RESERVE CAB AT ‘REGULAR’ PRICE FROM GORDON BROS.

One of the descriptions that someone here proffered with regards to the offer of Gordon’s Cabernet at a price like this is like just walking along minding your own business and a $20 bill is just sitting on the ground in front of you waiting to be picked up.  Imagine sitting quietly at your computer and a new email pops up that isn’t trying to sell you insurance, diet pills, or new phone service.

This email is about wine. In fact, it’s about a Washington State Cabernet that, thanks to a set of events, is one of the best values that you’re going to come across on a quality Cab.  Are you seeing sunshine, rainbows, cherubs and puppies?  Maybe hearing a harp? Well certainly that is a bit of an endorsement for a Cabernet that isn’t from the Napa Valley. 

Yeah, over the decades we have learned about trying never to ‘oversell’ anything. So instead we’re going to calmly, rationally explain why you should be excited to find a quality Washington Cabernet to add to your holdings with summer ahead of you and barbecue season in full swing.

Gordon’s wines have graced our pages, particularly for their relative value and varietally true style. But this particular offer bears special attention.  The 2013 Gordon Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Columbia Valley, Washington, an area that long ago earned its wings as a source for excellent Cabernet.

Gordon Brothers pride themselves on being the oldest family estate winery in the region (starting grape planting back in 1980). They have been dependable producers that have relied on innovative farming to create fine wines.  In baseball terms, these folks would be solid performers that could occasionally get the big hit.  The 2013 vintage was one that provided such an opportunity.

The 2013 growing season was one of the hottest on records, right in stride with 1998 and 2003. Hot, 90-degree temperatures came on in early spring, prompting an earlier than average bud break. This heat spell was followed up by welcome spring rains that helped establish healthy canopies early in the season with bloom occurring early in June. Intense heat hung around from late June into mid-September when a dramatic shift in weather brought us a nice cool, but dry fall allowing for good hang time and a great finish for the harvest.

All of that lead to a riper than normal (for Washington) vintage that provided more amplitude  and flesh to the this blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot.  Tasted by a broader collection of our team, descriptors ran the gamut of melted grape Jolly Rancher kiss, new saddle leather, fresh turned earth, rose/floral bouquet and baking spices. The secondary aromatics are beautiful, pretty and “happy” with notes of nutmeg, fresh tobacco leaf, blackberry, pencil shavings, dark cocoa powder and toast.  The wine shows more open drinkability and palate impressions of confectionary black cherry, caramel, and black tea.

The best part is that, while this is a well-performing wine at its original $36.50 fare, some ‘market factors’ allowed us to pick off the last few cases of this reserve Cabernet at a greatly reduced fare.  The Columbia Valley has come a long way since the Gordons put down roots here. A little cooler stylistically than typical Cali Cab and positioned somewhere between that and a Bordeaux in weight, getting a reserve level Cabernet for under $20 ($19.98 to be exact) is a great ‘score’ for Cabernet fans.

ONE LAST WORD ON THE RAVENSWOOD ZINFANDEL BARRICIA FOR $14.98 THING

We sent this out as an email and then mentioned it again in our Sunday ‘week that was’ piece.  But we think this deal is so extraordinary, we want to make sure that everyone gets a look at it as, at the time of this writing, our source still has some wine:

“The odyssey continues, but the story lines are as interesting now as they were back some three decades ago when we started with Ravenswood, though for entirely different reasons.  Back in the 90s, Ravenswoods single vineyard wines were iconic.  We used to have ‘Ravenswood Day’ where we would offer up our allocations of these well reviewed , exceptional Zinfandels for distribution.  At the time we, a single store, were one of Ravenswood’s larger customers in California.  We sold everything from those compelling single vineyard bottlings to their ‘lowly’ but exceptionally performing ‘Vintners’ value series.

Then, one day, it all changed.  OK, maybe not all of it.  The key issue was that one of the first significant winery acquisitions of the modern era in California took place.  Winemaker/mind behind Joel Peterson and his partner Reed Foster sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2001 for $148,000,000.  That’s a lot of zeros.  Can’t blame them for taking the money, but the rub was Joel had to stay and help keep an eye on things.  Small price to pay for that kind of coin and Joel, always the businessman, saw the wisdom in the move.

