Cabernet Sauvignon

Wine Review | Robert Craig 2009 Affinity, Napa Valley

Wine Review | Robert Craig 2009 Affinity, Napa Valley

I’ve had the ’09 vintage of Robert Craig’s “Affinity” before, but it recently caught my attention at my local Costco -priced at under $40! I couldn’t pass it up.

Great napa wine

I have an Affinity for this wine!

The blend on the 2009 Affinity is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 2 % Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc.

Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator had estimated the wines maturity to occur  between 2012-2013 and 2017-2023. While there is quite a bit of difference on the back end of that estimate, they are very close on the start. As I write this post it is about halfway through 2013 and this wine is definitely coming into its own right now.

The nose is quintessential Napa.  espresso, cocoa, with floral hints from the Cabernet Franc .  The palate is rich, dark and robust.  Plum and cherry with a solid backbone of tannins provided by the Petit Verdot.

I sampled this over a 24 hour period.  Enjoying the first half of the bottle with grilled Filet Mignon and baked potato with all the fixings.  On the second night I had it just by itself, before dinner.  The wine definitely opened up by the second night, which is not to say it wasn’t ready to drink on the first night.  On the first night I decanted for 15 minutes only.

Retail price on this wine is about $55.  You can expect to pay $80-$120 at a restaurant.

Weekly Wine Journal rating: 96 points

Three 95 point Napa Cabernets under $100

Although I am likely to be castigated by fellow wine bloggers for this, I thought I would go ahead and do it anyway!  95 point Napa Valley Cabernets for under $100.  On first glance there is just so much wrong with that sentence.

It was hoped by many that 2012 would be the year consumers would learn to think for themselves and stop buying wine based on points. So being a bit of  a contrarian I just couldn’t help myself.

I thought it might be fun for wealthy wine nerds to have a wine party (and invite me).  Everyone would need to bring a bottle of wine.  A wine rated 95 points or higher, and priced at under $100.

SO…without any flavor profiles or any context what so ever,  here are 3 wines that would suffice:

napa wine2007 Clark-Caludon Estate Cabernet:

Rating: 95 points Robert Parker

Price: $78

napa wine2008 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet

rating: 95 points, Robert Parker

Price: $48

2007 Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cabernet

Rating: 96 Points, Robert Parker

Price: $80

Did I miss any?  What wines would you put on the list?

Scott McWilliam shares some of his new wines

I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Scott McWilliam, 6th generation Australian wine maker for McWilliam’s wines.  A quick primer on McWilliam’s: Founded in 1877,  McWilliam’s is Australia’s most awarded winery.  They won 40 trophies and 889 medals in 2009 alone! Scott has been making wine since age 14 and has spent time in Bordeaux.

We tasted several wines in this sitting including Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and a special Bordeaux blend called “Jack’s Blend”

A quick video introducing  Jack’s Blend:

A quick video introducing McWilliam’s Cabernet:

an even quicker video introducing McWilliam’s Riesling:

McWilliam’s WEBSITE

Twigs Organic Wine | Malbec | Cabernet | Merlot

Twigs Organic Wine’s 2008 releases feature a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot and a Malbec.  All are certified Organic by the OIA, an organization which is accredited with the USDA.

Organic WineAlthough the Twigs name is new, the family behind the wine is not.  The Cecchin family has been farming grapes for 100 years, in the traditional way- with horse tilled fields and without the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Originally from Italy,  the Cecchin family put down roots in the Maipu region of Argentina and in 1959 they founded the wine company Bodega Familia Cecchin.

Twigs 2008 Malbec is 100% certified Organic Malbec from Maipu, Mendoza.  The alcohol content is refreshingly light at 13.5%.  This is an unoaked, fruit forward wine.  Though it is not terribly complex, it is well balanced and quite approachable, and should satisfy a wide range of palates.  Retail price is $14.99

Twigs 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% certified Organic Cabernet from Maipu, Meondoza.  Once again the alcohol content is 13.5%,  the wine is unoaked and fruit forward.  This wine has a slightly peppery finish.  As with the Malbec it is approachable.  Retail is $14.99

Twigs 2008 Merlot is 100% certified Organic Merlot also from Maipu, Argentina. Alcohol is 13.5%, the wine is fruit forward and unoaked.  Retail is $14.99

All three wines are almost identical in style.  Uncomplicated, fruit forward, light on the alcohol and unoaked.  At $14.99 the wine is a decent value.  I think if it you can find it for under $10 it would be an exceptional value.

