August 02, 2010

Shiraz: the user-friendly wine


If ever there was a user-friendly wine, it's shiraz.

It reminds me of that verse from First Corinthians they always quote at weddings … the one that starts, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, t is not proud. Love never fails.”

 Shiraz is sweet, shiraz is soft. It does not pucker with hard tannins, it does not take the enamel off thy teeth with searing acids.

Shiraz seldom fails to delight.

Known as syrah in France, where it has been a mainstay of the Rhãne Valley's best wines for centuries, the grape was planted in Australia about 100 years ago and renamed shiraz. It's grown riper there, and mostly vinified to be softer and fruitier.

It goes well with sandwiches at picnics, with Greek salads, tuna salads, egg salads, with barbecued chicken, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese … anything hearty rich and soothing that calls for a similar comfort wine.

Tasters at competitions describe it in terms that make it sound like dessert … raspberry preserves, blackberry pie, mulberry tarts, sometimes with a hint of cinnamon.

Still, it has a range. When the grapes are grown in cooler climates, the wine takes on edges of tannin and acid and is are good with red meats.

Seeking those red-meat wines, winemakers often blend in firmer grapes like cabernet sauvignon to add backbone. Throughout Australia, so many winemakers seek that perfect balance by blending grenache and mourvedre with shiraz that the combination is called … to end, as we began, on an ecclesiastical note … “the holy trinity.”



   Ø 2008 Penfolds Shiraz Mourvedre, Australia: ripe, hearty and lush with flavors of black raspberries and anise; soft tannins; generous; the epitome of a friendly shiraz; $15.

   Ø 2006 Chàteau Tanunda Noble Baron Shiraz, Barossa Valley: aromas and flavors of black plums, cinnamon and anise; powerful, full-bodied and intense; very smooth, youthful; $50.



   Ø 2008 Yangarra Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale, South Australia: rich and intensely fruity with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and cinnamon; $20.

   Ø 2007 Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz, Coonawarra: red raspberry and spice aromas and flavors, hint of oak, a bit lean from cool-weather grapes, lightly tannic; $26.

   Ø 2007 Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz, South Australia: black cherry and dark chocolate flavors, ripe from warm-weather grapes, smooth; $22.

   Ø 2008 Penfolds Bin 138 Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache, Barossa Valley: hint of oak, black raspberry and anise aromas and flavors, lightly tannic; $27.

   Ø 2007 Penfolds Cabernet Shiraz, South Australia: black cherries and black coffee, hint of oak, a bit lean and youthful; $36.

   Ø 2007 Chàteau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz, Barossa Valley: red raspberry,

vanilla and cinnamon aromas and flavors, big, ripe tannins; $19.

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July 23, 2010

Pinot noir's link to terroir


As time goes by, California winemakers, who, after all, started seriously only in the 1960s and 1970s, grow more sophisticated in making wine, and American wine fans grow more knowledgeable in drinking it.
So there has risen an appreciation of “terroir” … a somewhat indefinable French term that brings together soil, climate, history, even winemaking tradition.
A good example of California terroir is its Russian River Valley.
The Russian River cuts through some of Northern California's most beautiful and best grape-growing country. It starts in Mendocino County and meanders south and west through Sonoma County to reach the Pacific Ocean at the Petaluma Gap north of San Francisco.
There's history to a name like that: Russian settlers trapped and farmed on the land after 1812, building the historic Fort Ross and probably planting the area's first
grapes. But by 1841 they were gone, as imperial Russia lost interest in North America, eventually selling Alaska to the United States in 1867.
   To wine lovers, the Russian River Valley means an area akin to France's Burgundy region, famous for its delicate, complex pinot noirs. The weather is perfect for pinot noir.  Afternoon temperatures can reach 100 degrees, but at night the Pacific Ocean fog creeps up the river … yes, yes, on cat feet … and chills the grapes to as low as 50 degrees. That nightly break from ripening preserves the acids that give the wines their pleasant crispness.
   If nothing else, it's a beautiful area, with rolling hills, valleys and tall redwoods. There are places there where you can sit at an outdoor restaurant table, reach over and Touch a tree that seems 100 feet tall.
   With decades of practice, now, wineries are becoming more sophisticated in capitalizing on the valley's climate. Wineries with big plots of vines have divided the best of them into “single vineyards whose soils and microclimates give special and individual flavors to wines made from their grapes.
   In the Russian River Valley, Marimar Estate now has taken this a step further. It has divided its Don Miguel Vineyard into separate blocks … La Masia, Stony Block, Earthquake Block … and is making separate wines from each of them. And it is selecting the best grapes from the entire vineyard to make 20 barrels of the best wine it can make, and dubbing it “Cristina,” after the daughter of vineyard owner Marimar Torres.
Here are some of the valley's best:

