Grapevine Archive for Cabernet Sauvignon
Tastings and events manager Simon Mason reports on a thoroughly good evening in the presence of owner-winemaker of Frog’s Leap, John Williams
It is fair to say that very few Wine Society tutored tastings begin with a room full of members, their arms outstretched and fingers wiggling, being encouraged to think like a grapevine. Such is the persuasive power of Frog’s Leap owner and winemaker John Williams that all joined in, although I suspect far fewer kicked off their shoes as suggested to ‘feel the dirt between their toes’.
Frog’s Leap makes the most elegant, harmonious and in our view, magnificently ageworthy style of Napa Valley wine so we were delighted to be joined by John and his wife, Tori for a masterclass in organic farming and a fascinating critique of the current state of winemaking in the Napa Valley, all illustrated by a selection of Frog’s Leap wines from The Society’s current range as well as John’s own cellar.
John is a passionate advocate of organic vineyard practices and talks enthusiastically and convincingly about his philosophy. Viewed by some as an eccentric, it is clear that behind the light-hearted approach is some very serious and thoughtful winemaking. Taking us from his early days as a cheesemaker through his awakening interest in the world of wine (more pretty women and fewer cows were a big part of the appeal, apparently), John went on to talk about his time as winemaker at Stag’s Leap. There, he worked alongside André Tchelistcheff to produce the legendary 1973 Stag’s Leap that memorably rated top wine at the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Talking of the people and places he has worked, it is clear that John is deeply in love with wine and with his patch of land in the Napa.
We begin the tasting with an aperitif of Frog’s Leap Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Crisp and refreshing and with a low (for the region) 12.7% alcohol, this is a perfect introduction to John’s philosophy of growing as perfect a grape as possible and then interfering as little as possible in the cellars. This also allows us to pick up the first hints of slate and minerality that we learn anchor the wine in the Rutherford region of Napa.
Moving on to a flight of zinfandels from 2010, 2008 and 1993 the last of which which was served in magnum (a problem for John as they are just too much for one person and just too little for two), John passionately outlines his belief that many wineries in Napa and beyond are going down a very negative path to produce fruit filled and highly coloured wines that are approachable when young and in the barrel merely to satisfy the tastes of certain influential US critics. Beautifully illustrated with a comparison to petals falling all too quickly from shop-bought flowers, it was hard not to agree with John as we tasted the still fresh 1993. Taking a vote, the 2008 was the members’ favourite of the three although I thought the 2010 to be deliciously vibrant and hope to tuck a few bottles away for twenty or so years just to check John is still practising what he preached.
We progress to three vintages of merlot: 2009, 2008 and 2002, the latter two again served from magnum. Merlot is John’s favourite grape and in his inimitable style, he tells us of his belief that the film Sideways has saved the grape in the US – following the film, all the bad winemakers switched from making awful merlot to making awful pinot noir, leaving merlot to those who knew what they were doing. Among the members present, the complex and still well-structured 2002 was the most popular of the three, but for me the 2008 was the star, with just the right amount of development to bring harmony to the wine as well as a fairly light 12.9% alcohol, which left it refreshing to taste.
Onwards to a pair of Napa cabernets from 2009 and 1998. John explained how many of his wines come under the category of ‘barely legal’ due to his frequent use of the minimum possible amount of stated grape variety. The 1998 cabernet sauvignon containing 77% cabernet sauvignon against a legal minimum of 75% which for John, creates greater nuance and complexity.
Discussing the challenges presented by farming organically in poor years, we learn that there are no such things as bad vintages, instead, John draws the comparison with parenting a difficult child – one accepts that they will present a challenge and then one works hard to bring them up to be the best that they can be, all the while preserving their own individual character.
Finishing the tasting with two vintages of flagship Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, John explains how André Tchelistcheff first identified that there was something special about the Rutherford soil and coined the phrase ‘Rutherford dust’ to describe the distinctive aromatic characteristics of the area. Tasting the 2009 and 2007 Rutherford Cabernet, we were told to look for a texture like ‘running your hand over a piece of velvet, against the nap’. Both exceedingly youthful but still immensely drinkable, John’s reply to a member’s question about age worthiness in wines without massive amounts of tannins was entirely in keeping with the character of the man – it is like people, he explained – ‘If you are ugly when you are young, you are going to be ugly when you are old’.
A final few questions from members allowed John a chance to explain the history of the winery name (a contraction of Frog Farm where the early wines were made and Stag’s Leap where the first grapes were ‘borrowed’ from) as well as to share a few more anecdotes from his years in Napa. Highly entertaining and refreshingly honest, John’s passion and enthusiasm for his land and his grapes was wonderful to hear. Behind the quirky name and lighthearted delivery, however, is some seriously good wine that places Frog’s Leap in the pantheon of true Californian greats.
