Legends in Cabernet Sauvignon

Though California’s winemaking history goes way back, the wine boom properly began in the 1970s. Below are some legendary producers of cabernet sauvignon, and hints at

some of their travails.

Heitz Cellars Bella Oaks Vineyard

Back in the 60s, Heitz Cellars helped establish the idea of single-vineyard bottling of California wines, most famously with its Martha’s Vineyard bottling. Alas the winery will no longer produce cabernet sauvignon from the renowned Bella Oaks vineyard that Heitz made famous. Planted in 1973 by Barney and Bella Rhodes, its production was used exclusively by Heitz up until the death of Bella in 2008 and Barney a year later. Gargiulo Vineyards, owned by Barney’s niece, bought Bella Oaks. Selling price was close to 7 million dollars. Exclusivity was to remain with Heitz.

The plot thickened last year when a group called Booth Bella Oaks bought the vineyard, and handed exclusivity of the vineyard’s 18 acres of Cabernet to The Staglin Vineyards. One wonders if Gargiulo might’ve felt a financial pinch from its purchase of the vineyard. Heitz will continue to produce wine from the even more world famous Martha’s Vineyard, which the Rhodes also established, then sold to Tom and Martha May long ago. It sounds like a soap opera in the making. The 2007 Heitz Bella Oaks is the last Heitz wine from that vineyard, and a great offering, whether you are a collector or a cabernet lover.

Ch. Montelena Estate

The staff at Chateau Montelena has seen some 40 vintages working within the constraints of Napa Valley’s climate and the estate’s own particular challenges. This experience helps them succeed even when conditions prove challenging. The winery’s website marks the 2008 vintage as miraculous not for beneficent weather but rather in the difficulties overcome. Frost in April and in May, shatter—which is when conditions prevent the fruit from setting—lowered yields. Because of those 40 years experience, Wine Master Bo Barrett—son of owner Jim Barrett—and his wine making team turned the difficulties into triumph. Rated 92 points by The Wine Advocate, the 2008 Estate bottling shows the hallmarks of what one could fairly describe as the Latour of California. Dense and deeply extracted, the wine is powerful without undue alcohol punch. The structure says it will reward years of cellaring, but the balance and suppleness make it delightful now. Chateau Montelena is a first growth winery.

Nickel & Nickel

Nickel and Nickel is an offshoot of the much-lauded Far Niente Winery. An uncle of painter Winslow Homer first owned the vineyard, back in the mid-19th century. The winery closed its doors when prohibition began, and remained so until the late Gil Nickel bought the property in 1979. Nickel began producing a succession of definitive Napa wines: muscular, intense, and gorgeous. His family continues his success with Far Niente and several other enterprises, including Nickel and Nickel. Nickel & Nickel devotes itself to single-vineyard wines.

The winery’s own 42 acre John C. Sullenberger Vineyard sits in Oakville near Opus One and Robert Mondavi’s To-Kalon vineyard. Nice neighborhood! The winery purchases fruit from 9 acres of the 43 acre Tench Vineyard, also in Oakville. The wines are masterful expressions of Napa winemaking, powerful yet enticing. These coveted wines from the fabulous 2007 vintage already show plenty of promise but will reward the collector for years to come. A truly state-of-the-art, solar-powered facility produces these organically grown beauties.

Advertisements

Tuscan Reds, A Small Sampling

Tuscany provides us with perhaps the world’s most iconic red: Chianti. Such familiarity may cause undervaluation; Chianti can stand with the best red wines from anywhere. Like many Old World wines, Tuscan wines have seen quality improvement due to modernization in winemaking techniques.

Many people remember the straw-covered bottle called fiascho, from the Italian for flask. One rarely sees Chianti in such bottles anymore. Stronger glass and improved packing materials have diminished their necessity, unless you have a red and white checked tablecloth and need a candleholder. We carry a one liter fiascho, 09 Terre di Poppiano ($16.99), just right for a spaghetti feast.

