Finally, the temperatures have dropped….and hearty red wine is on the menu for dinner tonight paired with a juicy steak, braised lamb or even a cedar planked, smoked salmon. Here are a few favorites I have tried recently that are begging to be enjoyed with the finest autumn flavors and winter delights. Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.
I love the merriment of celebrating the Beaujolais Nouveau of the season as much as the next guy, and happily raise a glass at the annual Beaujolais Festival every year, but I am so thrilled that the past few years the French American Chamber of Commerce, the team behind this well loved event, has added other wines, first showcasing many of the finest from Texas, and recently adding wine from throughout France and California. I had a chance to try a few of this years selections last night at the festival kick-off event presented by the French American Chamber of Commerce and Goody-Goody, attending as their guest, and can pleasantly say we are in store for some great wine this year. A few standouts included a Left-Bank Bordeaux from Chateau Ducluzeau blending 50% Cab with 50% Merlot to create a highly structured, bold wine filled with ripe red fruit, stone, spice and leather. Though not as hearty as some of the other wines included in this post, they poured a lush and lovely, nicely balanced and youthful Merlot based rose that was gorgeous, Chateau Rol Valentin Rose from Right-Bank Bordeaux.
Similar to Bordeaux, and every other wine country in the world, I am always amazed and delighted by traveling very short distances in an area like Napa Valley will yield completely different styles and flavors in their wine, specifically the prized variety of the area, Napa Valley. From Spring Mountain, overlooking the town of St. Helena, Newton Vineyards creates bold, elevated and elegant varietally correct wines from sustainably farmed estate fruit. Their Unfiltered 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon displays the characteristics of the mountain, filled with layers of blackberry, juniper and dark chocolate with touches of dried herbs and slight floral notes. I had a chance to visit the winery earlier this year as their guest and walk the vines with winemaker Chris Millard. The completely hand harvested mountain vineyards thrive in the rocky terrain, picking up earthy characteristics of the land. Keeping the wine unfiltered ensures those flavors from the vineyard are preserved in the bottle.
Stoney Hill Vineyard was originally a goat farm on Spring Mountain when the McCrea family bought the land in the 1940′s. A family operation still today, though that does include quite an extensive family, the small production winery has focused its efforts the past 60+ years on making a fresh, vibrant and mineral rich Chardonnay, however at the very top of their vineyards they planted Cabernet Sauvignon in an area that would receive adequate heat and sunshine to ensure the grapes would fully ripen. Their 2009 is filled with ripe berry and cherry flavors mingled with cocoa, sweet spice and mineral notes. Juicy, ripe and elegant.
Just down the mountain and north of St. Helena is Vineyard 29. First planted by legendary Napa vineyard manager David Abreu in the early 1990′s when then owners Teresa Norton and Tom Paine found their property was ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2000 Chuck and Anne McMinn acquired the stewardship and brought on legendary winemaker Philippe Melka to make the wines for this ever expanding winery, incorporating some of Chuck’s innovative techniques. The vines benefit from gravelly soil with good drainage and early morning sunlight and afternoon shade, ensuring the right amount of stress without damaging the fruit. Vineyard 29 Cru 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon displays this with a wine filled with dried lavender, dried herbs and dried cherry aromas, followed by flavors of mocha, espresso and black fruit.
Cut across from Highway 29 to the Silverado Trail on Zinfandel Lane or one of the many other cross overs and head up Howell Mountain to experience some of the best fruit in the valley from wineries like Viader, Lail, O’Shaughnessy, Cade, even my friend Dave Miner has a few vines at his home on the mountain. As does Ladera Vineyards with roots traced back to the later 1870′s when Jean Brun, a native of Bordeaux, and Jean V. Chaix, planted Medoc, Bordeaux grapes on the mountain instead of the Napa Valley floor…the first to do so. Today their earthy 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon still resembles some of the best in Bordeaux, with layers of ripe red fruit, mocha, licorice and abundant, yet elegant tannins creating an inviting and well structured wine that is beautiful now, but will continue to evolve and soften as it ages a bit more.
Head back to Highway 29 and south to just on the other side of Rutherford to Cakebread, the family run winery celebrating 40 years next year and still creating beautiful Napa Valley Chardonnay, Sauvginon Blanc, Merlot, Syrah, Zin and Cabernet Sauvignon from fruit grown throughout the valley. Though they do have several single vineyard wines, I love their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, blending grapes from dozens of separate lots of wine to create a balanced, well structured and undeniably Napa Cabernet filled with blackberry, boysenberry, dried fig and plum notes with touches of smokey cedar, minerals and dust.
Malbec from Washington was a new idea for me, but I tried one very small production one from Chateau Ste. Michelle recently and was impressed. Not as earthy as some of those from Argentina, but still filled with those characteristic black cherry, plum, leather and spice flavors that you would expect that paired nicely with a medium rare rosemary and garlic roasted tenderloin.
I had a chance to try a few other Malbec wines this week, these from Argentina at a Wines of Argentina “Game of Grapes” trade event. I am a huge Argentine fan, especially their Malbec blends, and am always excited to try a few new ones. Though this event featured many of the usual suspects, like the elegant wines of Luigi Bosca, approachable wines of Catena Zapata, and the beautiful Clos de los Siete led by Michel Rolland, two wines really stood out. Vistaflores Altamira Navigato Family Selection 2006 from Valle de Uco blends Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec and a touch of Cabernet Franc for a nicely structured, elegant wine filled with spice, black cherry and leather notes that was good now but could easily age another 5-10 years.
Another good wine, especially for the price, came from Casa Bianchi with their 2009 Famiglia Bianchi Malbec. Priced around $18 this 100% Malbec tasted like a $40 bottle of wine with rich cherry and plum notes, smoke and spice and a long, elegant finish.
Carmenere is the grape of Chile, but their wine production doesn’t stop there with intensely flavorful and affordable Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet being produced every year. I had a chance to join a blogger tasting of several Chilean wines recently enjoying both their spicy, pepper filled Carmenere wines and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. From Ventisquero Winery, 2009 Grey, a 94% Cabernet/6% Petit Verdot blend from the Maipo Valley, filled the palate with intense flavors of dried fruit, dried herbs and leather with a long, lush finish.
From Vina Los Vacos a huge wine from the Colchagua Valley, Le Dix 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with about 10% Carmeners and 5% Syrah creating a spice and pepper filled flavor profile enhanced with black cherry and blackberry, dark chocolate and a touch of licorice. Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, this is a big wine that will benefit from a little more time in the bottle, but with the use of a Vinturi and time to open it paired nicely with tacos al carbon with spicy roasted salsa.