On a windswept January night in London, Chile’s cabernets took on the world in a boldly imagined and thoroughly enjoyable tasting. The event was hosted by Santa Rita Estates, determined as they are to spread the gospel of the country’s premium wines.
‘Premium’ is the operative word: no doubt conscious that Chile is the place more UK consumers look to for a good-value glug rather than a sophisticated splash, the organisers placed four top-end Chilean cabernets in among a 12-wine line-up (all 100% cabernet or cabernet-dominant blends) for us to taste under blind conditions. No prizes for guessing, we were assured: just a chance to see what we thought.
Of course, this didn’t stop the assembled tasters trying to guess the wines, and debate was lively throughout, predictable when considering the clientele. The great and the good of the UK wine trade were out in force, with Steven Spurrier – who, of course, knows a thing or two about these international blind tastings – Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Anthony Rose, Alex Hunt MW and Tom Cannavan all in spirited symposium when it came to relative merits and possible identities.
Ranging between about £10 and over £100 per bottle, this diverse line-up hailed from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages. While some revelled in their youthful charm, others inevitably were a little surlier. I certainly felt this to be true of the first wine, which turned out to be the Te Mata, Coleraine, 2009, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand, c.£40 per bottle; 52% cabernet sauvignon, 43% merlot, 5% cabernet franc). This is a difficult wine to taste young, but it ages magnificently. For its obviously high quality, then, on the night the 2009 struggled to free itself from its formidable wall of tannins sufficiently to wow the tasters. It will be lovely, but it needs time.
On the other hand, the Petaluma Cabernet-Merlot, 2008, Coonawarra (Australia, c.£28 per bottle; 60% cabernet sauvignon, 31% merlot, 9% shiraz) was intense and exuberant – perhaps even a little aggressively so. So too was the Carmen Gold Reserve, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£50 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), whose almost implausibly dark fruit flavours were conspicuous and gratifying; however, I suspect those who prize complexity above curvaceousness may not enjoy this wine as much as others.
Next was Sassicaia, 2009 (Italy, c.£105 per bottle; 85% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc). Noticeably lighter in colour than the first three wines, its cedary, leathery and complex aromas seemed to scream ‘claret’ at first. The palate, however, ended Bordelais suspicions, balancing the weight of this warm vintage with delightful, refreshing acidity and red-fruit flavours, all with mesmerising intensity.
From the same vintage, Domaine de Chevalier, Pessac-Léognan, 2009 (France, c.£60 per bottle; 66% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 6% petit verdot) needed a few swirls of the glass to compose itself and reveal some very fine fruit from under the (currently rather dominant) oak. This wine had an interesting mixture of flavours, feeling at once polished but rather rugged too. Tasting it blind, it was obviously of very high quality, but I found it hard to love at this young stage. It would be fair to say that the least favourite wine of the night for most was the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenbosch, 2008 (South Africa, c.£10 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon), critiqued for being rather ‘hot’ and coffee-like. Then again, this was by far the cheapest candidate and with that in mind, it certainly did not embarrass itself.The second half of the tasting commenced with what turned out to be the Santa Rita Casa Real, Alto Jahuel, Maipo, 2010 (Chile, c.£23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon). Pure and satisfying with lovely lifted fruit, complexity and a finish just on the right side of ‘oaky’, both its overall quality and Chilean qualities were rightly singled out by the tasters. An excellent performance, all the more so when one considers that, along with the 2008 vintage shown later in the tasting, it was the second-least expensive of the wines.
Far less straightforward for the panel was the beautiful, atypical Cullen ‘Diana Madeleine’, 2009, Margaret River (Australia, c.£60 per bottle; 88% cabernet sauvignon, 6% cabernet franc, 4% merlot, 2% malbec). Markedly subtler than the other wines, this was not a ‘blockbuster’ at all, eschewing oaky brawn in favour of gorgeous, soft red-fruit flavours and invigorating freshness. Most were conspicuously insecure when trying to identify what it might be, but it was deservedly popular and several singled it out as their favourite wine on the table.
