Tag Archives: California wine

Expensive wine 21: Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Another reminder why points are worthless.

The Grgich ($60, sample) is a gorgeous, beautiful wine with all elements in balance, and it's only going to get better as it ages. It's a lesson in winemaking — how to produce a Napa Valley cabernet that speaks to the terroir without the excesses (too much oak, too much fruit) that drive so many of us crazy.

So what scores did this wine get? How about 89 points from something called the Connoisseur's Guide? How about 92 from the Spectator? I've got $10 wines that score that well. To add insult to injury, Robert Parker wrote: ".. high acids and high tannin give the wine a monochromatic, clipped, lean character that will not age out. Rather, the wine is likely to dry out."

All of that negativity, of course, is because the Grgich is a gorgeous, beautiful wine without any of the excesses that drive so many of us crazy and that earn the wines with the excesses such high scores. Look for black cherries and a rich, long finish without any of the sweetish fruit that the excess wines display — and, at the risk of offending Mr. Parker, this wine is not going to dry out.

This is a holiday wine for prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, or nuy it as a gift for someone you really like and who will really appreciate it. And, thanks to the recession, it's available for as little as $45 at a variety of Internet retailers.

Mini-reviews 19: Contra, William Hill, Beaujolais Nouveau, 181 Merlot

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.

? Georges Dub uf Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 ($8, purchased): Ripe bananas on the nose and a very thin and acidic body. Yet another in a long line of disappointing Nouveaus.

? 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.

Wine of the week: Bogle Petite Sirah 2008

Consistency is the difference between great cheap wine and ordinary cheap wine. Two Buck Chuck, for all of its acclaim, does not taste the same from year to year, and its quality goes up and down with regularity. Even better made wines, like Meridian, suffer from this problem. One vintage will be terrific and the next will be much less than that (which is why its chardonnay is dropping out of the $10 Hall of Fame next year).

Bogle's wines, on the other hand, do not have this problem. I have been writing about cheap wine for almost 20 years, and for almost 20 years I have always depended on Bogle. It has never let me down. The petite sirah ($10, purchased) is the winery's showpiece, an outstanding example of the producer's quality and consistency. It is always clean and always varietally correct, which means it's not the same thing as a syrah and is not made to taste like one. This is saying something given the current trend toward blending varietal wines to make them sweeter and fruitier in a misguided attempt to appease the American palate.

Look for berry fruit, a touch of oak, and tannins at the end that give the wine some welcome oomph. This is a burly red meat wine — pot roast and gravy, stews that have been cooking all day, and the like. Highly recommended, and the kind of $10 wine to drink to celebrate the blog's third birthday. It's the kind of cheap wine that makes writing about cheap wine a pleasure.

Mini-reviews 18: Torino rose, Grgich merlot, Carobelle, Jaja de Jau

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.

? Michel Torino Malbec Ros 2009 ($12, sample): Surprisingly disappointing, given how well-made so many Argentine wines are at this price. There's nothing especially wrong with it; rather, it doesn't deliver anything that most $8 or $10 roses don't.

? Grgich Hills Estate Grown Merlot 2006 ($42, sample): The kind of red wine that helped California establish its reputation as one of the world's great wine regions — and, best yet, it's not overpriced. Holiday gift? It's still young, with cherry fruit in the middle, but a mushroomy nose and lots of finish. Should improve with age.

? Domaine de Carobelle Gigondas 2008 ($20, purchased): A terrific value at $15 and an excellent example of the Rhone's Gigondas region, with dark fruit and pepper. But the weak dollar (or a greedy retailer?) has done this red wine in, given that one can buy really nice wine for $20.

? Le Jaja de Jau 2007 ($11, purchased): This red is New World-style wine wine in Old World clothing, with a lot of fruit and not much subtlety. It's not bad, just not what it was when it was one of the world's great cheap wines (and it's also twice the price).

Wine of the week: 337 Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

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.

Wine of the week: Homestead Winery Don Gabriel Zinfandel 2007

Texas winemakers and grape growers are slowly moving away from the traditional European varietals, like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, in favor of lesser known grapes that are better suited to the state's hot, dry climate.

The favorites of the moment are viognier, a white grape from the south of France, which several wineries have turned into an attractive alternative to chardonnay, and the Spanish tempranillo, which has produced some fine wines in limited use. I'm not as sold on tempranillo as many others in Texas are, for it can be a difficult grape to work with in the winery and it may have ripening problems in the state.

All of which is a roundabout way to get to the Don Gabriel. Zinfandel is a grape that has been overlooked in Texas, which is kind of surprising. It's a warm climate varietal that has enjoyed great success in California, and we know much more about growing it in this country than we do tempranillo.

Because, based on the Don Gabriel ($13, sample), we should be growing more of it in Texas. Winemaker Gabe Parker makes some very interesting wines, and I've even had a pinot noir blend (unheard of in Texas) that was quite pleasant. The Don Gabriel is a fruity — yes, the traditional blueberry — with low alcohol and black pepper. It's not as jammy as California zinfandel, but that's not necessarily a problem. Unfortunately, the Don Gabriel doesn't have retail distribution, but it is available through the winery. Pair this with fall barbecue and tomato sauces.