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, a special all red wines edition.
? Bonny Doon Contra 2009 ($14, sample): This Rhone blend is not exactly an upscale version of the old Big House Red, but it’s close enough. Lots of spice and fruit, though it does need food.
? William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($23, sample): A surprisingly well done and balanced Napa cabernet that is more or less affordable. It’s a step up from more inexpensive cabernets like Avalon and 337, with more body and structure.
? 181 Merlot 2008 ($15, sample): A merlot from the same company that does the 337 cabernet sauvignon. Offers structure and substance for less than $25, which doesn’t happen often. On the other hand, the tasting notes compare Lodi, where the grapes are from, to merlot’s Garden of Eden in Pomerol, which is a bit much.
It's not easy to find quality, inexpensive cabernet sauvignon. There's plenty of cheap cabernet out there, but most of it is either too tannic, too green (with flavors resembling bell peppers), or too grapey to bother with. In fact, this is one of the few areas where the Wine Curmudgeon has mostly given up finding decent wine for $10 or less.
When you raise the price bar to $15, the standard has always been Avalon's Napa cabernet, which offers a bit of sophistication and style with plenty of quality California fruit. I've always thought the Avalon was superior to wines that cost $20 and more.
Which is why the 337 (about $15, sample) was such a pleasant surprise. I had tasted a previous vintage a couple of years ago when my Cordon Bleu class did its red wine extravaganza, but had not thought much about it until last week. That's when I saw this bottle in the back of the wine closet and remembered that my class had enjoyed the wine. If the 337 is not up the level of the Avalon, that's not an insult. It has cherry fruit that isn't overdone and the requisite varietal characteristics — zingy tannins and a decent finish. It's a red meat wine for cooler fall nights. One note: You might find some of the 2008 vintage, which should be OK.
And the name? 337 refers to the name of the clone of cabernet used to make the wine. What's a clone? It's a version of cabernet that has been bred for a specific purpose. In this case, 337 is the clone of cabernet used to make the wine.