 ø‚ 2007 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir, Winemaker's Block, Russian River Valley: full-bodied and lush, with intense black cherry and cinnamon flavors, smooth; $60.
ø‚ 2008 La Crema Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: aromas of oak, black raspberries and spice, flavors of mulberries and cinnamon, lush and smooth, full-bodied; $38.
ø‚ 2007 Marimar Estate “La Masia”' Pinot Noir, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: dark cherry, dark chocolate and cinnamon flavors, full-bodied and rich, smooth; $49.

 ø‚ 2007 Marimar Estate “Stony Block” Pinot Noir, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: black plums and bitter chocolate, with a hint of earth, smooth; $47.
 ø‚ 2007 Marimar Estate “Earthquake Block” Pinot Noir, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: black cherry and cloves, hint of earth; $47.
 ø‚ 2006 Marimar Estate “Cristina” Pinot Noir, Don Miguel Vineyard, Russian River Valley: raspberries and cinnamon, creamy and smooth, intensely fruity, hints of tannin; $62.
 ø‚ 2008 Enroute “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: hint of oak, flavors of black plums and cLoves with a mineral tang; $50.
 ø‚ 2008 CrossBarn Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: powerful and intense, with raspberry, cinnamon and tea aromas and flavors; $35.
 ø‚ 2007 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley: black cherries and mocha flavors, smooth and rich; $35.

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July 08, 2010

Rosé is the wine when you don't know what to drink


When you're stumped, when you can't figure out what wine to serve with a picnic, barbecue or casual summer supper, try rosé. It's as close as there is to an all-purpose wine.
In France they drink it with ratatouille, roast chicken and cassoulet. 
In Italy they drink it with chicken, veal, seafood and pasta. In Spain they drink it with squid salad, manchego cheese, spicy shrimp, grilled chorizo and Serrano ham.
   In America we drink it with tuna salad, takeout pork from Pollo Tropical and good old-fashioned barbecue, from pulled pork to deeply smoked ribs.
   It's delicate enough to drink by itself, crisp and tart when well-chilled to beat the summer heat. It's crisp enough to cut through fatty dishes and rich and fruity enough to handle spicy food. And it's cheap. 
Well, a lot of it is.
    Rosé can be made with any red grape. The wines in the list below are made of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, gamay, grenache, cinsault, syrah, tempranillo, pinot meunier, corvina, rondinella and molinara.  Even the white Italian grape called cortese.
   It can be made in two ways … both based on the fact that even the juice of red grapes is white. A deep, dark cabernet sauvignon gets its inky hue from long contact of the juice with the red skins after crushing. Pour the juice off earlier … sometimes within hours of crushing … and you have rosé. The other way is to add just a bit of red wine to wine from a white grape like the Italian cortese or the French chardonnay just before bottling.
The epitome of rosé wines is rosé champagne … tinted from pale salmon to deep cherry red, with pinprick bubbles rising through them and the flavor and scent of fresh flowers. 
We drink that with everything. 

· 2009 Jaboulet “Parallele 45” Rosé , Cotes du Rhone, France (grenache, cinsault, syrah): spicy black cherry and mineral aromas and flavors, crisp and tart; $12.
· Nonvintage Pommery Rosé Champagne, Reims, France (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier): tiny, long-lasting bubbles, pale strawberry hue, aromas of roses, flavors of yeast and ripe peaches; $60.