Once one of the most recognized brands in California, Joel had to know that the only way for the new owners to recoup that kind of investment was to ramp up production.  Once Ravenswood ‘went corporate’ most of the winery’s long term loyal supporters figured production of the personality filled, well-priced Vintners wines, as well as their other regional varietal bottlings, would predictably add a zero to their production level and churn out tens of thousands of cases of soulless corporate juice.   Predictably, that happened.

The same folks also dismissed Joel’s treasured line of single-vineyard Zinfandels as going ‘corporate’ as well.  What now?   Would there be some  50,000 cases of ‘Big River’ or 200,000 cases of ‘Old Hill’.  No. With these small, ‘heritage’ sites covered with low yielding old vines, there was no way to boost production.  The current iteration of Ravenswood does indeed put out a million boxes of Vintners Blend wines now.  But the historic single vineyard program has remained essentially the same as it was ‘back in the day’.  We talked with both Joel and his long-time winemaker Peter Mathis, who made Ravenswood wines for 20 years, and both of them had no clue why Ravenswood’s Historic Single-vineyard program was no longer revered.

Our best guess is ‘guilt by association’.  Certainly, there was an emphasis by the corporate bean counters to deliver big numbers. There were ‘stockholders’ and all sorts of new criteria by which Ravenswood would be judged.  As to the single-vineyard jewels upon which Ravenswood built their reputation in the first place, there was little reason to spend corporate marketing dollars to promote them.  In fact, we’d guess that the accounting dept. gets downright annoyed to have to keep track of such tiny numbers.  Eventually the media pretty much stopped talking about them.

Anyway the results of this story led us to a remarkable cache of Ravenswood’s treasured single vineyard Zins at fantastic prices in May of last year.  Don’t ask us about the machinations that brought this about, we couldn’t tell you. But we sent that offer to an enthusiastic audience.  We were pretty sure we were ‘killin’ it’ at $24.99 on Old Hill, Big River, Dickerson and Barricia, about the price we sold these special Zins for decades earlier in the mid-90s.

But even more inexplicable is the offer we are rolling out today on that 2013 Ravenswood Barricia Zinfandel.  What happened?  Beats us.  Everything with this program is the same or better.  Even though Joel’s bank account is larger, he still has ‘the fire’ concerning these vineyards.  The vineyards themselves are still the same, too…. old and super low-yielding. This is still some of the most treasured dirt in California.  Are they made the same way? Pretty much.  Joel himself says so, except now they can buy better equipment with a corporate bankroll.

So how did an outstanding example of true California Zinfandel, from a revered vineyard, made under the auspices of one of the true Zinfandel masters, end up at this kind of price?  Again, we have no clue, but we don’t care.  We simply grabbed every box we could of this once-in-a-lifetime offer.  This Zin  is sourced half from Zinfandel planted prior to 1892 and the balance from new plantings of Zin and Petite Sirah, which makes up around 20% of the blend.  That Petite gives the wine heft and another level of complexity.

The nose shows brambly blackberry and black raspberry augmented by brambly notes.  Big in the mouth with notes of pepper and spice, this one shows expansive volume yet both the tannins and acidity are nicely integrated.  The wine hasn’t skipped a beat over the years.  The only thing missing is the ‘aura’ of times past.  At roughly 1/3 the typical price, we can deal with that.  If you love Zinfandel, here’s a legendary Zin for a remarkable fare… ”

 

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THE PERFECT CABERNET?

It has been our mission to fight the high cost of ‘North Coast Cabernet’ because the ones with that nebulous title are rarely very exciting, and the ones that say Napa Valley on them are typically too expensive.  One of our solutions to this issue is to put successful and well priced options from ‘other places’ in front of you for you consideration.  We have stated that Chile and Argentina have really been finding their mojo over the last few years and this effort from one of the pioneers of the modern era in Chile definitely scored a gooooaaaaaal with this one.

The star of this story, Lapostolle, has now had nearly a quarter century to perfect their craft, and they are certainly working on a high plane right now.  If you don’t know the story, it’s a classic tale of French people going to the New World to try and make magic.   Lapostolle Wines was founded by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle and her husband Cyril de Bournet in 1994. Alexandra is a member of the renowned family that has been dedicated for several generations to the production of high-quality spirits and wines (like Grand Marnier).   After visiting Chile, Alexandra and Cyril not only fell in love with the Colchagua Valley, they also detected the enormous potential of the country to produce premium wines.