Twigs Wine is distributed by Potluck Wines

Twigs Wines

*This wine was received as a sample

Wine Review | Robert Mondavi 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Robert Mondavi, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Blend: 85% Cabernet, 7% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 2% Syrah, 1% Petit Verdot

Alcohol: 15.3%

Residual Sugar: .14 g/L

Total acid: .6 g/L

Final pH: 3.69

Grape Sourcing: 100% Napa Valley (40% To Kalon Vineyard)

Price: suggested retail $28

Robert Mondavi’s Napa Cab is usually a safe bet when you’re at a restaurant and don’t recognize the other brands on the wine list.  This wine can be found on most wine lists across the country and usually at a fair price, considering the quality.

I’ve had this wine in many different restaurants and also had many different vintages of this wine.  While the wine is not mind blowing amazing, it is good and consistently good.  Year after year this wine delivers, and considering it’s actually a large production wine, the consistency is an achievement.

So, how does this vintage fair?  The nose consists of a mix of cherries and plums, not explosive but it is noticeable.  The palate transitions into a standard Napa Valley fair of ripe fruit.  Blackberry and black cherry dominate with a bit of oak and spice in the back ground.  A smooth finish, well balanced.  If you can find this wine for around $15-$20 it will be a good find.

Weekly Wine Journal rating 88 points

Affordable California Cult Wines | Robert Craig

Robert Craig Wine label

96 points, Robert Parker

The 5th and final (for now) installment of my Affordable Cult California Wines series brings us to the Howell Mountain District of Napa.  At $50 and up per bottle, this wine is by far the most expensive of series and a lot of people would consider it to be profoundly unaffordable.  However, if you put the price in the context of its appellation, total production, and ratings, it is one of the best values coming out of California.

Let’s start with a quick look at the Howell Mountain A.V.A.  It is home to well known brands like Cakebread, Duckhorn, and Robert Foley.  Robert Foley produces a Howell Mountain Cabernet (available only through lottery) and a Claret.  The 2001 Robert Foley Claret received 99 points from Robert Parker and the 2007 vintage received 98 points.  Unfortunately, these wines only start at $110 a bottle, giving them “Cult” status, but not “affordable cult” status. There is however another Robert in the Howell Mountain district whose wines are more affordable and equally legendary.
Before we get to him, let’s take a closer look at the area.  Howell Mountain became an A.V.A back in 1983, making it the first sub appellation of Napa. The history of vines on Howell Mountain date back to the 1880’s.  Howell Mountain is located in the northeast corner of Napa in the Vaca mountains with the elevation of its vineyards ranging between 1,400 and 2,200 feet above sea level. The elevation means that the vines are located above the fog line, allowing ample access to sunlight, as well as cooler days and warmer nights. There are two types of soil in the Howell Mountain A.V.A: volcanic ash, also known as “Tuff’ and a dry red clay, both of which are not nutrient rich.  As if that is not enough, the terrain is rocky and porous.  This environment places stress on its vines, which fits right in with the “High Risk, High Reward” philosophy of viticulture.  Stressing the vines produces smaller harvests and smaller berries, but the fruit that is produced is considered superior, more concentrated, intense and complex.
Which other Robert am I talking about?  Robert Craig.  The Robert Craig Winery is located in the very north end of the Howell Mountain District. Robert Craig has been making wine for the better part of 30 years.  Craig was actually in real estate-asset managment in the ’70’s and in 1978 he formed a group and purchased a 300 acre vineyard on Mt. Veeder. Three years later they sold the vineyard to Donald Hess. Hess asked Craig to stay on and he became the general manager of the brand new, well-known Hess Collection Winery.  In 1991 Craig also established the Pym Rae Vineyard, and in 1992, with the help of friends, he finally established his very own vineyard.
Robert Craig Winery has recently been receiving rave reviews.  In 2006, Wine Spectator ranked Robert Craig one of the top 50 Napa producers based on the last 15 years of ratings.  Speaking of ratings, how about the ratings from Robert Parker on the 2007 vintage?  Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon: 93 points. Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: 94 points. Affinity: 96 points. Finally, Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: 96 points!  The ‘07 Howell Mountain Cabernet is not yet available on the website, so instead, why not try the ‘06 vintage while you wait?
The blend is 84% Cabernet, 12% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc.  The wine saw 20 months in French oak, 75% new.  The alcohol comes in at 14.8% and production was a minute 1,240 cases.

