The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon is honest wine, made to taste like its grape and where it’s from – something missing in too many California wines these days
The amount of California cabernet sauvignon that costs as much as $20 that tastes like boozy fruit juice – sweet, even – should embarrass anyone who cares about wine. What’s the point of making wine at that price that doesn’t taste like its grape or where it’s from? Fortunately, we have the Cannonball cabernet sauvignon to remind us that it’s possible to buy quality and not spend $30 or $40.
The Cannonball cabernet sauvignon ($14, purchased, 13.8%) comes from the same company that produces the top-notch Angels & Cowboys rose, so it’s no surprise that the wine is as well made as it is. In fact, given how much wretched California cabernet I’ve tasted over the past 18 months, the Cannonball is a revelation. And it’s especially welcome with the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame coming on Friday.
This is honest winemaking, and not something put together by the marketing department. Look for mint, green herbs, and dark fruit aromas, followed by rich, but not too ripe black fruit (black cherry?, blackberry?), fine-grained tannins that add to the wine and don’t make you wince, and a chalky, pleasant finish.
A tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Ray Isle of Food & Wine, who recommended the Cannonball. Pair this with any winter red meat dish – something as simple as meat loaf or gooey cheeseburgers, but even Saturday night prime rib or roast lamb. Highly recommended.
Duckhorn’s Washington state Canvasback cabernet sauvignon speaks to terroir, value, and quality
California producers have been buying land in Washington state recently, something that surprised a lot of people. But why not? Land prices in Washington are a fraction of what they are in Napa Valley, where Duckhorn Vineyards makes its highly-rated red wines. So Washington gives it a chance to make quality wine, like the Canvasback cabernet sauvignon, for half of what its Napa wine costs.
And the Canvasback cabernet sauvignon ($37, sample, 14.5%) does Washington proud. In this, it tastes like Washington state wine, and not an extracted, overripe Duckhorn Napa knockoff. The company and Canvasback winemaker Brian Rudin deserve much credit for this; given the way wine works, it would have been much easier – and more expected – to do it the Napa way.
Instead, look for more freshness, juicy cherry fruit, some green herbs (thyme?), and even some spice. It’s not a heavy wine, and as young as it is, should age a little – the fruit will become less juicy and the wine will get rounder and fuller. Best yet, Rudin didn’t get carried away with the oak. There’s enough there to do what needs to be done with cabernet, but not so much that it gets in the way of the wine.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for a dinner party or spring holiday with prime rib or any fancy red meat.
Reviews 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. This month, the 2016 closeout edition.
• Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel 2014 ($25, sample, 14.5%): OK California zinfandel that isn’t what it once was, when it ranked with Ridge for quality. But it fits the parameters for what zinfandel is supposed to taste like today. Lots of sweet black fruit, though a bit of spice and earth on the back.
• Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2007 ($45, sample, 15.5%): No, not a typo, but a California red that I got as a sample when the blog started and has been sitting the wine fridge since then. It’s made to taste exactly the way it tastes to wow the Winestream Media. In other words, rich, elegant, not quite sweet grape juice with some oak. If you like that style, you’ll love this wine.
• Bodegas Salentein Killka Malbec 2014 ($13, sample, 14%): Competent premiumized Argentine red wine, with less fruit than most. But in the end, it’s still sweetish and not very interesting – another in a long line of malbecs made to taste a certain way and do that one thing very well.
A cabernet sauvignon that isn’t too bad, but a merlot that really isn’t necessary
The 2016 Cupcake wine review features the top-selling brand’s cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The cabernet surprised me; it mostly tastes like cabernet, and may be the best Cupcake wine I’ve tasted in the six years I’ve done a Cupcake wine review. The merlot? The less said, the better.
The California cabernet sauvignon 2014 ($10, purchased, 13.5%) smells like boysenberries, not unlike pancake house boysenberry syrup without the sweetness. It’s mostly dark fruit, but barely sweet at all in the way so many grocery store wines are jammed with sweet fruit. The mouth feel is surprisingly full, again not what I expected, and the tannins and acidity are pleasantly noticeable and in balance.
The catch is the finish, which involves some horrible fake oak that can best be described as tasting like cheap, bitter, poorly made cocoa powder. It stayed in my mouth despite my best efforts to get rid of it with repeated rinsing.
The California merlot 2014 ($10, purchased, 13.5%) was thin, bland, dull, and uninteresting. It wasn’t fruity or earthy (though there was a funky aroma that blew off after a minute or so) in the way that most merlots are one or the other. Even more surprising was that there wasn’t any finish, and there’s usually at least a crummy one on this kind of wine. But the merlot vanished the minute I spit it out.
Given how many grocery store merlots suffer from an overabundance of flavor and fruit, the merlot is hard to figure out. My guess? Just poor quality grapes, which may also account for the funky aroma.
Argento cabernet sauvignon — $10 wine that is varietally correct, and how often does that happen?
The Argento cabernet sauvignon does something that almost no other $10 cabernet can do – deliver legitimate cabernet character. Or as my old pal Rick Rockwell (who likes wine but knows better than to obsess about it) said, “I can’t believe this wine is this good for $10.”
Look for fresh red fruit, but not so much that it overwhelms what is a simple yet well made wine. There are enough tannins, plus real oak (hard to believe in a wine of this price), and even something herbal. The latter makes a huge difference, transforming this from just another grocery store wine into something worth drinking.
The Goldschmidt Yeoman Vineyard is a high-end California red wine with a purpose.
One criticism of high-end California wine is that it isn’t made to age, and that the $50 or $75 or $100 that you spend isn’t going to buy something as interesting as a Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Rioja. But that’s not the case with the Goldschmidt Yeoman Vineyard.
This red wine from a very specific part of Sonoma County is so complex and has so many layers that I can barely begin to describe it. On the one hand, it’s firmly in the California style – lots and lots and lots of dark fruit (black raspberries?). On the other, if you can get past the fruit, you’ll see the wine’s underpinnings – a rich and almost luscious structure, hints of the tannins that hold the finish together, and the almost obvious oak that will eventually become part of the wine instead of something distinct.
I didn’t decant or let the Goldschmidt Yeoman Vineyard ($75, sample, 14.3%) sit before I tasted it; I just opened the wine and drank it. That was a mistake. The difference between the first glass and the last, about 45 minutes later, was a hint of what will come as the wine ages for another decade (or even longer). The fruit became less jammy, the oak was more integrated, and the tell-tale Alexander Valley tannins started showing.
This is a fascinating wine, even at this price, and anyone who wants to see what can be done with high-end California wine should think about investing in a bottle.
The 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.