To that end they have been producing a number of different wines that showcase the region, none more interesting than their efforts with Bordeaux varietals, some of it brought here from Bordeaux in the 19th Century (pre-phylloxera).  They were one of the ‘true believers’ in Chile and when their super-premium Clos Apalta 1997, one of the first of its kind, there were plenty of nay-sayers.  But the wine has now established unquestioned credibility (the 2013 was a 97 from James Suckling, the 2014 a ‘100’, for example).  All the while the winery has benefited not only from the means and knowledge of its ownership, but an association with wine guru Michel Rolland.

The Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Alexandre Apalta 2013 definitely shows a ‘trickle down’ effect.  It is plush and polished like something twice the price, with a sexy core of black fruits and notes of cocoa and graphite.  The Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvee Alex Alexandre 2013 comes from the same Apalta vineyard as the ‘big dog’.  The process here is very natural with minimal intervention. The grapes are 100% hand harvested in small cases of 14 kilos, there is strict fruit selection by state-of-the-art optical sorting and 15% hand de-stemming of the grapes. Gentle extraction methods and a judicious use of oak are key to making a wine that is ample, pure, and supple.

Having tasted several vintages of Lapostolle, we can honestly say that this is one of the best.  Apparently we weren’t the only fans.  James Suckling had this to say, “Deep and dense yet agile and fine. Full body, blueberry and black currant character, and a seamless silky finish. Gorgeous pure cabernet sauvignon. Biodynamically grown grapes. Drink or hold….94 ponts.”  Note his comment on ‘purity’ alongside ours.  In a world where reds are tasting ever more formulaic, this tastes like a really good, balanced Cabernet.

The best part is that, with all of the laborious handling, this delightful, plush, engaging Cabernet, with an extra bonus of being five years old, can be had for under $20!  A delicious, honest, varietally true red at a great price, with a little bottle age and an impressive review, is this the ‘perfect Cabernet’ for ‘current applications’ or what?!

 

MAYACAMAS-HISTORY RETOOLED

Anyone that has been a part of the California wine scene has heard the name Mayacamas.  Purchased by Robert Travers in 1968, it was a visible member of the first wave of boutique California wineries.   Under Travers, the winery gained international fame, particularly for its Cabernet and its legendary longevity.  Arguably this was the first important ‘mountain Cabernet’ as Napa Valley moved to make its mark on the wine world.  There were some distinct aspects to the winery, not the least of which was Travers own dry wit as a part of his winery missives.

While Mayacamas was still generally considered ‘top drawer’,  the luxurious ‘trophy style’ became the style that dominated the review boards.  As the preferred style leaned more towards pandering fruit and lots of creamy oak, Travers always stuck to his guns and the more ‘traditional’ style of Mayacamas Cabs rendered the label considerably less topical.  The respect was always there, just not the buzz any more.

While very ‘mountain’ and very honest in their presentation, the wines were also often a bit chewy and perhaps a tad rustic.   Eventually Bob got to the point where it was time to retire, and the property was purchased by a partnership of former Screaming Eagle owner Charles Banks and retail entrepreneur Jay Schottenstein in 2013.  The timing of Banks’ well publicized legal problems took him out of the game relatively quickly, leaving the winery under Schottenheim’s supervision.

The winery now points to 2013 as the beginning of a new era, and the 2013 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon clearly demonstrates that there is a new sheriff in town.  Bringing in husband and wife team of former Screaming Eagle winemaker Andy Erickson and Annie Favia has had an immediate impact and we dare say this is the most impressive effort from Mayacamas we have ever tasted.  This is not your father’s Mayacamas.  This one has structure, yes, but a purity and tenderness we can’t recall from these Cabernets in the past.  Rich but also refined with a fleshy wrap of red and black fruits flecked with wild herbs, graphite, and cocoa coating the fine tannins.

The 97 point review from Antonio Galloni is a good jumping off point for the new Mayacamas with comments like, “The flavors are dark, bold and incisive, with potent tannins and a real feeling of gravitas to back things up. Black cherry, game, smoke, gravel and licorice add to an impression of brooding intensity. In many ways, the 2013 reminds me of some of the great wines of the 1970s in its dark, imposing personality.”

As to the quality, we agree wholeheartedly.  This Cabernet knocked us out.  But we differ on the comparisons to those ‘70s Cabs because this one is far more cohesive and harmonious and, given this particular winery’s history, much more engaging in its youth.  If you’ve got the fare, this is something special.