Next came perhaps the polar opposite of this style, in the form of the Seña, Aconcagua, 2008 (Chile, c.£75 per bottle; 57% cabernet sauvignon, 20% carmenère, 10% merlot, 8% petit verdot, 5% cabernet franc). Intense, extroverted and sweet, this was crying out for hearty food to anyone who might listen. On the other hand, the quietness and classicism of the Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac, 2008 (France, c.£80 per bottle; 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot) made it quite a difficult wine to pin down, and rather like the Te Mata I felt it was not happy to have been disturbed at this age, with quite a lot of oak yet to integrate with the rest of the (excellent) wine.The 2008 vintage of Santa Rita Casa Real (Chile, £23 per bottle; 100% cabernet sauvignon) followed, with a nose I’d describe as ‘Bordeaux on steroids’. With a delicate touch of sweetness to the fruit and some delicious menthol and tobacco notes, this was full-bodied and certainly very serious, but also really rather good fun too (I should note that this is not meant pejoratively: wine is supposed to be fun, after all!). An excellent wine and again, it is worth bearing in mind its price within this line-up.
‘Backward’ is a word that wine tasters bandy about rather a lot when it comes to young wines, but those seeking the apotheosis of this term should try the last of the flight, Ridge Monte Bello, 2009 (USA, c.£90 per bottle; 72% cabernet sauvignon, 22% merlot, 6% petit verdot). Actually, don’t: it would be a terrible shame to broach this before it’s ready. Indeed, this wine was so ‘backward’, it was almost as though the stuff wanted to board a plane to California and reattach itself to the vines. Society buyer Pierre Mansour has said in the past that the elegant greatness of Monte Bello can often be missed in teeth-staining blind tastings, and I’m inclined to agree: compared to many of its peers it is a lover, not a fighter. Peppery, full-bodied and rather smudged by oak at the moment, it nonetheless showed plenty of finesse. Its best is undoubtedly a way off and when that time comes, I can only cross as many appendages as possible that I might get the chance to try it.
So, how did Chile do?
In all four of the wines, the fruit was a little sweeter, the tannins were soft and the secondary flavours erred more on the satisfyingly peppery side of things than the challenging rusticity found in some of the other wines. Perhaps one or two were a little too exuberant for their own good. Society buyer Toby Morrhall has rightly noted elsewhere that, save a few isolated exceptions, Chile only reached international standard around 20 years ago. Pitted against regions such as Bordeaux then, the greatness of whose wines has been extolled for centuries, this was an impressive performance.
Particularly, it must be said, for Casa Real. The two vintages of this cabernet were noticeably more restrained than the other two Chilean wines on show, and considering they made up two of only four wines in this tasting priced at under £30, their ability to stimulate the intellect as much as the palate was all the more striking. Indeed, the 2010 vintage was certainly among my personal ‘top 3’, alongside the far more expensive wines from Sassicaia and Cullen.
It is a testament to Toby’s efforts that Casa Real has occupied a place in The Society’s multi-award winning Chilean range for some time now.
To this end, the tasting fulfilled its objectives and proved that Chilean cabernets are capable of being delicious, distinctive and attractive at a very high level; not to be sniffed at, but sniffed, swirled, imbibed and enjoyed.
Yesterday Pierre Mansour (@pierremansour) and I (@Ewbz) hosted a virtual question time on Twitter (@TheWineSociety) as an experiment as we dip our toe a little further into the water of social media. A small-but-perfectly-formed band of members took part under the hashtag #twsqt. Here are the Qs and the As:
@robjfreeman If in doubt, always decant?
@TheWineSociety ‘Yes!’ Most wines improve with aeration, especially younger reds. As @JancisRobinson says: ‘decant splashily!’ …
@TheWineSociety …although be wary of older, more fragile wines. If needed, decant immediately before drinking or pour carefully.
@thirstforwine What wine for a Xmas 4-bird roast? (Turkey, Goose, Duck, Pheasant)
@TheWineSociety C’neuf-du-Pape is our recco but with so many flavours esp. trimmings choose something you know your guests will enjoy.
@thirstforwine Interesting – was thinking NZ PN. Thoughts?
@TheWineSociety NZ pinot was what @pierremansour drank with last year’s Christmas dinner! Anything with a bit of sweet ripe fruit.
@skifamille Am I right in thinking 15/12 is last order date for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety To guarantee pre-Christmas delivery, order pre-midnight Thu 15/12.
@TopTungston Wondering when the Tollot-Beaut Chorey-lès-Beaune 2005 is best to drink. Opening offer says best by 2012. Please advise.
@TheWineSociety Drinking well now. 05 vintage long-lasting but Chorey a modest appellation. For even softer and gamier hold for 2-3 years.
@TopTungston Also please could you tell me is the 06 Katnook estate Cab Sauv drinking ok right now? Thank you.
@TheWineSociety Absolutely delicious right now. Very elegant. Do decant 1 hour before.
@Theshrubb Is my 2001 Langoa Barton ready for this Christmas or should I leave it for a few more?