Chianti has always starred the magnificent Sangiovese grape. Its bright cherry tones and smoky/spicy aromatics tantalize, to say the least. Sangiovese wines bestirs the appetite like few others. The other grapes in the Chianti show traditionally were lesser known varieties, including white ones. Regulations now allow producers to use more familiar varieties like Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah to flesh out and highlight Sangiovese’s charm.

Wines simply labeled Chianti DOC provide the most basic form of Chianti. These wines can hail from anywhere in the region. Those labeled Chianti Classico come from one of seven subzones in Chianti and represent the region’s historic center. Since 1996, the white grapes in Classicos have been given the bum’s rush and are restricted from the blends.

To earn Riserva status, a Chianti must be aged at least two years before release. All Chianti are ready to drink on release. The finest can be cellared 5-10 years, or even more. Yes, Chianti goes well with tomato-based sauces, but need not be restricted to such usage. Chianti matches with roasts of all sorts, grilled meats, and cheese, as well.

Chianti

07 Riserva, Tomaiolo $10.99

10, Ruffino $11.99 The best selling Italian red in the U.S. Also comes in 1.5l bottles ($19.99).

08, Monastero Classico $13.99

08, Savignola Paolino Classico $14.99 95% Sangiovese, with the traditional Chianti variety Canaiolo for structure.

08 Riserva Classico, Tomaiolo $14.99

06, Monsanto Classico $24.99 No, not that Monsanto.

07 Colli di Senesi, Poggio Salvi, Caspagnolo $17.99 From the hills surrounding Siena, one of the seven Chianti subzones.

07 Reserva Ducale Classico, Ruffino $22.99

09 Isole e olena Classico $24.99

One of the great younger Chianti producers.

08 Pèppoli, Antinori Classico $26.99 Produced exclusively from Antinori’s prized Pèppoli vineyard. A small amount of Merlot and Syrah and the use of vanilla-toned American oak produce a unique and engaging Chianti style.

06 Marchese Antinori Classico, $33.99 Produced from Antinori’s exclusive holdings, including the Pèppoli and Tignanello vineyards.

Elsewhere in Tuscany

Hard to say elsewhere when speaking of wines like Brunello di Montalcino, which can be numbered among the great wines of Italy and the world.
• Brunello di Montalcino features 100% Sangiovese. Fuller in body and more intense than most Chianti, they are long-lived, intensely aromatic, and supremely delicious.
• Rosso di Montalcino, basically Brunello with less aging. More forward and less expensive than Brunello
• Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made largely with Sangiovese under its local alias, Prugnolo. Unrelated to and finer than Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo.

07 Brunello di Montalcino, Capanna $49.99 The Wine Enthusiast rated the vintage at 95 points and the wine itself at 97 points. The math works out to an amazing wine experience.

09 Rosso di Montalcino, Sabazio $14.99 Savory and ready to drink. Exceptional value!

07 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Poliziano $29.99 Sangiovese with some Canaiolo, built in a meaty, impressive style.

Super Tuscan

Extending the modern vision of Chianti, many producers in Tuscany bottle what are popularly called Super Tuscans. These developed when creative producers started experimenting with unorthodox grape varieties or methods. Originally, these often astoundingly fine wines could only carry the lowly vino da tavolo designation. Authorities put in place a new designation, Indicazione Geographica Tipica, to indicate that the wines meet certain quality standards.

07 Villa Antinori $24.99 Great value for a beguiling wine. Sangiovese enriched with Cabernet and Merlot. Villa Antinori routinely receives 90+ ratings. Well-evolved and ready to drink, yet with the promise of further development.

99 Tignanello, Antinori $99.99 One of the first Super Tuscans, and one of the best. Tignanello originally sold itself as a Chianti. In the mid 1970s, the always innovative Antinori removed the white grapes from the blend, disqualifying it as a Chianti. In 1982, the blend switched to Sangiovese with Cabernet sauvignon and Cabernet franc. The results are super-charged. Fully-knit with boundless depth, Tignanello is a magnificent achievement, as the critics constantly aver.

