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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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1994 Gruaud Larose Tears up the Vintage Chart

Yes- another ribeye steak and another great aged Bordeaux. Predictably great!

I have to thank the wine world for its vintage chart mentality, because without it, I would not have been able to afford the great bottle of Bordeaux that I drank last night. The 1994 vintage was a truly odd harvest in Bordeaux, with late rain that diluted and hardened most of the wines at once. While vintages like 1997 & 2007 are consistently delicious, if not long term cellar prospects, 1994 made some tough, charmless wines. But those who picked just before those late rains in 1994 made great wines- wines that I have enjoyed more than the 1995’s and 1996’s that are so lauded by the press.

The 1994 Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien ($79.99) is a special occasion wine for me. It is not inexpensive, but it certainly delivers! If I had a choice to drink this wine, or the 1995 Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien ($119) or even the 2000 Gruaud-Larose, St-Julien ($179.99) I would take the 1994, regardless of the price. It, along with the Leoville Barton and Pontet-Canet are the huge success of this almost forgotten vintage.

The 200 hundred acres of vineyards at Chateau Gruaud-Larose are planted to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. It is an old site for the Haut Medoc, and has been planted continuously since the 1700’s. Currently the vines average forty years old, but some are nearly one hundred. They no longer use any chemical pesticides or herbicides.  They declassify a significant portion of the wine into their very good second label, the Sarget de Gruaud Larose.

As usual, Cinnamon and I enjoyed our claret with a ribeye steak and potatoes. Cinnamon decided to be avant-garde on this occasion, and instead of peas or green beans served pan seared padron peppers. We put a touch of truffle salt on the steaks after cooking them, and the meal turned out very nicely. How did the Gruaud work? It was predictably great with the food. This 1994 has the poise and power of a great vintage at 20 years old, and seems to just be hitting its stride. It has a huge amount of pure, dark cassis fruit, integrated but very present tannins, and lots of electricity on the long, mineral laden finish. It took discipline for me not to hog the bottle, but it was too good not to share with fairly with Cinnamon!

I think this wine will be at its peak in another 10 years, and should last for as long as you care to keep it. It will be very hard for me not to consume all that I can afford soon, since it drinks so nicely right now. Join me in enjoying this while tearing up the vintage chart!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby


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