Thursday, October 23, 2008

Freemark Abbey Cabernet

Freemark Abbey
Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California

$31.88 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Dark red with a slight purple tinge
Nose: Loam, berry patch on a hot day
Body: Full
Front: Cherry
Middle: Kale, licorice, plums
Back: Cedar, a little cinnamon, tannins
Burns clean?: It would have, if I hadn't drunk almost the entire bottle
Cap: Cork

This is a delightful wine, and a good bargain, given its complexity. It's plenty tight on opening, so don't judge it right away. In fact, I would guess that more time in the cellar would be a good thing for this bottle. I like this blend, but must admit to being a big fan of Freemark Abbey's single-vineyard Sycamore Cabernet, which is a bit more like the Sattui Morisoli and the Faust Cabernets that I've reviewed earlier.

This is a French-style Cabernet; it's soft and complex, never quite ascends to fruitiness but gets brighter as it opens up. It's like reading a Balzac story; it has good characters, and it tangibly enjoys its own patient unfolding. I'm listening to Dave Brubeck as I drink it, and there's beautiful cross-media harmony happening.

Note: It's now two hours later, and I'm enjoying a final glass with a smidgen of chorizo (a classic KY-Latino dessert). It is a stunning combination; the wine gets almost chocolate-sundae-like in response, and the smokiness of the chorizo shines through the spices. More cross-media harmony, on a cool Texas night.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thorpe Reserve Cabernet

Thorpe Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon
McLaren Vale, Australia

$25.99 at Carolina Wine Co., Chapel Hill, NC

Color: Dark reddish-purple
Nose: Violets, clove, Fernet Branca
Body: Full
Front: Blueberries and eucalyptus
Middle: Pepper; a hint of anchovy
Back: Rosemary and caramelized onions; after an hour or so, dusty tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

This is one of the most herbal Cabernets I've tasted. Very interesting, right out of the bottle. Good after a couple of hours, too, and the (comparatively) low alcohol content means you get to enjoy it the entire time. Lively and quick, just like St. Nick! Actually, it's not quick; it's got quite a long delivery. The mintiness goes beautifully with both French onion soup (with Parrano cheese) and the latest record from The Ditty Bops.

Fascinating too is that Thorpe Wines's parent company is a drilling company. No, my fellow Texans, not that kind of drilling--they drill for water. It is, after all, Australia. I hope the water they find is as good as the wine they make.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon

Bodega Catena Zapata
Cabernet Sauvignon
Mendoza (Agrelo and Tupungato)
$19.99 in Chapel Hill, NC

Color: Medium red with purple tinge
Nose: Blackberries and anise
Body: Full
Front: Plums, honeysuckle
Middle: Pepper, licorice
Back: Cedar, gear-shift handle
Burns clean?: Mostly
Cap: Cork

I have to no time to write tonight, yet write I must. This is a good deal in a Cabernet, and to some palates, will seem to be a great one. It's austere, a little French and a little New World. Yet it went better with the Bawn in the Mash I was listening to this evening than it did with the tomato-and-avocado salad.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mollydooker Two Left Feet

Mollydooker Wines
Two Left FeetShiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
McLaren Vale, Australia
$21.99 in Chapel Hill, NC

Color: Deep red with purple tinge
Nose: Blueberries and mocha
Body: Full
Front: Buttery berries
Middle: Peppery basil
Back: Chocolate, olive
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

Continuing my pilgrimage through the Mollydooker collection, I linger at Two Left Feet for a moment. This has the profile of all the Marquis wines: bigness, forwardness, unabashedness, and then, after it's opened up for a bit, complexity. It's a lesson in befriending certain kinds of personalities. Wait for it, go with it, watch carefully, and you might be rewarded. Spend too much time with them, you get really smashed. They're cheap, and crowd-pleasers. How far can we take this metaphor? It's okay, I'm done.

This one is a bit better with food, I think, than some of the straight shirazes. It was stunning with a brisket I brought home this evening, and not bad with kalamata olives, either.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hahn Estates Cabernet Sauvignon

Hahn Winery
Cabernet SauvignonCentral Coast (Monterey)
Soledad, California
$13.99 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Deep purple
Nose: Blackberry, mocha, cardboard
Body: Full, but soft
Front: Strawberry
Middle: Pepper, cedar
Back: Chocolate, spice, soft tannins
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

A delightful bargain of a wine. It's leftover night at the ranch, and this is a great pair with cold steak and an apples-and-cheese appetizer. Once it opens up a bit, it gets fruitier, but stays subtle--it doesn't bowl you over off the bat, but opens slowly with a bit of contemplation. The nose is lovely. If you like Andrew Will wines, this one will please at a fraction of the price; the grapes are, I think, actually Paso Robles in origin, which is a good thing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Educated Guess Cabernet

Roots Run Deep Winery
Educated Guess
Cabernet SauvignonNapa Valley
Oakville, California
$21.99 at Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Deep red with a tinge of purple
Nose: Blueberries and celery
Body: Full
Front: Cucumber
Middle: Cassis, spice
Back: Licorice, balsa
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

The stock market appears to have gone off its meds, an insightful person told me today. So tonight I experimented oenophilically, on the cheaper end of the spectrum than I've been working of late with Cabernets, and with a wine whose name seems rather to describe the economic theory that got us into this mess. The experiment was not a complete failure, but it was a bit disappointing, much like capitalism may come to appear to have been in a few months.

