Cabernet Week at WineShopper

As we come to the last day of WineShopper‘s Cabernet week, I thought it may be helpful to talk up some of the wines we’re showcasing & why these are not only fantastic deals, but also fantastic wines.

Won’t lie – Cabernet Sauvignon is not my favorite grape. I’d typically prefer Champagne, Pinot Noir or a White Burgundy over a Cab, but there are definitely times and places for a good bottle of this age-worthy and complex style of wine.

Some fun Cabernet Sauvignon facts:
– Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc (daddy) and Sauvignon Blanc (mommy). Nice parentage – certainly explains the name!
– The grape has a high “pip to pulp” ratio, which equals high “skin to juice” ration. Since the skins of Cabernet Sauvignon have such high and concentrated phenolics, this leads to a wine high in tannins and worthy of age.
– Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted grape in Lebanon, where Chateau Musar (not the region that screams Cabernet, much less wine) makes collectible wines.

This week, a few gems we’re offering at WineShopper include:

Kenwood Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon – year after year this is one of my favorite wines. It’s one of the best California Cabernets for the price. WineShopper price this week? just $17.99.

Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon – always a value, but particularly a value at $12.99. Yahoo. Love a good Cab under $15! Yes, Chateau Ste Michelle is big, but their wines are consistent and this is a perfect everyday drinking Cab that holds up to food or sips well on its own.

Stay tuned for the Friday deal – it’s a Mount Veeder gem!


Diamond Creek Shines

For those of you who don’t live in the Bay Area: Lucky You. We’ve been freezing since last year. Each day I pray the forecast will predict that some ray of sunshine might make it through the fog. This, week I gambled on short sleeves and got lucky. It’s a beautiful 81 degrees and I am reminded of a warm day in July when Diamond Creek opened its doors and invited me to its Open House. It was all very exciting, I signed up for the mailing list and viola, I received a parking pass to attend their open house, ah… the feeling of privilege.

Wine aficionados have long known about Diamond Creek but for some reason it remains a relatively unknown gem. I was very excited to see the three storied vineyards up close. Diamond Creek produces Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively and has done so since 1968. Only 3 single vineyard wines are produced each year, each with a splash of Petit Verdot, they are: Gravelly Meadows, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill. Although located in the Napa Valley, these are not Napa Cabs. These are Bordeaux, through and through. The late Al Brounstein sweet talked his way into a few premier cru cuttings in Bordeaux and personally flew them (also known as smuggling) into California.
 

After swimming in all 3 of their lakes (woo-hoo!), I made my way to 2008 barrel tasting. Let me walk you though the barrel samples in three words: Dy-no-mite. Like the 2007 vintage, these wines are meant to age. In ascending order of intensity it goes from Gravelly Meadows to Red Rock Terrace and finally, the mighty Volcanic Hill. The names are completely self-explanatory and literally describe these three vineyards. Each vineyard is distinct, each an actual stones throw from the next. Like the greatest Cabs of the world, muscular deep black fruit, spice, earth and tannins balance with the underlying acidity to give grace and elegance. Fruit and oak bombs need not apply. Although these are cellar worthy wines, the 2007 Gravelly Meadows and even the yet to be released 2008 vintage can be uncorked, if only to realize how great these are even as babies. To give you some perspective, fellow picnickers were uncorking bottles from 70’s and 80’s to the delight of our hosts.

It looks like it going to be another warm day tomorrow, maybe not a Cab day, but those Diamond Creek lakes are making me restless for next year's Open House.

The case for half bottles

The other night my husband and I opened a half-bottle of Lanson Black Label Champagne. I love Champagne and would have a glass every night, but sometimes (even with a good Champagne stopper), it's hard to preserve that bottle. WIth a half bottle, both of us can have one glass (in our very big glass/flutes) as an aperitif or to start the meal, then move onto a red or white.

A few years ago in France, we spent 3 or 4 days in Burgundy. Most restaurants we went to had an extensive half bottle list, which thrilled us as we could have white AND red without overdoing it (by our standards) or spending too much, because each half bottle was exactly half the price of a full bottle of the same wine.

We can't be the only ones that are excited by larger half bottle lists in restaurants or in stores. So why are they so rare? On the production side, is it because half bottles are just as expensive to produce as 750mL? Is it because they are difficult to sell? On the consumer part, do you look for half bottles in the store? At a restaurant? Most half bottles I see are sweet wines (some of which are only available in half bottle size) and sparkling. Perhaps because these are drunk in smaller quantities. At Wine.com, we have 60 wines in our half-bottle selection, 21 of those (about 30%) are still, dry wines (not sparkling, not dessert). For us, as an online retailer, shipping a half bottle is no less expensive (or space saving) than shipping a full bottle. But that's not why there is not a huge selection – consumer demand is not high. As a distributor told me the other day, consumers request the half bottles and lament the lack of variety, but when they present the options, customers continue to buy full bottles. In other words, customers demand, but do not act when the opportunity presents itself. But I certainly would! With a good selection of half bottles on a wine list, at half the price of the full bottle, I'd much more enjoy drinking two different wines over my meal than be stuck with one. That said, I'd probably stick with buying more full bottles in the store. As someone who has worked in retail, I don't see half bottles as popular in stores as in a restaurant – although they are the perfect solution for partners who have a pregnant wife! My husband stocked up on half bottles when I was pregnant.

Asking the question on Twitter (what do you think of half bottles?), the responses were positive towards them, with most wanting more variety and not liking the premiums – aka, they are not always half the price of a full bottle. Seresin Estate (some of the best Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir in New Zealand) said they are just starting to make half bottles. I'd jump at a chance to order a half bottle of their SB in a restaurant as a starter and move to a red for the main meal, but again, only if it was half the price of the full bottle.

