My first cab? I think it was a mid-1960’s Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve. My dad always enjoyed a glass of BV Georges on special occasions and somewhere around the age of 15 I must have taken a sip or two when he wasn’t looking. When I started drinking wine on my own, I discovered the 1968 BV Georges and the 1967 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. Like all top wines of that era, they were elegant and stately. Over the next three decades California ratcheted up of the power in this varietal. By the mid 1990’s, California Cabernet Sauvignon had evolved into monsters of the midway. Decidedly full bodied and tannic, they commanded attention and could overpower meals they were supposed to support. Only the finest producers knew how to tame the new-age Cabernet Sauvignon, which leads me to Jordan Vineyards & Winery.
The winery comments, “When the first vintage (1976) of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon debuted, it was an immediate success due to its elegance and early approachability, as well as its affinity for food.” As a retailer in San Francisco, I saw the first-hand reactions by my customers as they told me how much they loved this wine. The winery knew the style of wine that this area was destined to make and never wavered in their efforts to be true. While some wineries went bigger and bigger, Jordan maintained its balance. This is why I have always been a big fan of the Jordan Cabernets.
In a recent staff tasting at Wine.com, I poured the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the wine elegant and full of finely-tuned red fruit aromas and flavors. Aside from breaking the wine down into its components, the most important aspect of the wine was its completeness. It was not imposing or over-the-top. Isn’t providing pleasure one of the goals of a wine? As with this moment in time, I have never poured a Jordan Cabernet that was not appreciated by all. I had been drinking California Cabernet for more than a decade before the 1976 debuted in 1980, and while it may not have been my first Cabernet, it is what I am drinking and serving as often as I can. The Jordan Cabernet is elegant, wonderful and timeless.
What do we really know about Australia and the wines made there? Maybe less than we should! Not only is Australia a huge country (sixth largest in the world) but it’s also the source of some of the world’s most spectacular wines. If you still equate the country with large-production value Shiraz and not much else, it’s time to take a closer look.
I got a full immersion into the wide variety of Australian wines when I judged in the Sydney International Wine Competition in 2012. As one of three Americans, I was treated to an Australian wine education by the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits. I was just a bit surprised by the complex methods used at this judging. The organizers brought in a top level chef to create dishes to match the categories. We were asked to write complete thoughts as well as recordings of our findings on tape. In addition to participating in an incredible judging event, we enjoyed wines from the cellars of many of the participating judges.
In the last month I’ve had two exciting Australian wine encounters that rocked my world. First, Michael Twelftree – Proprietor & Managing Director of Two Hands Wines – visited the Wine.com offices. Listening to him as we tasted his wines was simply amazing. The intensity and passion he conveyed made the tasting an experience of a lifetime. I learned that Twelftree was very adamant about producing wines of integrity and elegance in order to shed the preconception that Aussie wines are mostly big and brawny. Three weeks later, I attended a presentation by Sue Hodder – Senior Winemaker of Wynns Coonwarra Estates – and found the wines equally remarkable; they were wonderfully rich and well-balanced. Both winemakers had succeeded in convincing me that their country produces truly world class wines.
While Shiraz remains high on my charts of Australian wines, I am taking a new path and seriously looking at Cabernet Sauvignons. Two of my current favorites are the super-rich 2012 Two Hands Sexy Beast and the elegant yet persistent 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. Try either of these wines with a juicy steak and prepare to have your world rocked by Australia too!
Let’s go back in time to really understand how far Silver Oak Cellars has come. In the early 1970’s, Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan decided to launch a winery dedicated exclusively to making Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold move. At this time, varietal wines had not yet become a reality in the United States. Most American wines were generic (Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rose) or fortified wines (port, white port, tokay, muscatel). Serious table wines from California were not yet a reality. The French owned the market (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, etc.) So who are these renegades to create a winery dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon? They were pioneers!
What came first? The label or the water tower?