· 2009 Pascal Jolivet “Attitude” Rosé Pinot Noir, Loire Valley, France (pinot noir, gamay, cabernet sauvignon): light and lively, crisp and fruity, with tart cherry flavors, tart finish; $16.
· 2009 La Scolca “Rosa Chiara'' Rosato, Piedmont, Italy (cortese, pinot noir): aromas of camellias, flavors of tart cherries and minerals, soft, rich and dry; $16.
· 2009 El Coto de Rioja Rosado, Rioja, Spain (tempranillo, garnacha): tart, crisp
strawberry flavors, lean, with a hint of tannin; $14.
· 2009 Hecht & Bannier Rosé, Vin de Pays d'Oc, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (syrah, cinsault, grenache): ripe, red raspberry flavors, crisp, intense fruit, tart finish; $13.
· 2009 Santi “Infinito” Rosé, Bardolino, Veneto, Italy (corvina, rondinella, molinara): rich, tart strawberries, full-bodied, tart finish; $11.


Posted by Fred Tasker at 10:31 AM in Food and Drink, French Wine, Italian Wine, Spanish Wine, Sparkling Wine
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June 24, 2010

Chardonnay evolves, remains a favorite


    Thirty-four years after the “tasting heard 'round the world"  -- a comparative sampling in Paris in which the American Chateau Montelena's 1973 chardonnay beat France's top burgundies -- California chardonnay continues to evolve. And improve.
    It stands to reason. We've been making chardonnay seriously on a large scale for less than 50 years; the French have been at it since 1041.
    It's been an uphill battle. In the 1990s, California winemakers were movie stars, believing it was their role to manipulate their wines with too much oak aging, too much fancy secondary fermentation that turned them into flabby, fruit bombs that smelled like sawmills.
    Then reason began to prevail. Winemakers adopted the French philosophy that great wine comes from great grapes, and the winemaker's role is to stand aside and let it happen.
    Vineyard managers are paying attention to selection of the right clones of grapes, the shapes of trellises, the density of vines, pruning methods and even the direction in which they plant their rows.
    After 20 years of growing its chardonnay in the Napa Valley, Patz & Hall has switched to the cooler Sonoma coast, seeking crisper acids and more minerality. MacRostie Winery is also introducing a new chardonnay with grapes from Sonoma's Carneros region, which is cooled by the fogs from San Pablo Bay.
    Still, Napa remains a popular source for chardonnay grapes. Groth Vineyards gets grapes from the cooler Oak Knoll district for citrus and mineral flavors and from warmer Oakville for apple flavors. Winemakers are using less -- even no -- oak aging. Dancing Bull Winery, for example, ferments chardonnay cool in computerized, temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve its crisp acids and intense fruit flavors.
   There's no resting on laurels here. And we're benefiting from it.

   Ø 2008 Chateau Montelena Winery Chardonnay, Napa Valley: aromas and flavors of oak and nuts, intense pears, vanilla and grapefruit, creamy and complex, with endless finish; an age-worthy wine; $50.
   Ø 2008 Patz & Hall Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast: aromas of camellias with hints of oak, flavors of white peaches, mangoes and minerals, crisp and silky; $35.

   Ø 2008 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay Private Reserve, Napa Valley: aromas and flavors of vanilla, hazelnuts and apricots, complex and creamy; $35.
   Ø 2008 MacRostie Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast: aromas and flavors of lemons, limes and golden apples, crisp acids, smooth body; $25.
   Ø 2008 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay, Central Coast: toasty oak aromas, flavors of vanilla and ripe pineapples, soft; $14.
   Ø  2008 Groth Vineyards Chardonnay, Napa Valley: golden apple and ripe citrus aromas and flavors, with mineral hints and crisp fruit; $29.
   Ø 2008 Dancing Bull Winery Chardonnay, Lodi/Central Valley: crisp, with flavors of ripe peaches and apricots; $12.
    Ø 2008 Beringer Vineyards Chardonnay, Napa Valley: aromas and flavors of golden apples, with crisp citrus undertones and long finish; $16.

