eagle. If you’d like, you can send me one and I’d be happy to review it. Anyone? Today I will start by reviewing a Mondavi Fumé Blanc. Now that I feel I have come to a more educated place about wine, and my palate and experience far more mature, I am curious to see if these are wines (and again, this is MY taste, I’m not a critic) I would enjoy more with this new knowledge at my disposal.

While many don’t necessarily value a Mondavi as a top American wine anymore, you have to admire that this man was a big part of putting a fairly obscure wine region at the time onto the world wine map. Of course the judgement of Paris also went a long way to that end, as well as timing. Prohibition was over just a few decades ago and there were few American wineries in the area doing anything to note. And while his family was enjoying success making inexpensive wines at lower cost, Mondavi was ambitious and strove to take it to the next level. He bought out nearby reputable vineyards to set up his own winery. It was there that he began upgrading his techniques and experimenting, producing the types of American Cabernets that made the region start to take off again.

In 1966 he succeeded in mass-marketing a wine made in the same methods of its French counterpart, but with its own unique terroir and fingerprint. With his Fumé Blanc, he brought the barrel-aged style of Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fumé in France to millions of Americans. This was a style and variety that was almost unknown to the non-connoisseur population in this country. Consumers who hadn’t heard of or couldn’t afford a Pouilly-Fumé could at least feel they just expanded their cultural and taste palates. So he certainly knew what he was doing, and is an American wine icon, whether you love it or hate it.

Lemon-gold in color, the 2009 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc had expected floral and grassy notes on the nose, along with some melon, citrus and vanilla from the obvious time in oak. On the palate the oak was stronger and the body full, but it still had a racy acidity and citrus and mineral notes. This is definitely more oaked than I am used to in a Sauvignon Blanc but it was all quite well balanced.

This was priced at $15.99 for a 750ml bottle, and I feel a good value and a good wine. So, off to a good start.