Robert Craig and I

If the $70 price tag is too rich for your blood, you could pick up a bottle of the 2007 Affinity for only $48!  The Affinity should be much more widely available, with a more accessible but still small 5,700 cases produced.

Want to read about my prior four Affordable Cult California Wines? They can be found below. Let me know if you have had the chance to taste any of these, and if you’d agree with me. Also, do you have any wines that you consider to be “Affordable California Cult” wines? I’d love to know about ‘em!

Cameron Hughes Wines | A Revolutionary Wine Business Model

Wine bottlesThose of you that read my blog know that Cameron Hughes wines are nothing new to me.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Cameron Hughes label, do yourself a favor and read the recent Wall Street Journal article titled Taking advantage of the wine glut.

Cameron Hughes has undertaken an innovative business model, buying up the excess supply of high-end winery’s wine at a bargain basement price. The Cameron Hughes label is then slapped on the bottle and sold for a fraction of the price to retailers across the states. Hughes has taken advantage of the current over supply in California to build a reputation for quality, affordability, and entrepreneurial prowess.  The 2008 Cameron Hughes Lot 200 Napa Valley Cabernet really takes his business model to the next level.

Lot 200 Label

Lot 200, $200 Juice?

The fruit for this monster Napa Cab comes from three of Napa’s most prestigious sub appellations: Stag’s Leap, Rutherford and Oakville. On his website Cameron gives just a glimpse of who’s juice this maybe.  He had to sign a 3 page Non-Disclosure Agreement which left very little left to say except that the people he acquired this wine from do not sell a bottle of wine for under $200 and have multiple 100 point scores under their belts.  This wine was available for $27 on the website but sold out in a matter of weeks when Costco bought almost ALL of the 4,000 cases produced!

lot 182 label

Lot 182, 4 years in shiners

Another outstanding value is Lot 182 Atlas Peak Meritage.  As the story goes there was a mix up in this deal and the labels had already been printed when Cameron discovered that this Meritage was actually 90% Cabernet and could have been sold as an Atlas Peak Cab, but c’est la vie!  This wine was purchased in shiners and had been minding its own business in a cellar for 4 years before being released.  It is drinking really well right now, and I use it as my go to “pop and pour” wine.

The Cameron Hughes production model has been able to thrive in a time when California wines have suffered, becoming less fashionable during the shaky economic climate of the past couple years. California 2009 retail wine sales were down about 3%.  Have you tried any Cameron Hughes Wines or any American wine negociants?

More Reviews:

Lot 200

Lot 182

Affordable California Cult Wines | Von Strasser

Von Strasser Diamond Mountain Reserve

The "Reserve" labels will cost you $150+ a bottle, but you can pick up the DMD labels for around $50

The fourth installment of “Affordable California Cult Wines” takes us to the Diamond Mountain District of Napa. Most everyone who follows Napa wines has heard of Oakville, Stag’s Leap and Rutherford Districts but what about the districts that make up the Eastern Vaca Mountain Range in the Mayacamas?  There are five: Atlas Peak, Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and the newest of the 5, Diamond Mountain District (DMD) which became an AVA in 2001. Although the AVA is 5,000 acres, only 500 acres are planted with vines, most of which is Cabernet, making it the smallest of the Napa sub appellations.   Diamond Mountain itself is named after the volcanic glass crystals found in its soil. With a climate that is moderately warm, it is significantly cooler than the Napa Valley floor during the day, but slightly warmer at night.  As the name suggests, this is a higher elevation region, starting at 400 feet all the way up to 2,200 feet. The wines are generally more tannic than the wines produced on the valley floor. Some of the more well known wineries and vineyards from DMD include Sterling Vineyards and Schramsberg Vineyards. They have great structure and aging potential. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety but according to The Wine News it is also home to the greatest concentration of Petit Verdot in Napa.

