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.

KEENAN CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE SPRING MTN 2014

In a ‘brave new world’ that seems overly focused on the new producer and the breakout category, it seems sometimes it’s a disadvantage to have any kind of history.  Talk about some entity that is making orange wine or early harvest Mourvedre and there seems to be a waiting cadre of folks willing to give them a look.  Talk about a proven Napa Valley label that has been around for more than three decades and you are likely to get blank stares.  But just because someone has been around a while doesn’t mean they are no longer relevant.

The history of Keenan Winery started over 40 years ago. Certain that mountain side vineyards in Napa Valley could produce world-class wines, in 1974 Robert Keenan purchased 180 acres in the Spring Mountain District at an elevation of 1700 feet. Located on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas mountain range, Spring Mountain District gained recognition as an American Vineyard Appellation (AVA) in 1993. The low vigor soils unique to the region were known to create a stressful environment for vine growth, setting up perfect conditions to encourage vineyards planted on the steep, rocky, mountainsides to produce wines of great concentration, structure, and pure varietal flavors.

The original acreage Robert acquired included the crumbling Peter Conradi Winery, founded in the late 19th Century and one of the first pioneering properties established on Spring Mountain. By the time Robert Keenan  arrived in 1974, none of the estate’s original vineyards were producing. Robert cleared the estate of tree stumps and rocks, extended the original vineyard acreage and replanted the property to Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He built a new winery using the existing stone walls from the old Conradi building, and celebrated Keenan Winery’s first harvest there in 1977.

Robert’s son Michael took the reins in 1998 with a vision of moving the property up the quality ladder.  While those early Keenan wines were respected, many of them were ferociously tannic.  A slow deliberate process of trial and error, including the replanting of clones and the incorporation of a solar-powered system and sustainable farming (Keenan is now recognized as a ‘green’ winery) has helped the winery take the steps necessary to elevate their game and make some of the best wines in the winery’s history.

It has been interesting to watch the winery get more critical recognition as a result of this multitude of changes under the watchful, and arguably rather intense eye of Michael.  It has been clear every year when we do the tasting with him that the wines are more intense, better balanced and more refined within the context of ample, burly mountain reds.  Better grapes, better wine and every aspect is carefully watched in the process.  The result has been a Keenan lineup that is playing at a high level but has remained true to their vision of Spring Mountain as an identifiable and important terroir of the Napa Valley.

The last lineup we were presented was arguably the best yet, but the star of the show was the Robert Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Spring Mountain 2014.  This is serious ‘mountain’ Cabernet with all of the power, depth and flavor intensity that the description implies.  Lots of dark cassis and other blue fruits highlighted with notes of chocolate and the requisite chewy, but thoroughly ripe tannins, this is impressive from front to back.

We can roll out the requisite press.  There’s a Vinous 93 with comments, “… an impeccably balanced wine that brings together firm mountain structure with ripe, unctuous fruit. Dark cherry, plum compote, spice, licorice and menthol are some of the many notes that give the Reserve its mid-palate density and sweetness. The firm tannins need time to soften, but this is impressive juice. “

There’s an even more emphatic Wine Advocate 95, offering “The (2014 Cabernet)… is the deepest, richest wine of the entire portfolio, with an opaque purple color and a super-pure nose of crème de cassis and blueberries. The wine is rich, full-bodied, nicely textured, and very long in the finish, with ripe tannins. It can be drunk now or cellared for another 15 or more years.”

High praise, to be sure.  But we can’t help but think that if the wine had a little more of a ‘trophy’ style that obliterates terroir for the sake of hedonism, with overt, lavish oak, and carried the name of one of the current media darlings, it would have garnered a couple more points and approached ‘legend’ status.  To Michael’s credit, this is as fine an expression of this vineyard, in a pure, honest style, that we have tasted from Keenan.

But we also think this effort is better even than the reviews chronicle and we’d think to ourselves that it seems to us that sometimes the ‘old guard’ has to do more to get the same recognition.  One of the Cabs of the vintage for us thus far and, given the cost of Napa reserve Cabs these day, attractively priced as well.