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June 10, 2010

Pinot grigio will save your summer, wallet


     Summertime, and the livin' is easy. We tuck away the big cabernet sauvignons and barolos to mellow until fall. We break out the crisp, cool, light-bodied whites to go with fish grilled on the patio or chicken salads packed into picnic baskets.
   These days, the wine of choice for such endeavors is pinot grigio. Or pinot gris, if you want to be French about it. It probably originated in northern Italy, where pinot means pine, for the pine-cone shape of the grape bunches, and grigio means gray, for the frequent hue of the grapes.
   A decade ago you hardly saw the wine in U.S. shops and supermarkets. Today it's one of the fastest-growing grapes, with California acreage soaring five-fold since 2000.
   At its best, pinot grigio is light and crisp, with aromas of camellias, flavors of white peaches and a nice, tart, lime-tinged finish.
   At its worst, it's never worse than neutral, unlike, say, a bad sauvignon blanc, which can be absolutely stinky.
   In a practical world, this is one of its biggest advantages. From a hideously overpriced wine list, one can always order the cheapest pinot grigio. You might not dazzle your guests, but you won't offend them.
   But let's not damn with faint praise. A good pinot grigio is a delight … fragrant, crisp, light, cool, tangy, refreshing, fruity … and cheap. That's the other nice thing about it. You seldom see a bottle over $15.
   Winemakers know a good thing. They wisely make pinot grigio/gris in ways that emphasize its advantages. They pick it in the cool early mornings, rush it to the crushing pads, ferment it cool in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks and forgo the oak-barrel aging that might dull the intensity of its fruit.
   The better winemakers age it on its lies, that is, the detritus of its grape skins, stems and leaves, and stir it occasionally, which adds a silky quality. They bottle it in airtight screw caps because it is best drunk within a year of its release.
   Typically, a pinot grigio is lighter, crisper, higher in acid. A pinot gris is fuller, richer, higher in alcohol. In France's Alsace region, a pinot gris might even be slightly sweet.
   So, with summer here and vacations nearing, the pinot grigio season has begun.

   Ø 2009 J Vineyards Pinot Gris, Calif.: crisp and intensely fruity, with flavors of oranges, hints of vanilla, silky texture and a tart finish; $15.
   Ø 2008 Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio “Mongris,'' DOC Collio, Italy: aromas and flavors of camellias and green apples, silky and smooth, lemon-lime finish; $18.

   Ø 2008 Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Gris, Santa Lucia Highlands: big, bold and creamy, with golden apple flavors and a hint of honey; $20.
   Ø 2008 Murphy-Goode Pinot Grigio, Calif.: golden apples and spice, with a tart lemony finish; $12.50.
   Ø 2007 Robert Pepi Pinot Grigio, Calif.: light and crisp, with green melon and green apple flavors, tart finish; $11.
   ø Nonvintage Barefoot Cellars Pinot Grigio, Calif. (pinot grigio, symphony, muscat, viognier and malvasia bianca grapes): light and crisp and slightly sweet, with ripe peach flavors; $7.
   ø 2009 Woodbridge Pinot Grigio, by Robert Mondavi, Calif. (pinot grigio, sauvignon
blanc, semillon, other aromatic white grapes): light and crisp, with aromas and flavors of white peaches and tart lime finish; $8.

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May 26, 2010

Sam Adams has beers for all seasons


   It must be fun to be Jim Koch. In 1984 at age 35, a high-powered management consultant with business and law degrees from Harvard, he decided, just for fun, to brew a batch of beer in his kitchen. He used an 1880 recipe from his great-great-grandfather.
   Within a year his home brew -- today's Sam Adams Boston Lager -- had been named the best beer in America in a national poll, and Koch had helped launch the microbrewery revolution that is exploding around the country to this day.
   Today Koch's 350 employees in breweries in Boston and Cincinnati turn out a million barrels of beer a year in 18 styles, from light to cream stout, plus a half-dozen seasonal brews.
   Still a home brewer at heart, Koch sponsors an annual beer competition that this year lured 1,300 entries in 22 categories. The three winners receive $5,000 and get to see their brews manufactured and distributed nationwide by Samuel Adams.
   The contest also has a 23rd category, for any brew that doesn't fit the designated categories. This brings out the extreme-beer iconoclasts who base their brews on potatoes, add maple syrup or molasses or try to out-macho each other with punitive amounts of hops or high alcohol levels.
   Koch this year created a Category 23 beer of his own this year. It's a Chocolate Chile Bock that starts out with a sweet, friendly chocolate flavor, then unleashes the punitive, throat-burning heat of hot chiles. Mercifully, this one is not for sale.

