Tag Archives: cabernet sauvignon

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Expensive wine 88: Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignonm 2013

Penfolds Bin 407The post-modern Australian wine business deals in more irony than a pulp detective story has bad similies. One of the most ironic is that Penfolds, for decades the best known and among the best Aussie producers, is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, which is giving new meaning to the term Big Wine.

Somehow, Penfolds still makes great wine. I’ve been lucky enough to taste the Grange, generally considered the greatest Australian wine, and it is. The Bin 407 ($57, sample, 14.5%), which costs about $500 less than The Grange, shows how committed Penfolds remains to quality.

Look for that unique style of Aussie black fruit – deep and rich and generous and sweet, but because it’s Penfolds, not overdone and surprisingly in balance. Also, layers and layers of other flavors, including lots of pepper and spice. The tannins, too, are firm, and don’t disappear in a wave of fruit.

Highly recommended, and especially for any fathers who appreciates cabernet. The wine is still a little young, but is ready to drink now, and would pair with almost any Father’s Day barbecue.

Family-Shot-Barefoot-Wine_slide

Barefoot wine review 2015

Barefoot wine revie 2015How is Barefoot the best-selling wine brand in the country, and perhaps the only wine costing less than $10 to thrive during premiumization? Because Barefoot is wine for people who don’t drink wine, and this year’s labels are excellent examples of that approach. And if the chardonnay was a touch sweet, the cabernet sauvignon was pleasant enough to drink again.

In this, it’s not so much that the cabernet ($6, purchased, 13.5%) and the chardonnay ($6, purchased, 13%) are simple, but that there is a method to their simplicity — sophisticated winemaking is used to get them to taste the way they do. Each wine emphasizes its fruit while pushing the stuff casual wine drinkers don’t like, the tannins and acid, to the background. The result? A soft, fruit-forward wine made for someone who buys Barefoot to have a glass or two in the evening, re-cork what’s left, and then drink again the next night. Frankly, that’s an impressive achievement for a $6 wine.

The cabernet, with an Argentine appellation but no vintage, was more enjoyable than the chardonnay, with a surprising amount of cabernet character, juicy dark berry fruit, almost no acidity, and enough tannins so that I noticed them but not so noticeable as to bother the brand’s target demographic. This is a red wine that is smooth and easy drinking, two terms that make wine geeks cringe but that are perfectly understandable to the people who buy Barefoot, and are the reasons they buy it.

The chardonnay tasted much like Cupcake’s chardonnay — not quite sugary, but sweet enough to linger on the tongue, plus caramel fake oak and lots and lots of green apple fruit. There was almost no acidity, and the sweetness helped mask a bitterness on the finish (probably from tannins from grape seeds and stems). That Barefoot delivers the same wine as Cupcake for half the price speaks volumes about how smart Barefoot parent E&J Gallo is. This wine is also non-vintage, and the grapes are from California.

More Barefoot wine reviews:
? Barefoot wine review 2014
? Barefoot wine review 2013
? Barefoot wine review 2012

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Mini-reviews 71: Vin Vault, Rueda, Arido, Avalon

vin vaultReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

? Vin Vault Pinot Noir 2013 ($20 for 3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California red, part of E&J Gallo’s assault on the booming box wine business, offers much more than $5 a bottle worth of value (since a 3-liter box equals four bottles). Look for red fruit and soft tannins, though it tastes more like a red blend than pinot noir (and my guess is that it has been blended with lots of grenache or syrah). Still, it’s pleasant drinking and a huge step up from most $5 pinot noir.

? Marqu s de C ceres Rueda 2013 ($8, purchased, 12.5%): This version of the Spanish white from one of Spain’s biggest producers is made with the verdejo grape. It’s much more balanced than previous vintages — the lemon fruit is more rounded and it’s less harsh. A steal at this price, though it’s still a simple wine, and its tartness may put some people off.

? rido Malbec 2013 ($10, sample, 13.7%): Just another Argentine grocery store malbec with lots and lots of sweet red fruit, some tannins that don’t really fit with the sweet fruit, and not much else. It’s an example of why I liked this malbec so much.

? Avalon Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($10, sample, 13.9%): This California red is not the old $10 Napa Avalon cabernet, one of the great cheap wines of all time and which now costs as much as $18. But it’s professionally made, if hardly complex, and mostly a value with soft tannins, black fruit, a little mouth feel, and some acid to round it out. If you’re in a grocery store and need a red wine for dinner, this will be fine.

 

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Expensive wine 70: Hess Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2008

Hess Cabernet Sauvignon The wine world, and especially the red wine world, is as class conscious as Victorian Britain. It’s not enough that serious wine drinkers aren’t supposed to drink cheap wine. They’re also not supposed to drink certain brands, not if they want to hang with the cool kids.

Fortunately for the blog’s visitors, the Wine Curmudgeon could care less about the cool kids. Quality and value are way cooler than the cool kids’ idea of wine, which too often revolves around write-ups like this one, about a $5,400 bottle.

Which brings us to the Hess ($45, sample, 14.6%), which is about as quality and value driven as a red wine from Napa Valley can be at this price:

? Terroir. Napa Valley is not a monolith, but made up of smaller appellations. Wines from these sub-regions should reflect that, and the Hess, from Mount Veeder, does. There’s an almost earthiness you don’t see in wine from other places, and it has aged remarkably well.

? Balance. This is more than concentrated sweet fruit, which the cool kids love. You can drink a glass and not wonder if the wine is as dry as it is supposed to be.

?Varietally correct. Cabernet should have grip, and the Hess does. But it still offers the deep black fruit that is typical of Napa Valley.