Educated Guess is a large, fruity Napa Cabernet, and a good deal at this price or cheaper. But don't go borrowing on margin on it; there's a weird sort of taste in the front that I can't quite enjoy, and though most of the 2005s are supernal, I think this one might not hold up quite as long, given the not-so-stout tannins. Still, maybe I'm just off my palate today. I cut up a cucumber to test my taste theory on the front of this wine, and sure enough, it did make it more cinnamony and vanillaish by cancelling out the vegetal attack. But then, the cucumber sort of tasted fishy when I ate it after the wine, and that ain't right. I hope. "And so the universal thump," writes Herman Melville, "gets passed around."

There was a bit of the Mollydooker Boxer from yesterday left over, getting a trifle oxidized, so I made a wine sauce out of it the ol' French way, with butter, shallots, stock, a smidgen of garlic and a smidgen of flour. Fantastic: rich, intense, layered stuff, owing not a little to the wine.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz

Mollydooker Wines
The Boxer
McLaren Vale, Australia
$23.99 in Chapel Hill, NC

Color: Inky strawberry
Nose: Berries, graham cracker, a little heat
Body: Full
Front: Cassis
Middle: Ice cream sandwich
Back: Blueberry, pepper
Burns clean?: Yes, if you don’t drink too much
Cap: Screwcap

This another excellent wine made by Sarah and Sparky Marquis (which I think is pronounced markwiss). It’s a whopper, true to its name. But the metaphor breaks down quickly: this is not one to go into the ring with alone. Bring friends and tag team unless you are a Fight Club aficionado. Strong as it is, the texture is soft and sparkly.

Like most things, it needs to breathe a bit. Once it opens up it’s astonishingly complex. If you get a newer one, consider this unusual recommendation by the winery. And I’m serious about the ice cream sandwich, by all that is holy. Oddly a good combination, all things considered, with the Stilton I’m eating tonight from the world-famous Wheatsville Co-op.

Note, 13 January 2010: I tried the 2008, with a chicken and chorizo stew. Raspberry jam, black cherry, pie, a little hint of mint, and plenty of oak lending a nice creaminess (like the 2006), without too much of a milk flavor. I think I like this more, actually, than the 2006, and it has enough fruitiness in there to develop for a little while.


Duckhorn Wine Company
Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
Napa Valley
St. Helena, CA

$49.99 at Whole Foods, Evanston, IL

Color: Deep raspberry
Nose: Blackberries, anise, pepper
Body: Medium to full
Front: Plums
Middle: Chocolate
Back: Cedar, banana
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Cork

A few years ago, my good friend Todd introduced me to this wine. Todd is a lover of what most of us would call bad puns. His favorite joke is the old standby, “A horse walks into a bar…” etc. So I was taken a bit by surprise when this wine with a silly name turned out to be astonishingly good, complex, rich, evolutionary. Todd’s jokes turned out to be funnier than I thought; the world seemed to be a more recoverable project; the birds were all lightness and splendor; and even the squirrels seemed full of wisdom.

That was the 2003, I think. The 2004 was better; the 2005 is stunning, too. Though it’s largely Zinfandel, this is Silverado Trail wine, so it can stand up to serious food. This wine is a catalyst for joy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Strong Arms Shiraz

R Wines
Strong Arms Shiraz
McLaren Vale
Eastwood, Australia
$11.99 -- Whole Foods, Austin, TX

Color: Deep red
Nose: Blueberry with a hint of cinnamon
Body: Full
Front: Blueberries
Middle: Dirt, creamy vanilla
Back: Cedar, okra?
Burns clean?: Yes
Cap: Screwcap

One of my bloggin' colleagues writes that at some point in your wine-drinking days, "you stop following individual grapes or regions and begin chasing individual winemakers and importers." I believe we're on the same page when I say that it's not that the latter two entities are a better indicator of quality--but that you're probably in tune with their taste. Tuning is more important, because wine is for pleasure.

The first time I really asked with interest who an importer was, it was just after sharing a bottle of Henry's Drive Shiraz with my friend Todd. Good lord, it was good, and I'd never seen it before. THE GRATEFUL PALATE, OXNARD, CA. Watching for this on the back label has never led me astray, and it didn't with Strong Arms Shiraz, either.

A lot of wines have groovy packaging and not much else. In the case of this wine and the others imported by Grateful Palate, it's an attention to style that extends to every part of the operation, apparently, from grapes to fact sheets to leveraging value: good luck finding another $12 wine with more complexity, subtlety, and intensity than this. Everyone seems to benefit from this outfit; it's like magic--check out not just the label art, by Mel Kadel, but the way Grateful Palate took the time A) to go for six different images and B) make a separate PDF out of each.

(I've seen Kadel's art compared to Sendak and Gorey, but it seems to me perhaps as much like a Kathe Kollwitz, cheered up by Roald Dahl, collaborates with Shel Silverstein type of thing. Sick, wrong, and lovely!)

Food matters to The Grateful Palate. The best sign of their attention to detail is that they have not only great wines, but a Bacon of the Month Club. I didn't do justice to the wine by pairing it with cajun roasted chicken (though the onions came out splendidly), but with edamame (also lightly cajun, just to be perverse) the shiraz was harmonic.