   REGULAR SAM ADAMS BREWS: Available year-round, these are $7.99 a six-pack.
   Ø Boston Lager: the original brew, from 1984. Malty and smooth, with a nice bitter hoppiness and long finish.
   Ø Light Beer: aromas and flavors of roasted nuts and hints of lemon rind.
   Ø Pale Ale: darker aromas and flavors, persistent hoppiness, medium body and smooth, long finish.
   Ø Latitude 48: big, creamy, persistent head; bitter hops flavors, hefty, long-lasting.
   Ø  Blackberry Witbier: light-bodied with sweet flavors from added orange peel and blackberries, the savoriness of coriander and a sweet-tart finish.

SUMMER SAM ADAMS BREWS: These seasonal beers are $13.99 per 12-pack.
   Ø Summer Ale: Brewed with lemon zest and a West African spice called Grains of Paradise, it's light-bodied, with citrus and spicy flavors.
   Ø Noble Pils: Light and powerfully hoppy, it is brewed from five kinds of hops, and has a honey-flavored finish.

CONTEST WINNERS: These beers are $9.99 per six-pack (two bottles of each type).
   Ø Sam Adams Longshot Old Ben Ale: By Michael Robinson of New Hampshire, it's A
super-rich, malty brew with a big, long-lasting beige head, full body and intense caramel flavors; 9 percent alcohol.
   Ø Sam Adams Lemon Pepper Saison Beer: By Sam Adams computer tech Jeremy White, this A Belgian-style brew that smells and tastes intensely of spice and lemon; 6.4 percent alcohol.
   Ø Mile High Barley Wine By Ben Miller of New Mexico, it's Deep red with a huge tan head, intense sweet barley and equally intense bitter-hop flavors; 10 percent alcohol.

Posted by Fred Tasker at 06:15 PM
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May 10, 2010

Wine fan wonders when to decant

Dear Fred,

    I took your recommendation in Thursday's article and got a bottle of the [Scala Dei red wine from Spain's Priorato region]. I'm serving it Friday evening. The small print on the bottle suggests decanting. Do you recommend it?

Jim Mattson

Dear Jim,

    Thanks for your interest. There are two reasons to decand. One, wines 10 years and older -- especially big reds -- may have "thrown a crust," meaning let down a little film of grapeskin sediment into the bottom of the bottle. To remove it, stand the bottle upright overnight to settle, then pour the wine into a decanter until you see the sediment reach the bottlemouth. Some people put a candle behind the bottleneck to better spot the sediment.

    Second, when a wine is young and big and hearty, getting a little air into it can soften it and make it better. In this case you can just splash into the decanter roughly to get that air.

    Either way, it can't hurt. You can make a ceremony out of it and impress your friends.

    Let me know how it turns out.

Fred Tasker

Posted by Fred Tasker at 11:41 AM
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May 07, 2010

Wines from Spain popular with Americans


    Even in hard economic times, Americans love wines from Spain. In fact, Spain surpassed France in wine exports last year, trailing only Italy in world popularity. 
    The reason: Spain's big, ripe reds and crisp, fruity whites fit American tastes. 
    Oh, and they're relatively cheap.
     Regional variety is another attraction. In the northwestern corner of the country, Galicia's cool, rainy, Rias Baixas produces whites, especially albarinos, that enjoy growing popularity. Meanwhile, over in the sunny northeastern corner, the Costers del Segre area of Catalonia with its hot, dry summers and cold, harsh winters is flourishing under a new generation of vineyard owners who are producing good reds.
    Also in Catalonia, 100 miles southwest of Barcelona, dry, sunny Priorato with its rugged terrain of crumbling schist has also been brought to life by modern winemakers who have rehabilitated the reputation of garnacha, a long-disrespected grape the French call grenache.
    Northeast of Madrid in the Ebro River Valley, Rioja produces Spain's most popular wines. In winter, mountains protect it from harsh winds off the Atlantic, and in summer there's little rain but lots of cloudy weather, preventing massive sun exposure. Made primarily from the tempranillo grape, Rioja's reds can be drunk early, but there are also examples of elegant wines discovered in cellars dating back into the 1930s.
    Straight north of Madrid, the Ribera del Duero gets icy Atlantic winds in winter and nearly twice the sunshine of neighboring Rioja in summer. Its main grape is also tempranillo, called tinto fino by the locals and “tempranillo on steroids” by wine fans. Rivaling Rioja's in quality, these wines include many of Spain's most expensive.