Champagne

May begins a season of celebrations. Weddings and graduations, for sure, but also Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or just that two weeks’ respite from work. How better to celebrate these events than with Champagne? Champagne creates celebrations, if you don’t have one ready. A customer once chose Champagne over less expensive alternatives for his wedding reception, saying, “You only marry for the second time once.” Champagne maximizes every occasion.

Champagne’s aura of history, elegance, and glamour certainly adds to its appeal. The wines themselves, however, carry the field. The backbone of every Champagne house is its non vintage wines, particularly the brut. Producers blend these wines to produce a consistent style. Vintage bottlings appear in exceptional years, much like how Port producers offer their vintage wines.

You cannot go wrong with any of the Champagne houses listed below. Quality is high among them all. Preference for a particular house style will determine your choice. Winston Churchill, for instance, favored edgy yet full-bodied Pol Roger as his daily pour, along with brandy, and the inevitable cigar. Even during the dark years of World War II, he kept himself fortified. Mentioning that allows us to offer one of Winnie’s wicked remarks, of which there are many. We presume that his favorite Champagne inspired his remark: A woman at a party said to him, “Why Winston, you’re drunk.” He replied, “That may be so, madam, but tomorrow I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Game, set, match.

You may not drink Champagne daily as Churchill did, so what should you look for in a Champagne?

  • Fine and persistent bubbles. Champagne flutes are designed to maximize bubble creation. Soap residue can interfere with the bubbles so wipe glasses with a cloth before pouring.
  • A full, yeasty, complex aroma. Champagne sits on the less—dead yeast cells—for extended periods.
  • Crisp yet deep flavors.

A few more points to remember about Champagne:

  • Rosés often represent the finest offering from a champagne house. They are dry, complex, and absolutely delightful. Don’t let a rosé prejudice keep you from enjoying these great wines.
  • Champagne absolutely goes with food, including soups, main courses, desserts, and cheeses. An article in the New York Times recently recommended Bollinger Special Cuvée and Billecart Salmon Rosé as perfect accompaniments to pizza. Make your own rules.,
  • The bubbles do tickle your nose.

Nicolas Feuilatte $34.99—The number 3 bestselling champagne in the world!
The Wine Spectator, 92 point
Pommery $35.99
Perrier-Jouet $39.99—the famous “Flower Bottle” (impressive gift!)
The Wine Spectator, 90 points
Ayala (375ml)$29.99
Ayala (750ml) 44.99$
Roederer $44.99
Robert Parker 90 points, The Wine Spectator 90 points
Henriot $47.99
The Wine Spectator, 93 points
Moët & Chandon $49.99
Taittinger $49.99
Billecart-Salmon Brut $59.99
Moët & Chandon Brut 1.5L $99.99
Pol Roger Extra Cuvee de Réserve $55.00
Veuve Cliquot Brut $57.99
The Wine Spectator 90 points, Wine & Spirits 90 points
Veuve Cliquot Demi-Sec $57.99
Bollinger Special Cuvée $59.99
The Wine Spectator 93 points, Wine Enthusiast 93 points, Robert Parker 91 points
Roger Coulon $59.99
Paul Bara Rosé $74.99
Gosset Rosé $75.00
Wine & Spirits 91 points, The Wine Spectator 90 points
Billecart-Salmon Rosé $99.99
Krug Grand Cuvée $229.99—Simply amazing!
The Wine Spectator 95 points, Robert Parker 94 points
Roederer Cristal $250.00

Boulevard Brewing Company (Smokestack Series)

Boulevard Brewing Company has stirred interest at the stores lately. Boulevard produces richly-flavored brews with strong character. All are bottle-conditioned. That means that the brews enjoy a second fermentation in the bottle. Bottle conditioning improves freshness and flavor.

It might surprise you to learn that Boulevard is neither new nor small. Located in Kansas City, Missouri, the brewery aims at the local market first of all. Boulevard does not attempt to serve the nation, so consider ourselves lucky that we can get Boulevard ales at all.

As a brewery with some 90 employees, Boulevard represents barely a patch on Budweiser, Miller and the other big guys. Those 90 employees look like a Woodstock audience, however, compared to the almost homebrew scale of many boutique breweries.