@TheWineSociety Drank this at a recent Montreuil dinner (Sep). Just hitting stride now. Pop the cork & enjoy, or wait up to another 8 years.
@PollyEJHolidays You focus a lot on great Portuguese wines, but are there any you’d recommend from the Algarve for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety While we have loads of Portuguese in our current offer none are from Algarve. Sorry.
So that’s it from Stevenage for this week. Next time we’ll be in Stevenage, and the time after that in … er … Stevenage! Good night.
Unlike the classic European wine regions (Bordeaux, Rioja etc), Australia has a fairly limited track record when it comes to long-term ageing of its wines. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to see mature Australian wines, even if you visit producers directly.
So I was immensely grateful when I was invited to join Michelin Star chef and self-confessed Australian wine specialist Roger Jones for a tasting of some top-notch bottles from his own cellar. The tasting was held in his delightful restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.
Here are my shorthand notes. All wines were tasted blind.
Katnook Estate Chardonnay Brut, 1995: creamy, caramel, still fruity – lovely delicate mousse and texture. Mature yet still lively. 8/10
Plantagenet Riesling, 1998: zingy, floral, discreetly toasty, very fine nose. Gentle, juicy palate, à point. 9/10
Jasper Hill Riesling, 1998: serious riesling nose, creamy, focussed; amazing lift and intensity. Perfection. 10/10
Lenswood Semillon, 1998: nutty, evolved nose, developed palate, good structure, drink up. 6.5/10
Moss Wood Semillon, 1995: unusual aromatics, brioche-like, smooth palate; esoteric. 5.5/10
Moss Wood Chardonnay, 2000: pungent, smoky flavours. Full, opulent and slightly alcoholic. Not entirely clean. Disappointing. 5/10
Mount Mary Chardonnay, 1996: classic, mature chardonnay: nutty, harmonious and classy. 6.5/10
Lakes Folly, 1999: vibrant, high-toned, restrained, beautiful texture and length. 8.5/10
Barossa Valley Estate “E & E” Black Pepper Shiraz, 1998: layered, sensuous, chocolaty Barossa shiraz, smooth and delicious. Lovely now. 9/10
Penfolds Grange, 1990: exotic, complex, fragrant nose; savoury yet full of vitality; incredible ripeness and depth. A showstopper. Drink now or hold for another 20 years. 10/10
Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1990: attractively evolved, spice/vegetal notes, refined, classy, only 13.5% alcohol, enormously appetising. Now or hold for 10+ years. 9/10
I returned yesterday from a visit to Bordeaux with Jo Locke MW. While all the hype about 2010 continues, and prices continue to drip, drip, drip slowly out of Bordeaux (click here for details of timings of our 2010 en primeur offers), in Blaye, Bourg, Castillon and Entre-Deux-Mers, concern is for the current happenings in the vineyards rather than the markets.
It has not rained in these parts since February, and growers’ attitudes range from fretting over the lack of water right through to ‘que sera sera’. Those who have older vines with deeper root systems are less worried, as they will likely be reaching right down to the nappe phréatique (water table) but for those who have more recent plantings, these drought conditions are causing some frowns. Driving past the vines bore this out – the older the vines, the healthier looking the leaves. Some of the younger vines’ leaves were visibly wilting. There was one man in particular, however – Thierry Lurton of Château de Camarsac – who was particularly pleased with the wall-to-wall sunshine because of the way he powers his chai (see right)!
Flowering, which last year happened at the end of the first week in June, happened before mid-May! It hasn’t been that early since 1976. Pictured left is a young bunch of cabernet sauvignon at Château de la Dauphine. Hard to believe that we’re not even at the end of May. If things continue at the same pace, harvest is anticipated for 3rd September. It is early days yet, though – watch this space for further news as and when we get it.
Head of Tastings & Events
The other evening I craved a glass of something tasty to enjoy in the garden with a few nibbles and the glorious April sunshine. But my heart sank when I opened the fridge and saw that the only thing I had on ice was a rosé.
I have a guilty secret. I don’t really like pink wine. It’s not a macho thing; I actually love the colour. Perhaps that’s the problem – anything that looks so tempting and delicious in the bottle surely has to be slick and refreshing, full of mouth-watering summery fruit. But all too often, for me, once you’ve pulled the cork or cracked the cap, it’s a disappointing anti-climax, a wine that’s drab and flabby on the nose and palate. Where’s the complexity and sense of identity that you get from even basic whites and reds?
I realise that I am in the minority here. Rosé is all the rage and I have many friends and colleagues that I enjoy numerous wines with who love pink wines.