Ø 2009 Terras Gauda Abadia de San Campio, DO Rias Baixas (100 percent albarino): light and lively; very crisp; intense flavors of lemons, limes, kiwis; $20.
Ø 2004 Scala Dei Priorat, DOC Priorat (50 percent grenache, 27 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent syrah), DOC: full-bodied and rich; aromas and flavors of blueberries and licorice; big, ripe tannins; very smooth; $27.

    Ø 2006 Raimat Tempranillo, Costers del Segre (100 percent tempranillo), soft and rich, with black cherry and black pepper aromas and flavors; $10.
    Ø 2006 Viúa Zaco, Rioja (100 percent tempranillo): intensely fruity; light body; black plum and coffee flavors; firm tannins; $15.
    Ø 2004 Bodegas Bilbainas Viúa Pomal Reserva, DOC (100 percent tempranillo): intense tart cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors, medium body, crisp and lean; $21.
    Ø 2005 Legaris Crianza, Ribera del Duero, DO (100 percent tinto fino): full-flavored
and full-bodied; black cherries and licorice; big, ripe tannins; smooth; $27.

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April 29, 2010

Zinfandel: All-American grilling wine


     It's the time of year in South Florida when we plan our final barbecues of the
season, warily eyeing the coming summer with its heat, humidity and hurricanes … all the time watching people in national TV commercials gleefully dusting off their grills.
   As we cook burgers, sauce-slathered chicken and big steaks, it's one last excuse to break out bottles of America's omegrown wine … big, rich, hearty, red zinfandel.
   Zinfandel can be lush and packed with red-raspberry fruit, lean and firm like a
Bordeaux or anywhere between. Allowed to run its ripening course, the grape can easily develop so much fruit sugar that … when combined with yeast and fermented … it can build up alcohol levels of 15 percent or more, almost into the realm of port.
   Unlike the cool, computer-controlled fermentation crisp white wines undergo, zinfandels are generally allowed to seek their own temperatures in open-top vats, sometimes reaching 85 degrees or more, to extract maximum jammy fruit and deep color. This, too, encourages those high alcohol levels, and makes the wines seem even more generous.
   The V. Sattui Winery, established in 1885, has the advantage of getting its zinfandel from 94-year-old vines, which greatly concentrates its flavors. Interspersed with a “field blend'' of carignane, petite sirah, alicante and golden chasselas (thought to be the sherry grape called palomino), those vines yield rich and hearty wines.
   At Artezin Wines, winemaker Randle Johnson gathers zinfandel grapes from three Northern California counties: Amador for lush, jammy fruit, and Sonoma and Mendocino for spicey flavors.

· 2007V. Sattui Winery “Crow Ridge'' Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
         County (zinfandel with small amounts of carignane, petite sirah, alicante, golden   
         chasselas): ripe, rich red plum, cola and cinnamon aromas and flavors; full-bodied, 
         warm with alcohol, spicy; $33.
· 2008 Artezin Zinfandel, Amador, Mendocino and Sonoma counties: intense black
         raspberry, cinnamon and herbal aromas and flavors; full body; soft, creamy,
         smooth; rich tannins; $18.
· 2006 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi: powerful, full-bodied black raspberry and clove aromas and flavors; rich and hearty; $19.