Would love to hear more opinions on half bottles from producers, retailers and consumers – why don't we see more of them?

Chardonnay from Oregon is crazy good

Living in the Pacific Northwest gives me total access to the Willamette Valley wine country and after living here for over a year, I can say I've visited… twice. Yes, tis sad. I blame it on my travel, my husband's travel and a baby (who is now a toddler). It just has not happened near as often as I'd like. Luckily, a colleague's visit last week was the impetus to get us out the door and down to some wineries. Instead of dragging you through each visit and what we tasted, I'm going to do what I like to call the tasting takeaway – in other words, Oregon Chardonnay rocks.

We visited Adelsheim, where we tasted through the lineup in their lovely new tasting room (best bathrooms ever!). Though I have always been a fan of their Pinot Gris and Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir, I came away loving their Chardonnay, too. Though I know many dislike this comparison, it really was Burgundian in style – luscious and round, yet crisp and light on the palate. Made with 100% Dijon clone and no malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was mineral-driven yet textured. Duly impressed.

At this point I'm liking Chardonnay, but not swooning. Till I reach Shea Vineyard. Hands down, my favorite wine was their Chardonnay. And to be honest, we tasted some pretty amazing wines out of barrel that day. But I could not help going back to the Chardonnay – it was the best Oregon Chardonnay I'd ever tasted, and one of the best Chardonnays from anywhere I'd tasted (in a while at least). I've also loved the offerings from Argyle (Nuthouse Chardonnay is excellent) and Domaine Drouhin, but it's been a while since I've tasted those and I just see so much more Oregon Pinot Gris.

Why aren't more people talking about Oregon Chardonnay? Maybe the are and I'm missing it. Yes, Pinot Gris can be delicious, but when you think of Oregon's climate and it's ability to create amazing Pinot Noir, why do we so often also think of Pinot Gris instead of Chardonnay? Burgundy, Carneros, Russian River – most great Pinot Noir growing regions make great Chardonnay as well. Like every great region, there will be some Chardonnay not worth the effort, but the potential here I think is stellar.

So when it comes to white wine from Oregon, what do you gravitate towards and why?

Cork vs. Screw Cap debate goes environmental

This week’s wine news delivered news related to the $22 million marketing campaign by the cork industry.  The first, a press release from 100%Cork.org, boasted the sharp rise of fans on their Facebook page – over 15,000 – confirming their preference for natural
cork.

Second story I read, from the Telegraph in the UK, touted the end of cork forests and the destruction of the Iberian Lynx due to consumers’ use of screw cap (and plastic closures) over natural cork. They also claimed that the consumer’s desire for convenience has led to the rise of screw caps and plastic closures rather than the fact that cork can be a faulty closure (more on that later). 

I was a bit surprised to read these as I figured when the cork industry decided to fight back, they would herald new industry practices to reduce the occurance of cork taint. Yet neither talked about that as a reason to prefer cork… instead they told consumers to demand natural cork in order to save the Iberian lynx… wait, what? 

The first article, from the UK’s Telegraph, is titled: “Screw cap wine blamed for loss of forest in new campaign to revive traditional cork,” with a sub-heading claiming “The fashion for screw cap wines among the middle classes is destroying forests and could lead the to the extinction of one of the world’s rarest wildcats, ecologists claim.” Um, can you say scare tactic? I am all in favor of preserving the environment, and I would be happy to continue to purchase wines with corks (which I do when I have to), but I’m certainly not going to demand the closure until something is done to fix the problem of cork taint.

I know that corks are take less energy to produce, are much easier to recycle, are biodegradable and are much more earth friendly. I am also aware that cork forests are integral to natural wildlife and I have no wish contribute to their destruction. But being told that buying a bottle of wine in a screw cap is in fact doing just that… well, it’s just plain dumb. Dr. Vino’s blog yesterday pointed out this fact in a much more amusing way…

The emergence of screw caps on quality wine was a result of poor quality corks and the prevalence of TCA, or cork taint. Some say that the movement to screw caps started in Australia and New Zealand because, as the newer wine regions, they were getting the bottom-of-the-barrel corks and had more issues with TCA. Whatever the reason, the screw cap was widely adopted by winemakers wishing to preserve their wine, and has increasingly been embraced by the consumer. And I seriously doubt, as the UK article claims, that they embraced it only for convenience sake. 

If you look at the numbers, the cork industry claims TCA is in 1-2 percent of all corks, while other estimates range from 1 to 15 percent. Percentages are hard to garner, too, since individual thresholds for TCA vary. My husband and I are very sensitive to cork taint and sadly find that about one out of every 12 bottles we open is corked. That’s one bottle per case. Not all consumers find this, often because they are unable to detect a corked wine – cork taint is a continuum, and at its lowest, the wine can just be muted rather than smelly, and customers may just think they are drinking a mediocre bottle of wine. Winemakers and wineries fed up with the consumer not receiving the product they had put in the bottle turned to alternative closures.

Now, I am NOT a fan of synthetic corks. And I know screw caps have their own issues, but what other industry do you know that allows an average 5% (and I’m figuring low here in my experience) failure in its products? When you purchase your wine, you should be assured that what you are getting is what the winemaker or winery intends for you to have. I realize that wine is a living thing and it evolves and changes in the bottle. But changes that come from a cork do not always improve the wine. Sometimes they destroy it.

I am a supporter of being green and doing our part to protect the environment and wildlife, but am disappointed at the cork industry’s method of promoting their product. Instead of warning consumers that they are destroying an ecosystem when choosing wines not finished in natural cork, how about telling us what strides they’ve made in fixing the TCA problem. Work on that first. Then we can move on to save the earth.

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