Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vertical Tasting of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Wines

Vertical tasting of wine normally assumes different years of the same winemaker are being tasted, but I wanted to contrast two wines with similar pedigree and contrast a relatively young wine with a much older one. I also had a family pack of NY Strip steaks to cook, but no family around so I invited good friends Don and Jan Swanson. When they arrived we served Caviar on Neufchatel and Endive Tips and Dusted Calamari on our rear deck, even though canyon winds were threatening. Well, they always threaten when we sit down to eat outdoors. I popped the cork on a Gruet Blanc de Noirs, which fit the bill perfectly for both appetizers.

While the Swansons enjoyed the changing colors of the Sandia Mountains, I fired up the grill. The NY Strips had marinated for 24 hours in a Milagro Zinfandel-based marinade and stayed moist even with the high heat of the grill. Meanwhile my wife, Barbara prepared one of her specialties; Blackened Brussels sprouts, which cook on high heat until blackened. Although that might not sound appealing, even Brussels sprouts-phobic guests love it.

Since Don had come in the Captain Don tee shirt I’d given him after my last Hawaiian trip, I thought it only fair if I put mine on as well. I’m not sure Barbara fully approved by changing a St. James French pullover for a tee, but maybe it’s just a guy thing. Deciding not to tempt fate and the Sandia winds we went inside for the remainder of dinner.

We began the main course with a 2001 Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon. It had thrown off enough sediment I decided to decant it rather than use the Wine Breather. (More on that later.) Elegance and structure are part of this wine’s charm, and the fruit was lush and deep. The wine paired with the steak, no surprise there, but also with the rice pilaf and Brussels sprouts.

I did use the Wine Breather on a 2008 Ceja Cabernet Sauvignon that followed the Burgess. The Cab was still a bit unruly so I poured it into a carafe. It continued to open, exposing cocoa, dark cherry and cinnamon and as lush a set of tannins as I’ve ever tasted. I finished the wine with New Zealand sharp cheddar, before indulging in the dessert I made. That was strawberries soaked in a Santa Fe Vineyards Malvasia Blanco and then poured over French vanilla ice cream.
Handling older wines
Once I saw the sediment thrown off by the 12 year old Cab, I knew doing a flash decant or using an aerating device (e.g. Vinturi) that agitated the tannins and sediment would not be the best approach. This is where one has to plan ahead, since wines can always throw off sediment and older wines are always more likely. I used a true decanter that can be tilted to the proper angle to slowly pour the wine, always watching for the drift of sediment. The much younger Ceja Cab from Carneros did not require decanting so the Wine Breather facilitated the opening of that wine. The order also proved to be correct and the difference of 7 years aging was quite significant.

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