The Von Strasser vineyard is home to the second largest planting of Petit Verdot in the Diamond Mountain District. The winery is known for using high doses of Petite Verdot in their blends, sometimes upwards of 44%. While it may seem like a wacky blend to some, Rudy Von Strasser has plenty of wine making credentials to put your mind at ease. His wine career began after graduating UC Davis in 1985 and working as an intern at none other than Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.  Rudy returned to Napa a year later and was hired by Trefethen Wines. From there he went to Newton, and by 1990 he managed to purchase the Roddis Estate Winery located on Diamond Mountain. The Von Strasser brand has a 3 tier system: “Reserve” which is only made in great vintages, “Single Vineyard”, and “DMD”, or Diamond Mountain District.  While the first two tiers can run upwards of $100+ a bottle, the Diamond Mountain District Cabernet is available at a very reasonable $50, direct from the winery website.
The 2006 Von Strasser Cabernet Diamond Mountain District is a blend of 85% Cabernet, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Zinfandel and 2% Merlot. The alcohol is a moderate 13.5%, with a Bordeaux-like structure, along with tart blackberry and cherry fruit encompassed by smoky oak. The tannins are more intense than most Napa Cabs, yet the wine is still wonderfully balanced and has a nice lush mouth-feel.  Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 91 points and they estimate that the wine should continue to develop through 2012, which is just around the corner.  You won’t have to wait too long for this wine to reach its peak.  The wine was aged for 22 months in 100% French oak, 30% of which were new barrels. A miniscule but attainable 2,465 cases produced, making this wine the most accessible in my ‘Affordable California Cults’ series wines. Von Strasser is starting to get some rave reviews and was recently crowned Value Winery of the year (2009) by Wine & Spirits magazine, to go alongside their Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year award, received in 2005. Get your hands on Von Strasser’s wines now, before more wine publication awards send its prices high and its availability low!
Edited by Jon Troutman

Affordable California Cult Wines | Venge Vineyards

“California Cult Wines” usually connote images of big wigs spending massive amounts of money, bidding on wines at auction. I was lucky enough to attend a tasting that made me rethink the definition of Cult Wine. This is the second installment of a five part series, where I profile wineries making small amounts of incredible quality wines, at very reasonable prices.

Venge Vineyards was founded in 1992 by Nils Venge, who is known as “The King of Cabernet”.  After graduating UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science in Grape Vine Viticulture, Nils took a job at well known Sterling Vineyards. In 1971 he was hired by Villa Mount Eden as their first wine maker.  While there he made the 1974 and 1978 vintages of Cabernet which put Villa Mount Eden on the map. While at Villa Mount Eden, Nils and his father in law bought a 17 acre Cabernet Vineyard right in the heart of Oakville.  The vineyard supplied Villa Mount Eden with its grapes and is now surrounded by other big names such as Silver Oak, Opus One and Groth.  In 1982 Nils Venge became a minority partner with Dennis Groth, and helped form Groth Vineyard.  His skills as a wine maker became well known while he was at Groth, and in 1985 the Cabernet Sauvignon received a 100 point rating from Robert Parker, making it the first Californian wine to receive 100 points. In 1992, Nils took his amazing track record and formed his namesake vineyard, Venge Vineyards.
In 2008 Venge moved operations to the newly acquired Rossini Ranch, a 12 acre cabernet ranch.  Over the years Venge Vineyards has consistently attained amazing ratings.  Check the last 3 vintages of the Family Reserve Cabernet for example:
2005: 94 points, Wine Enthusiast,
2006: 95 points, Robert Parker
2007: 95-98 points Robert Parker.
Only 150 six-bottle cases of the 2007 vintage were produced and at $125 it would seem like a good investment. Not everyone can afford to drop 100+ dollars on a bottle of wine, and luckily Venge produces much more affordable, Cult-quality wines. These are some labels to look out for.
2009 Venge, Champs de Fleur Proprietary White:
The name comes from the French term “field of flowers”, which is what the aromatics of this wine are like.  There are slight lemon grass accents and solid tropical fruit flavors on the palate.  A little bit of passion fruit and lemon drop in the mix, and you’re in for a treat.
The blend is 55% Sauvignon Blanc, 34% Chardonnay, and 11% Viognier, with the alcohol weighing in at 14.5%. This wine was whole cluster pressed and each varietal was fermented in separate stainless steel tanks before being moved to neutral French oak for 8 months. 25% of the wine underwent Malolactic fermentation which adds a nice softness to the finish. With only 675 cases produced and retail price of $25 a bottle, this certainly constitutes as a California Cult wine.
The second extremely good value Venge has to offer is called “Scout’s Honor’ named after Nils’ his dog.  Robert Parker raves about this wine calling it a “superb value” and states that the 2007 vintage is the best yet, awarding it 92 points. The 2008 vintage is currently in pre-release and you can only buy 2 bottles at a time from the website. Again, if this isn’t cult wine, I don’t know what is.
The 2008 Scout’s Honor blend is 66% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 15% Charbono, and 4% Syrah. Charbono is not common in California, however it is the 2nd most popular varietal in Argentina where it is called Bonarda.  It was aged for 16 months in 60% new American Oak from Missouri. The alcohol is a knock you on your butt 15.2% – wow!  The beauty of this wine is that there is absolutely no heat present; the alcohol is very well integrated. The nose is full of red cherry and licorice while the palate is rich and very ripe with peppery accents. There is also a bit of minerality from the Charbono; very interesting, complex with a nice long finish.  Just over 1,000 cases were produced, and it’s priced at $38 on the Venge website. Thankfully, my favorite local wine merchant has it for $23.99!  If you like the more ripe, Lodi style of Zinfandel but want something with more complexity, you will definitely want to get your hands on a case of this wine.
Stay tuned for three more names to watch for, producing Cult-like quality at prices that won’t break the bank.