The questions of brewery size or age pale next to the more urgent one: how do the ales taste? We say they taste pretty good, and expect you will say so, too. Much muttering and consultation must go on among those 90 employees because the ingredient lists of Boulevard beers show evidence of much trial and error. Only a brewer can tell you how the different hops, malts, and sugars used effect the final potion. We can declare that the balance of these elements in the final product rates nothing less than superb.

It thrilled us some to see listed in the ingredients for Tank 7 something called simply corn flakes. Did the brewer derive inspiration from a Kelloggs box one morning? While that could theoretically work—brewers constantly seek that one magic ingredient—a brewer might not want the salt and vitamins routinely added to breakfast cornflakes. We’re thinking the corn flakes Boulevard uses resemble more the corn kernel, perhaps rolled like oats.

We feature here Boulevard’s Smokestack Series of ales. These ales show dramatic character and richness with alcohol commonly at 8% or more. As such, they most certainly side nicely with meals. Boulevard bottles its products in 4-packs of 12-ounce bottles, and in 750ml “single serving” bottles. Okay, just kidding about the “single serving” bit: be prepared to share these robust ales. Treat them like wine and serve in goblets or wine glasses to enjoy best the aromas and flavors. Because they are bottle-conditioned, these beers will respond well to modest aging, up to a year.

Long Strange Tripel

The term Tripel basically indicates a strong beer. If strong means a whopping powerhouse, then this is truly a Tripel. Big, sweet flavors with lots of malt and booming hops. We didn’t research what the ingredient honey naked oats is, it sounds so picturesque that it seemed as well to leave it at that

Tank 7 Pale Ale

Named for a cantankerous piece of equipment, but there is nothing cantankerous about the beer. Tank 7 delivers ripe maltiness and spicy hops, with an overall deliciousness you will want to share.

Sixth Glass Belgian Dark Strong Ale

Intense, engrossing, and wildly delicious. This beer won Gold at the Australia International Beer Awards—we understand there are some beer drinkers in Australia—and Bronze at the Great American Beer Fest. A rich and imposing beer.

Double Wide IPA

An IPA for those who can’t get enough hops. Rich and spicy the way it ought to be. Silver at the Australia International Beer Awards and Bronze at the New Zealand Beer Awards.

Dark Truth Stout

Chocolate malt, pale malt, wheat malt, malted rye, Boulevard clearly is aiming for a stoutly built stout. A stunning mélange of sweet, spicy, dark, rich flavors and aromas. Favorite Commercial Beer at the Bluebonnet Brew Off. No kidding.

$11.99 4-pack (375ml bottles) / $8.99 bottle (750ml)

Barbaresco

The Piedmont in northern Italy produces two world-class wines made from the Nebbiolo grape: Barolo and Barbaresco. The dynamic power of Barolo seems to overshadow its hardly less powerful neighbor. Let us focus some on a few great Barbaresco.

The Piedmont enjoys a long growing season, which gives Nebbiolo time to ripen fully. Harvests typically go well into October. The grape gains great depth of flavor from this long season. In addition, cool nights and morning fog allow the grapes to gain good acid structure, and plenty of tannins for aging. In Barbaresco, Nebbiolo’s tannins soften more quickly than in Barolo, and the wine can be enjoyed at a younger age.

If you have never tried one of these noble wines of the Piedmont, Barbaresco offers a good introduction. Flavors offer an odd but beguiling contrast of earthy tarry notes, and perfumed, floral fruit. It stands as a classic wine at the pinnacle of Italy’s best.

Regulations require barrel and bottle aging before Barbaresco can be released. Vintners generally aim for a more forward style now, highlighting the opulent flavors and sweet, flowery aroma. The following all have reached prime drinking.
Bruno Rocca Barolo

Bruno Rocca

Rabajà $99.99
Coparossa $79.99

Bruno Rocca stands as one of the stars of the appellation. The wines ferment in steel, to keep the freshness of the fruit. Half the wine ages in new oak, the rest in older barrels so that the fruit does not become overcast by wood. Time in bottle allows the elements to mellow and merge. Mindblowing seems like the right adjective to describe the complex of opposing elements apparent in these wines. The Rabajà vineyards stands as one of Barbaresco’s jewels. The Coparossa consists of grapes from several vineyards.
Barbaresco

Colli dei Venti

Tufo di Blu $29.99
Great value for Barbaresco. This wine shows you the very real splendor that the appellation offers, but not at the price of a collectible. 90 Points from The Wine Spectator.

