Thursday, June 12, 2008

Foster’s California Winemakers on Tour – May 28, 2008

California has been coming to town a lot lately … it’s part of the on-going push to get California back on top of the new world wine heap. This time the Foster’s Wine Group organized their Winemakers on Tour program: 9 wineries, including Beringer, Etude, Stag’s Leap, Greg Norman and Cellar No. 8 along with their winemakers, took time out to pour, taste and talk about their wines. A California Cabernet seminar preceded the tasting, but my invitation got lost in the mail, so I will be reporting only on the wines I tasted.

Cab rules California, so you’ll find tons at any tasting where California wines are the focus. I start any California tasting believing that most will taste the same, so it is up to the winery/winemaker to prove they truly have done something really different and interesting with this grape. The folks at Beringer were otherwise occupied, so I decide to run the gamut of their Cabs to see if I could taste the difference between the $23.75 Third Century Cab 2004 (#47704), the $29.95 Napa Valley Cab 2004 (#552851), the $39.75 Knights Valley Cab 2005 (#352583) or the Private Reserve 2002 ($119.95 - #552851). The real difference was in the tannins. The further up in price, the smoother the tannins, the sweeter the fruit, until I hit the ’02 Private Reserve, where those tannins became downright silky. Then there was the elegance of the 1998 Private reserve, poured from a 3L bottle (double magnum); it was in a league all by itself. Speaking of classy, the 2006 Alluvium Blanc ($29.95) – a blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier is surly one to search out; best white on the floor today – each grape brought something to the blend - floral, melon, pear with a citrus finish and good acidity that proves itself to be quite crisp, until the very end where it flattens out. Delicious.

On the subject of blends, I was glad to get away from straight Cabs to try St. Clement’s “Oroppas”. Labeled as a “Cabernet Sauvignon”, but with elements of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the blend … the 2001 had 15% and 4% respectively while the 2002 added 4% Petit Verdot to its 15% Merlot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The 2002 “Oroppas” was the nicest red I tried this afternoon: plenty of spice and floral on the nose, delicious black fruit especially black cherry, with smooth, supple tannins. Could sip on this one all night with or without food.

Stag’s Leap Winery brought more “others” than Cabs and their 2005 Ne Cede Malis ($89.95) Petit Syrah was rich, chocolaty and black fruit oriented – this is a limited quantity wine, especially the Canadian allotment (which is something like 10 cases) so search this one out carefully, and if you find it snap it up.

I’ll end with a wine that has been extremely popular since Miles and Jack put it back in our collective consciousness. Etude 2005 Carneros Pinot Noir ($69.95) – lots of red fruit and berries, including strawberries and punchy tannins. Quite lovely.

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