Perhaps it’s the indecisiveness that puts me off. I want the fresh, cooling charm of a white but also the depth and fruit of a red. So I compromise and plump for rosé. It’s the Nick Clegg of the wine world.
‘Let’s give it a whirl’ offered my Panglossian better half pouring me a glass of the chilled rosé. And it was absolutely, lip-smackingly delicious.
A temptingly bright pink in colour and the nose actually delivered what the appearance promised: rich gloriously fresh fruit like sniffing a punnet of strawberries. The palate too had all those lovely fruity flavours, but, importantly, good acidity too. Such flavour. Such freshness. I was converted.
The wine? It was Château Bel Air, Bordeaux Rosé, 2009. It is made by the brilliant Despagne team at their estate in Entre-Deux-Mers. The secret to the fresh palate is that the grapes (all cabernet sauvignon) are picked just before they get too ripe and lose their freshness.
If you were cynical about the charms of going pink, then give it a go. It cured me.
Ben Glaetzer, director and chief winemaker of Heartland and Stickleback wines, updates members on news from the Barossa in this, his third posting from Down Under.
Ben Glaetzer, 17th January 2011
Australia is renowned as the continent of droughts and flooding rains (a phrase coined from the iconic Australian poem “My Country” by Dorothea McKellar.
The end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 have proved just that. As I’m sure has been on the news in the UK, much of our northern state of Queensland is underwater, river heights in excess of 20 metres up from a pool level of less than three. Crops decimated, table grapes washed away and a devastating time for more than 800,000 Australians. This water will make its way into the Murray-Darling river system over the next couple of months, the residents downstream are already preparing for floods. It’s quite a turn-around from last year when the river was so dry that one could literally walk across the Murray at its widest point.
Areas such as Langhorne Creek have been regenerated with the fresh water, the water tables are rising and the groundwater is being recharged.
All vineyards have now set fruit and overall crops are again below average in most districts. Cabernet sauvignon is in demand again this year which will give hope to some grapegrowers who’ve been unable to sell both cabernet and chardonnay for the last few years.
Here in the Barossa the weather has been decidedly muggy and warm, the humidity caused by the heavy moisture content over our northern states channelling down south. This has meant that the region has been on downy mildew alert and most growers have been vigilant with their canopy care.
We’ll commence vintage in about three weeks, kicking off with some crisp and zesty verdelho and semillon from the Limestone Coast for Heartland Stickleback and from there it’ll be full swing until the middle of May. Between now and then I’ll be spending most daylight hours in the vineyards and talking with our grapegrowers. Attention to detail is the key for this time of year, making sure crops are balanced, dropping fruit onto the ground on unbalanced vines and ensuring healthy canopies to protect against sunburn.
To top it all off my wife, Lucy, is expecting our first child….the due date was in fact 11th January. When the baby arrives it had better get used to sitting in a Ute and touring vineyards!
Twelve of the longest-standing Australian wine families have come together under the banner of Australia’s First Families of Wine – between them they have 14 centuries of winemaking experience! We were delighted that representatives from all the families chose a tasting for members of The Society as their inaugural UK event, showing two wines each from their premium portfolio covering many growing regions and styles.
Members came face to face with a veritable Who’s Who of the Australian wine world: Ross & Katherine Brown (Brown Brothers); Col Campbell (Campbell’s Wine); d’Arry and Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg); Leanne De Bortoli & Steve Webber (De Bortoli); Stephen, Prue & Justine Henschke (Henschke); Jeff & Amy Burch (Howard Park); Peter, Sue & Tom Barry (Jim Barry); Doug & Julie McWilliam (McWilliam’s); ALister & Hayley Purbrick (Tahbilk); Bruce & Pauline Tyrrell (Tyrrell’s); Mitchell Taylor (Wakefield); Robert Hill-Smith (Yalumba).
Such is the quality of these wines (and such was the popularity of this tasting) that we are eager to share them with all members. This selection showcases Australia’s best, classic styles including Hunter Valley Semillon, Clare Valley Riesling, Margaret River Cabernet, Barossa Shiraz and Rutherglen Muscat. Click here for a full list of the wines available.
Were you there? What were your impressions? Do let us know.
We’ve just shipped Vanya Cullen’s 2007 cabernet sauvignon (to sell in 2010). We were so impressed with the quality of this Margaret River vintage, I asked her to write a sentence with her impressions. She is a winemaker not a marketer so believe every word:
“The 2007 vintage of Diana Madeline is one of the best we have made. It is one of my favourites because it expresses the warmth of the vintage and health of the vines, through a drinkability and friendly “drink me” quality not normally associated with Cabernet dominant wines. Beautiful ripe fruit and tannins, a succulent juicy wine with great ageing potential.”