Monte degli Angeli

Barolo $24.99
A Barolo, yes, but comparable to Barbaresco in its readiness to please even now. No disrespect meant, this is Barolo with training wheels. That is to say, made in a delicious forward style. Nothing wrong with that! For a Barolo it is light at just under 14% alcohol. Smoky, spicy, and floral, with plenty of punch, this terrific value offers a fine glimpse at the marvels one can find in Barbaresco and Barolo. Roasts, hearty stews, or an array of cheeses would be superbly matched with this wine.

Two Local Breweries

By latest count, there are roughly 3 trillion little breweries dotting the map of the United States. Being small, they can afford to ignore the common denominator and create unique, idiosyncratic beers. Cambridge Brewing Company (aka CBC) and Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (AKA just Pretty Things) both locally produce interesting and delicious fare. And they do it in their own way. All the following brews come in 22 oz bottles.

Cambridge Brewing Company

CBC began as a brew pub, in 1989, and contunes, at 1 Kendall Sq., bldg 100. It was Boston’s first brew pub, and one of the first in the nation. That point can be corrected a bit, since in the old days, pubs and inns often created their own brews. Prohibition, that huge roadblock in the development of quality American wine and beers, ended that. So Americans have had to relearn. Enjoy the renaissance!

CBC’s focus remains on creating brews for the restaurant. The brewery can experiment with small batches, and discover what patrons want. CBC’s extensive line up of bottled beers reflects the favorites, all varied and delicious. The following are some of the highlights.

Audacity of Hops ($7.99)

Not everyone likes hops but those that do like it big time. For sure, Audacity has hops up to here, but dark and caramel malts help ease the impact. The palate is not scourged but freshened by the interplay of grass, flower, pine, and spice notes with the rounded savor of the malts. Breweries nowadays love to make statements like “A delicious fistfight of flavors” but, you know, that seems like an apt description.

Tripel Threat ($9.99)

A Belgian-style abbey beer, it is strong as get out, but we cannot leave it at that. The rich malty flavors and aroma enjoy the subtle addition of roasted coriander. Noted by the other Michael Jackson as the first Tripel brewed in this country, this outstanding dinner beer has won many awards. Serve in a wine glass to capture its full delight.

Bannatyne Scotch Ale ($6.99)

Another malty treat. CBC caramelized the wort to give this beer a sweetly dark molasses note. Hearty, warming, and satisfying, and a great après ski or snow shoveling reward.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Pretty ThingsThe team of Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Paquette might say Pretty Things is a rags to rags story but indeed the brewery is coming along fine. They just want to make beer in their own way. That they do, and finely crafted.

Dann and Martha own no equipment but rather rent facilities, not an uncommon practice in the craft beer world. Unless you can keep tanks full all the time, you are just sitting on capital. Pretty Things wants their resources to go into making and selling their unique beers.

Prior to Pretty Things  Dann worked at Ipswich Brewing Company, Pilgrim Brewery, Mill City Brewing Company, John Harvard’s Brew House, North East Brewing Company, The Haverhill Brewery, and Daleside Brewery in Yorkshire. So he has street cred. Martha’s from England, so she didn’t need to learn about great beer.

Babayaga

A big, strong, warming ale. Beer recipes can be surprising. Here, the idea of smoking malt with rosemary sounds unique. The beer tastes full, rich, and complex. A fine cool weather beer.

Hedgerow Bitter

Dry and bitter with a complement of UK hops. This is a stylistically leaner, more quenching bitter, more English in style than most from this country. Authentic tasting, even, in the best (rather than beer snob) sense.

