What do Mexican beer ads have to do with California Cabernet?
Not much, except as the source of inspiration for my article in the September issue of the K&L Wine News, our monthly newsletter. The theme this month is California Cabernet. As I set about to write, I realized couldn't remember the last time I bought a California Cabernet to take home and drink myself. "I don't drink Cabernet that often," I said to my veteran coworker later that day in the tasting room, "but when I do, I prefer Bordeaux."
"Yes... I used to prefer California Cab," he responded, "but you know they don't make them like they used to."
While I'm not nearly as interesting as actor Jonathan Goldsmith's character in the Dos Equis ad campaign that ran in the United States in 2006, this particular coworker could give him a run for the money.
What do you prefer?
With all due respect to the great winemaking traditions of my native state, I know for a fact that I'm not alone in this - let's call it frustration - with the opulent style that has come to characterize the wines made around here. Many of my Personal Sommelier Service Wine Club customers, for example, enlist in the program with the same requests: "No fruit bombs," they ask. "Balanced, Old World-styled Cabernet or blends preferred." It is the very fact that they can subscribe to a wine club and have overly oaked Cabernets filtered out that motivates them to cancel their other clubs and stick with this one only. Some even go so far as to justify this request with an excuse similar to that of my coworker: "I used to drink a lot of California Cab," one customer explained. "But not any more - too oakey, too expensive, too much of the same."
It's my job to find wines that suit my customers' tastes and preferences. When it comes to Cabernet, if a customer expresses and preference for a more restrained, Bordeaux-like style, I have often come up short at the local level and must look elsewhere - Bordeaux, South Africa, or even Spain - for wines to suit his or her tastes. This has been the case even if the customer wishes to source locally if possible, and despite my desire to support my local industry. Wines with less attitude and more soul at fair price can be hard to come by around here.
Which is why I am so excited to report in this issue that demand for unique, terroir-driven, and handmade wines, not just from California but from all over the world, seems to have finally reached the tipping point, and local industries are responding.
Even California. Larger, established producers are diversifying their product mix, dialing back the oak and coming up with fun, new, balanced wines at the entry level. New boutique producers are popping up with small-production Cabs and blends meant for drinking tonight. And the guys that have been quietly making wines this way all along are making better wines than ever before.
This is no joke. California Cabernet - and California wine in general - is getting interesting again.
Check these out, if you're interested:
2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99) Ancient Peaks has flown under the radar as a producer of distinctive, value-driven wines from the Margarita Vineyard, its single estate vineyard, for some time. The wine from this family-run operation shows pure varietal Cabernet aromas and flavors, and it is defined by an earthy, mineral-driven quality that speaks to its unique terroir. It is structured without being heavy or overdone, and drinks well above its retail price.
2008 Broadside “Margarita Vineyard” Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99) Ancient Peaks had fruit to share in 2008, and the talented, up-and-coming young winemakers Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars) and Brian Terrizzi (Giornata) got their hands on some. The result is a refreshing, black currant-scented, mineral-accented, fine-boned and effortlessly clean Cabernet made (and priced) for drinking.
2009 Robert Craig “Mt. George Cuvée” Napa Valley Red Wine ($24.99) Former Hess Collection CEO Robert Craig has been making serious Cabernet and blends from top hillside sites under his own label since 1992. The new Mt. George Cuvée takes the best of the “leftovers” from the winery’s pricier “Affinity” bottling and crafts a softer, entry-level version for drinking tonight. This Left Bank inspired blend spent just six months in French oak before release. It’s medium-bodied, fragrant and forward, with a nose of dark fruits and rose petals accented by subtle hints of vanilla and spice. The palate is soft, round and generous, with moderate tannins adding a little grip at the finish.
2008 Obsidian Ridge “Obsidian Ridge Vineyard” Red Hills Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon ($27.99) Lake County, Napa’s wily backwoods neighbor, is fast-becoming an exciting destination for affordable Cabernet. Named for the black obsidian boulders that mark the landscape and define the terroir, the nose is dark-fruited and deep, with a complex array of spicy, herbal aromas that morph into dark chocolate and barbecue smoke with some air. This is medium-bodied, but framed by firm tannins and acidity. It is a bit more serious, with a long, chewy, mineral-driven finish, and needs some time to open up, but it might be one of the most interesting California Cabernets I’ve tasted in a long time.
Drink More Interesting Wine. K&L’s Personal Sommelier Service is our customizable wine club that allows you to set the price range, number of bottles, origin, style preference and be in direct communication with your chosen K&L sommelier to better tailor your “club” to suit your needs and tastes. Visit KLWines.com/Sommelier.asp to learn more or get started.