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.

Compadres de Corrales Does Chile

 In case you wondered; no we were not doing chile (chili), but Chilean wines. I created a wine presentation and tasting with a focus on the wines of Chile for Compadres de Corrales on Saturday afternoon, April 20th at the Dean-Barrett home in Corrales. The weather cooperated, always a hold-your-breath this time of year, as the event took place outdoors.

Chilean Wine History
Chile redefined itself as a wine country and began capturing an ever-growing part of domestic wine sales in the 1990s. The Chilean renaissance began close to the same time it occurred in New Mexico. Chile has been making its own wines since 1554, most likely from vines planted in Peru. The industry was severely hurt by the embargo against importing Chilean wines to Spain, similar to King Philip’s decree that no wines could be made in New Mexico. Apparently both our state and Chile gave the king the finger and went on producing wines.

A significant influence on the quality of Chilean wines occurred when switching to oak from rauli beechwood, which imparted a distinct finish to the wine many wine drinkers didn’t like. I guess beechwood aging is only a plus for beer. France has had the most influence on the wine industry, beginning in the 1850s when many French winemakers arrived after the phylloxera epidemic wiped out most of the vines. Chile now uses the latest oenological technology.

Chile is still a phylloxera-free country and the only place with French vines on their native rootstock; a point many Chilean winemakers popularize. Their respect for terroir has led to the defining of wine regions, first by determining what grapes grow best in each wine region and focusing on those, and more recently (2011) vitivinicultural zonification. Now there’s a head-splitting term for you. This defines three zones within Chile; Costa, Entre Cordilleras and Andes, which broadly represent the affect the Pacific, the broad central plains, and the Andes Mountains, have on the grapes, respectively.

Selecting Chilean Wines
Knowing this, I selected five wines, two whites and three reds from five distinctive wine regions within Chile. The best Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir often come from coastal regions, and I chose a Casablanca Valley Pinot and San Antonio Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Both were very good and well received by the Compadres participants.

The other three wines came from the Entre Cordilleras: Chardonnay from the Bio-Bio Valley, Carmenere from the Maule Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rapel Valley (Cachapoal Valley). To make it easier for the Compadres members to find the wines I recommended I asked them to go to Total Wines (Cottonwood), which has the best wine selection in the Albuquerque area. All the wines and prices listed at the end of this article refer to Total Wines prices and availability as of late April 2013.

Carmenere, a grape thought to be extinct (at least in France), was a big hit as most attendees have never tried wines made with Carmenere, or as one confided to me; only cheap versions. I had the same reaction when I first tried this grape, at a price point I’m embarrassed to mention, but quickly changed my mind when I had my first reserva Carmenere. 

Although Chile uses the term “reserva” and occasionally “gran reserva” to denote better quality wines, as is done in Spain, they do not adhere to the Espana oak and bottle aging requirements. Sometimes a Chilean wine producer will slap a reserva on the bottle just because they think it is better. For example, the gran reserva listed below was from 2011, but a Spanish gran reserva requires a minimum of two years in oak and three years in bottle, and last time I checked it was not 2016 yet. Nonetheless the Los Boldos Cab below is a good quality wine at $12.99, and a Rioja gran reserva would cost about three times that price.

Our hosts and Compadres members provided a cornucopia of snacks, cheeses, pastries and crudités to complement the wines and everyone left knowing more about Chilean wines and the geography and weather of Chile as an added bonus. The vintage year is not listed below as this can change with inventory changes.

Anakena Enco Sauvignon Blanc – San Antonio Valley, Chile (Costa): $10.99
Llai Llai Chardonnay - Bío- Bío Valley, Chile (Entre Cordilleras): $13.99
Anakena Ona Special Reserve Pinot Noir – Casablanca Valley, Chile (Costa): $14.99
Chilensis Carmenere Reserva - Maule Valley, Chile (Entre Cordilleras): $9.99
Los Boldos Cabernet Gran Reserva - Rapel Valley, Chile (Entre Cordilleras): $12.99