Baby Tree

An abbey-style beer with four malts, including chocolate and oat. The Belgian model scales large, but in a way that meets food well. A mild sweetness, more like a vinous fruitiness, makes a savory complement to meals.

Beer Note

Sam Adams has already released Alpine Spring Ale. Is this canny marketing or do they know that we’re having no winter locally this year?

Value Wines–Some Options

We all take pleasure in finding wines that satisfy us yet do not strain our budget. We can happily return to these wines. Such wines serve our needs and please family and friends.

Canny winemaking occurs everywhere, and it can create surprising wonders even in grapes of putatively little distinction. Wine quality is greater than ever now. Really! The sciences of winemaking and grape growing have increased the knowledge base, giving producers more tools for making great wine. No need for a wine to sit in barrel till it loses all zest. Save the barrels for wines that need the oak element, and use stainless steel vats for those wines that depend on youthful freshness.

In addition to technological advances, regions that formerly made the plonkiest of plonk have realized the economic advantage of producing better wines. Prime case in point: prior to the 1990s, Argentina’s wine industry consisted almost entirely in the production of low-quality wines for local consumption. That seems incomprehensible now with all the wonderful wine the country exports today.

And so it goes throughout the world. So let us introduce you to a smattering of well-priced wines that can be enjoyed any time.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Dragani (Abruzzo) $5.99

Montepulciano is a workhorse grape in Abruzzo, producing much of the locally-consumed wine. Deep fruit character offsets a dark, tarry aspect. The style is gulpable with an affinity for meaty dishes, tomato sauces, and pizza. Lay in a supply: wine emergencies do occur, and this versatile wine can meet them.

Creme de Lys Chardonnay

Chardonnay, Crème de Lys (California) $10.99

We were surprised at this nifty value in California Chardonnay. Typical chardonnay lushness of fruit, but with more oak complexity than you would expect for the money. The wine has a creamy texture and makes you feel, happily, like you got a good deal.

Rioja Crianza, El Coto (Rioja) $11.99

Crianza indicates a wine aged for at least 2 years, one in oak. Here’s where modernization of winemaking shows its fruit. Not so long ago, you’d often find Rioja that have spent too much time in oak. Here you taste the complexity of oak without losing the tempting flavors of the tempranillo grape. A versatile wine, the winery suggests serving it with cod.

Le Drunken RoosterGrenache-Syrah, Le Drunk Rooster (Languedoc) $11.99

Le French government dislikes seeing French and English mixed. We, however, do like to see Grenache and Syrah mixed. From Southern France, this is a power-packed yet delicious wine. Grenache provides heady richness while syrah adds its own robustness plus earthy complexity. Roasts, stews, hearty cheeses, or by itself. You need not sacrifice power for value.

Sauvignon Blanc, Oyster Bay $11.99

Pinot Grigio, Kris $11.99 (Italy)

Sauvignon blanc has long been a second choice after Chardonnay, now Pinot Grigio has pulled up to provide affordable white wine options. We pair these two familiar but not exactly comparable whites because both have dropped significantly in price. The Oyster Bay has commanded popularity with its zippy citrus flavors, the Kris with its fresh and inviting fruit. You’ll love them both.

Shiraz, Shoofly (Australia) $12.99

Rated a top value by The Wine Spectator, this is classic Australian Shiraz. Big, peppery fruit, rounded with dusty tannins and plenty of flavor. Just plain delicious.

And not forgetting two lines of solid wines at everyday prices. The U.S. has long been recognized as having very high standard for inexpensive wine. Australia is drawing alongside in that top spot. Both countries produce a lot of well-priced and delicious wines to serve everyday. The following, for sure, rank among the best, if you need reminding:

Woodbridge $8.99 (750) / $14.99 (1.5)

From Robert Mondavi, this label offers tasty, reliable Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot grigio, Riesling, and Moscato

Yellow Tail $7.99 (750) / $13.99 (1.5)

From Australia, these eminently drinkable and popular wines include Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Merlot, Moscato, Shiraz, Cabernet/Merlot, Pinot Noir/Shiraz.