· 2006 Sanctuary “Mariah Vineyard'' Zinfandel, Mendocinio Ridge (95 percent
         zinfandel, 5 percent petit sirah): aromas and flavors of oak, vanilla, black raspberry          
         and licorice; lush and fruity, with powerful alcohol; $24.

· 2007 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel, Calif.; rich and soft and fruity,
         with red raspberry flavors; $14.
· 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley: hearty and rich, with black cherry and cinnamon flavors; $6.
· 2007 Bonterra Zinfandel, Mendocino County (from organic grapes): black raspberry and bitter chocolate aromas and flavors; $13.
· 2007 DeLoach Zinfandel, Russian River Valley: black cherry and black coffee flavors; rich and hearty; $19.
· 2007 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel, California: black raspberry and espresso aromas and flavors; firm tannins; $18.
· 2005 Kunde Estate Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley: black cherry aromas and flavors; full-bodied and rich; $18.

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April 22, 2010

Cabernet sauvignon: the king of wine

Grapes      Whenever winemakers come to town to show off their wares to local restaurateurs, wine buyers and wine writers, the featured attraction tends to be their cabernet sauvignon. It's the wine of which they're proudest.
   Well, it is called the “king of wines,” the basis of France's famous Bordeaux blends, the backbone of America's îîmeritage'' wines and the perfect complement to the red-centered, black-crusted, charcoal-grilled New York strip … the quintessential red-meat-and-red-wine dinner of the red-blooded American, fat, cholesterol and calories be hanged.
   Winemakers go to lots of trouble with their cabernet sauvignons, taking decades to figure out where it grows best, sometimes plucking off individual leaves from vines to provide the perfect sun exposure, carefully working out perfect blends with other grapes,
buying $600 French oak barrels for aging.
   It's surprising how much a powerful grape like cabernet can be changed by the addition of even small quantities of other grapes. B.R. Cohn Winery adds 8.5 percent merlot and 4.7 percent caberrnet franc to its cab, making it smoother and richer. St. Supery adds just 2 percent merlot and 1 percent petit verdot for a similar effect.
   Recognizing that cabernet sauvignon's power needs taming, winemakers lavish care on it. Six to 28 months of aging in expensive French oak barrels soften its tannins, make it smoother, more subtle, with undertones of oak and vanilla aromas.
   Over time, certain areas are identified as growing the best grapes. Napa Valley's Howell Mountain is known for rich and powerful wines, warmer areas like Paso Robles make softer cabs, as in the Hope Family's Liberty School Cabernte Sauvignon.
   Even smaller areas can make a difference. Markham Vineyards single-vineyard cab from its Yountville Vineyard, dubbed “The Philanthropist,'' is called a “monster'' by its own winemaker, who says it needs 10 years of aging to be ready. Markham's single-vineyard cab from its Calistoga Ranch vineyard, on the other hand, is described as “more feminine.”
   It seems to work. In the tough wine sales year of 2009, California cabs were up 7 percent.

   ø 2006 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: powerful,full-bodied complex aromas and flavors of blackcurrants, black cherries and mocha, rich and smooth, endless finish; $115.
   ø 2006 Markham Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon “The Altruist,” Calistoga Ranch Vineyard: rich, ripe and approachable, with black raspberry and licorice aromas and flavors; $53.
   ø 2005 St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (97 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2
percent merlot, 1 percent petit verdot): black cherries, black coffee, black licorice, firm tannins; $30.
   ø 2007 B.R. Cohn Winery Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast (86.8 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8.5 percent merlot, 4.7 percent cabernet franc): black plums and cocoa aromas and flavors, rich and ripe; $20.
   ø 2007 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles: rich, ripe red raspberry flavors, soft tannins; $12.
   ø 2006 Markham Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon îîThe Philosopher,'' Yountville Vineyard: muscular black plum and bittersweet chocolate flavors, powerful tannins and acids, concentrated, ageworthy; $53.
   ø 2007 Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon, Calif.: ripe and soft, with black cherry and herbal aromas and flavors; $14.
   ø 2006 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley (85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent syrah, 7 percent petit verdot): black cherries, licorice and mocha, bright and lively; $34.

Posted by Fred Tasker at 11:42 AM
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