Highly recommended, both for holiday dinners and as a gift for cabernet drinkers. And particularly for anyone who wants to understand what Napa cabernet sauvignon can taste like when the wine is made without worrying about what the cool kids think.

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Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

Chateau MontelenaThis is the second time this year that the Wine Curmudgeon has been able to talk to one of the participants from the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. I wonder: Do the rest of the people who do what we do realize how lucky we are?

The occasion was a live cyber tasting last week with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, whose family’s chardonnay bested France’s white Burgundies at the Paris tasting. Which was unthinkable 40 years ago, if only because the most planted white grape in California was the colombard used to make jug wine.

We tasted the 2006 Montelena estate cabernet sauvignon ($150, sample, 13.9%) and the 2012 chardonnay ($50, sample, 13.8%), and both were fascinating. The red was so subtle that I didn’t think anyone made cabernet like this in Napa anymore, given the restraint in fruit and alcohol. In fact, The Big Guy (who joined me at Wine Curmudgeon world headquarters for the tasting) laughed after took his first sip. “It doesn’t have enough alcohol,” he said. Then we both laughed when I told him that one of the wine magazines scored it 88 points, which means it’s not any better than many of my $10 wines. And people wonder why scores are stupid.

Look for dark cherry fruit, black pepper and smokiness, enough acidity to offset all that, and an almost dusty finish. This is a food wine, and the more red meat the better. And it will continue to improve with age, getting darker and dustier.

The chardonnay was a worthy successor to the wine that won the Judgment — one of the best California chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The balance was impeccable, especially in a wine this young, with crisp green apple and pear fruit, oak skillfully integrated throughout, a richness that belies all the crispness, and the beginnings of what will be signature minerality on the finish. Highly recommended, even at this price, and a holiday gift for anyone who loves chardonnay.

I asked Barrett what he did differently with chardonnay, compared to so many others in Napa, and his answer was perfect: He made the wine that the grapes gave him, and not to show what a wonderful winemaker he was. There’s no better description for a wine than that.

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Expensive wine 68: Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Kelly Fleming Cabernet SauvignonIn those long ago days before the recession, when price was no object for producers and their goal was to make Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon as over the top as possible, the Kelly Fleming cabernet sauvignon was not unusual. $90? No big deal. 14.8 percent alcohol? Nice, but not 15.1 percent.

What makes the Fleming (sample) unusual and worth reviewing six years later is that it held up in a way that many other wines from that fairy tale era have not. I cleaned out the wine closet at the end of this winter, working my way through a dozen or so bottles of similar wines that I got as samples when high-end producers still sent samples, and most of the wines were gone, faded and old. Some of the $100 wines had even started to turn to vinegar.

The Fleming, on the other hand, not only held up, but improved with age. Which I certainly didn’t expect. It was balanced in a way that it wouldn’t have been in 2011, with lots of black fruit but where the whole was greater than the sum of the fruit. The tannins were soft but noticeable, and the finish was spicy, long, and surprisingly complex. This is wine, and not something to marvel at — high praise from the Wine Curmudgeon for this style of wine.

Having said all of this, the Fleming is still a pre-recession, $90 bottle of Napa cabernet with all that entails. It is not subtle, but still showy in the way those wines are. Most of us will wonder why we would want to spend that much money. But if you like this style, and you have the money or dine at expensive steak houses, then you’ll enjoy this — and be glad you bought it and not something else.

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Cupcake wine review 2014

Cupcake wine review 2014 ? Cupcake Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($9, purchased, 13.5%)

? Cupcake Pinot Grigio 2013 ($9, purchased, 12.5%)

Whenever the Wine Curmudgeon reviews Cupcake wines, I always end up writing as much about the brand and the company that owns Cupcake as I do about the wines. That’s because Cupcake may be the most fascinating wine brand in the world today, where what’s in the bottle doesn’t matter nearly as much as how the wine is marketed. It’s genius, actually, all those red velvet cake descriptors propelling the brand to national awareness without any help from the Winestream Media or scores.

Who else would have the nerve to market a wine called Chloe, with a suggested price of $17, targeting “weddings, birthdays and other celebratory gatherings” without any hint of what it tastes like? Or that calling it Chloe has more than a little to do with the name’s popularity for baby girls over the past decade?

Which doesn’t mean Cupcake wines are bad. They inhabit the region between the boring grocery store stuff and the best cheap wine. In this, think of the chain restaurant business, where Cupcake is an upscale steakhouse like Capital Grille or Fleming’s, and the rest of it is Red Lobster and Texas Roadhouse. The food is better at the former, but in the end it’s still chain food, and these wines, no matter how much Cupcake dresses them up, are still chain wines.

The cabernet, from California, is full, fruity, and almost balanced, with soft tannins, cherry fruit, and an odd sort of chocolate flavor. It’s not quite sweet, though the residual sugar is higher than in most red wines. It’s much better than I expected it to be, and certainly drinkable. If you’re going to make a focus group wine, this is the way to do it.

The Italian-made pinot grigio, on the other hand, is surprisingly disappointing, given how easy it is to make cheap, palatable pinot grigio. It’s oddly disjointed, with a dollop of sweet white fruit in the middle, a quality that doesn’t go with its traditional, Italian-style quinine approach that makes up the rest of the wine and is so popular among women of a certain age. My guess is that the dollop is there to sweeten the wine in line with Cupcake’s flavor profile, a winemaking trick that is cheaper or easier or more legal than adding sugar.

So one yes and one no. Assuming, of course, you can’t find a better $10 wine, which isn’t all that difficult. The labels just aren’t as much fun to read.

For more on Cupcake wine:
? Cupcake wine review 2013
? Cupcake wine review 2012