Affordable California Cult Wines, part 1 | Robert Young

wine labelA while back I attended a wine tasting billed as “5 Affordable California Cult Wines”.  Affordable and Cult?  This I had to see. Below is the first of a five part article series reviewing these Cult California labels that I was impressed by.

The first of the wines sampled was the 2006 Robert Young Reserve Chardonnay. According to the label, Robert Young Estate Winery, “Is a tribute to our heritage as fourth generation farmers deeply rooted in the Alexander Valley since 1858″.
I needed to dig a little deeper.  According to Susan Young Sheehy, Robert’s daughter, the history of her family in the Alexander Valley started with her great grandfather, Peter Young, who moved to California from upstate New York in the 1800’s and bought a farm. Robert Young was born two generations later in 1919. After The Great Depression which almost saw the family to lose the farm, the Young family eventually hit its stride. In 1963 Robert Young planted the very first Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the now well known wine region of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley.  The first crops were more successful than anticipated and Robert began tearing out the prune orchards.  By 1967 he had planted Chardonnay. In 1976 Chateau St. Jean put the Robert Young name on their label, making the specific vineyard designation a first in American wine. Today, the vineyard produces 14 premium varieties, producing nearly 2,000 tons of grapes. Only 75 tons of these grapes are reserved for the Robert Young Estate Chardonnay, sourced from the very best vines. Their 130 acres of Chardonnay consist of two clones (#17 and #26) which were sourced from Burgundy vines and developed by Robert Young in collaboration with UC Davis.  Many people consider the #17 clone (or the “Robert Young Clone”) to be the very best American Chardonnay.  In 2008 Robert and his son Jim were recognised for their significant contributions to Sonoma County Viticulture and were awarded the Viticulture Award of Excellence by the Sonoma County Wine Grape Commission. Robert Young passed away on June 19th, 2009 at age 90.  What an incredible life! Something to think about while sipping this fantastic Chardonnay:
2006 Robert Young Reserve Chardonnay.  100% Estate grown in Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.  This wine saw 14 months in 40% new French oak, 100% barrel fermented with full malolactic fermentation.  Alcohol weighs in at 14.3% and production was 3,285 cases.  At my favorite wine shop it is selling for $23.99.  This wine was rated 90 points by Wine Spectator and 92 points by Wine Enthusiast. Most of the previous vintages have scored 92-93 points, the exception being the 02 vintage which scored 89 points from Wine Spectator.  However, the 01 vintage received 96 points, Editors Choice and best White Wine of the Year from Wine Enthusiast.
Fans of  rich, full bodied, dry and oaky Chardonnay will love this, with its multi-layered mid palate displaying a nutty and fig like component with a creamy finish.
If you are looking for something a little more “cultish” you could try to track down a bottle of the Robert Young Cabernet “Big Block”, with only 145 cases produced.  If that is still not cultish enough you could try their 2007 Barrel Select Chardonnay which was aged in 2 Seguin Moreau French oak barrels, only enough to make 48 cases.
Though it sounds like an oxy-moron, the small production and long history behind this label make Robert Young a contender as an afforable, California Cult wine. Do you have any personally crowned, affordable California “Cult” wines?
Edited by Jon Troutman