By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
There are several lessons to be learned this week from my tastings of exciting Cabernet Sauvignon finds for the holidays. Perhaps most notable is the fact that more expensive wines are often better. That should be no surprise and the fact does come with some caveats. As prices move upwards past $50, the noticeable improvement becomes less and more esoteric – subtle differences in structure and balance are paramount.
It is nice if Cabernet tastes like Cabernet. There are a lot of wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon that taste lovely – blackberry, plum, cherry – but they are missing blackcurrant (cassis) aromas and flavors. Seek out those that deliver the character that made this variety famous.
Let the wine breathe – or force it to! Go back a few weeks to my instructions on decanting with aeration. You will be happier with the almost immediate improvement in aroma and flavor.
Since I’m such a mature individual, I’ve known a lot of Northwest winemakers since they began production. This is true of Quilceda Creek’s Alex Golitzin and his son (now official winemaker) Paul. The family has produced world-renowned Cabernet since the beginning and offers this 2014 selection from their Red Mountain vineyard. Look for dark cherry and cassis with licorice, cocoa and spice – also a hint of Red Mountain floral scent. Hard to find, but worth the search and price for a special occasion.
Another delicious wine from Red Mountain, offering blackberry and currant with complex aromas and flavors of smoked meat, mineral and dark chocolate. You’ll need to look for this one, too. Sold out at the winery, but on the shelf at some retailers.
Before you think I am cruelly leading you on with wines that you cannot buy, this tasty Cabernet is available from the winery in Walla Walla and in the retail marketplace. Winemaker Jean-François Pellet crafts his Cabernet from local fruit (mostly estate) to create a wine offering ripe blackberry and blueberry with hints of currant and cocoa and notes of tobacco and mineral.
Chuck Reininger named his alternate winery Helix after a tiny town in Umatilla County, Oregon that features prominently in his family’s pioneer history. The word is also part of the name of the Burgundy escargot snail – helix pomatia – so why not add to the fun with the name of this wine? A delicious blend of Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Cab Franc, Pomatia offers juicy aromas and flavors of cherry, plum and black currant with a bouquet of spices and floral perfumes.
This wine from the Middleton family is crafted from grapes grown at their recently planted Southwind Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley. This reserve blend is from the best barrels of the vintage – less than 85 cases produced. Aromas of blueberry, plum and blackcurrant lead the way with notes of baking spice and cedar. The palate adds cherry, toasty oak and vanilla with a finish of pomegranate and cranberry.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard in the center of the Columbia Valley was planted in the 1970s on the suggestion of Dr. Walter Clore – the “father of the Washington wine industry.” Wines from this vineyard always have great structure and balance. This vintage highlights cherry and herb within a cocoon of toasty oak and vanilla – a great complement to meats from the grill.
Wines of Substance
As Charles Smith explores future projects that only his mind and confidence can imagine, don’t miss out on this current offering that tickles the palate and is not too hard on the pocketbook. It is 100% Cabernet and aged entirely in French oak. Look for juicy berry and cherry with hints of cassis around the edges. Vanilla, smoky cedar and plum linger on the soft and velvety finish.
Tim and Kelly Hightower’s winery dog Murray received his own label many vintages ago, and his name continues to entice customers to buy the winery’s entry-level wines. Murray Cabernet Sauvignon is a delightful celebration of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape with juicy cherry and berry and loads of spicy pepper and notes of Christmas candy and vanilla. Let it breathe and aerate for immediate olfactory gratification.
The Alder Ridge brand from Precept Wines honors their Alder Ridge Vineyard featuring more than 1,100 acres of planted vines above the Columbia River near Alderdale, Washington. The first plantings at this site took place in 1997 under the auspices of Columbia Winery. Enjoy this bright and friendly Cabernet Sauvignon for cherry and berry aromas and an easygoing palate of fruit flavors, toasty oak and earthy mineral.
Belle Fiore Winery in the Rogue Valley was founded by the Kerwin family
in 2003. The elegant estate features a French-style chateau, expansive
grounds and a wine pavilion in the center of the vineyards. Stop by for
a visit if you are in the Ashland, Oregon area. The 2014 Cabernet offers
bright aromas and flavors of cherry and berry fruit, cocoa and spicy
Wines from other areas
This wine is labeled “Winemaker’s Blend” and includes lots from selected vineyards in three famous wine counties. My tasters enjoyed cran-cherry, blackberry and dark fruits with notes of toasty cedar and baking spices.
Grgich Hill Estate
This reserve Cabernet from Mike Grgich offers complexity and depth commensurate with the price. Rich aromas and flavors of black currant, plum and dark cherry mingle with accents of anise, dried herb, vanilla, spicy oak and dark chocolate.
From the varied topography of the Alexander Valley comes this Old World style Cabernet Sauvignon featuring shy aromas and a lean palate that expands with complexity as the wine opens up. Look for earthy spice around cherry and cassis fruit with notes of mint, mineral and toasty oak.
This rich and fruity wine from Michael Mondavi Family Estate needs a few minutes breathing to give its all (or decant the bottle with aeration as described before), then you’ll revel in aromas and flavors of blackberry, plum and earthy mineral with hints of toasty cedar and tobacco.
To find contact information for most of the wineries
in the above text,