Consumers recognize the iconic water tower on the Silver Oak label – and possibly from visiting the winery, as one sits above both tasting rooms in Alexander Valley and Napa. But alas, the label was not inspired by the water tower, in fact, it was inspired by original co-founder Bonny Meyer, who photographed upwards of 30 Napa Valley water towers. Meyer finally commissioned John Farrell, a young local artist, to create the Silver Oak label with the water tower image. The physical tower was built afterwards.
Today, the marketplace can’t get enough of Silver Oak. Huge crowds descend each year on the little town of Oakville on the winery’s well-orchestrated release day. Under the direction of winemaker Daniel Baron, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon continues to improve remains one of Napa Valley’s most sought-after wines.
The 2010 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet serves up plenty of ripe fruit flavors, with an accent of savory herbs and a shading of sweet oak. Delicious now, especially with a highly marbled grilled rib eye of beef, this wine will enjoy development in the cellar for another 10-15 years. The winery’s chef Dominic Orsini recommends flank steak and salsa verde. Doesn’t that sound good? I am sure glad we have progressed since the 1970’s – Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!
Right now I am thinking that I really would enjoy a perfectly grilled rib eye of beef (a similar cut to entrecôte in France). I can still remember the incredible one I enjoyed with my good friend Peter Chai at Restaurant Saint-Julien in Bordeaux many years ago. The kitchen produced a steak so bloody good that its memory remains indelible in my brain. On that day in the Médoc we drank a whole bottle of Bordeaux at lunch (well, I drank ¾ of the bottle). Now my palate years later is demanding that I re-create that moment from the past. This thought became more intense after I boarded a plane from Bordeaux just a day ago. I had just spent five days with judges from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition at the Bordeaux Le Fete (June 25th to 29th) drinking large glasses of Bordeaux (the Bordelais always pour huge glasses of wine for their guests and themselves) and melting into a blur of grilled meats and Bordeaux rouge.
If you love Cabernet Sauvignon, you have to go for the rib eye. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends, rib eye and Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most perfect food and wine matches. Where is this leading? Grilling and BBQ goes beyond all borders. While we in the United States have coined the phrase, “Barbecue- the great American pastime.” one just has to travel a bit and realize that this way of cooking can be found the world over.
It is safe to assume that every culture does a little bit of grilling. This popular way of cooking provides all of wine lovers with many pairing options. The choices that quickly come to mind are (and there are many more): Korean grilled (thinly sliced beef, marinated in a sweet soy-like sauce) with a dry to slightly sweet rosé. Argentine indirect grilling of beef- begging for a glass or two of Malbec, I have enjoyed that many times in the vineyards of Mendoza in Argentina. How about grilled a whole chicken, a worldwide favorite? One could snag a fine California Pinot Noir and just melt into an easy chair in the backyard.
Now that the table has been set: How about a few wines to whet your appetite? Some folks in the wine world contend that I am a Napa boy. Well, yes I am really fond of wines from my backyard (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino), yet my twitter and Instagram handle suggest otherwise. If you go by @willeboysf, you have to be local and international at the same time. Having said that, one of my favorite wineries in the Napa Valley is Hall Wines and the 2011 Hall Cabernet is one to enjoy for this season’s grilling. A first choice with beef, but well suited with chicken and pork as well. Made from a cooler vintage, the wine’s edginess makes it more versatile than it would have been otherwise. When the super-rich and well-ripened 2012 is released, you will find the wine more suited for beef and heavier meat dishes. For partiers looking for something to dance on their palate and pair with a whole range of entreés, the 2013 Miraval Rosé Côtes de Provence has everything one would want. The wine is pleasing and gentle, with pretty red fruit flavors. Just imagine gnawing on a grilled chicken leg and washing it down with this wine. If you are into a sophisticated BBQ, I’d like to point you in the direction of the 2012 Sojourn Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir. This wine is awesome and delicious. Succulent and pure with lots of wild strawberries, it calls for grilled leg of lamb spiked with rosemary sticks, slathered with garlic and dotted with fresh cracked black pepper. Now take out the grill or buy a new one if you must, this is a good time to get the cooker ready and enjoy! While I am loading up my cellar with Cabernet Sauvignon and the weekly fridge with rib eye of beef, grilling offers so many possibilities. Make your days as yummiest as you can.
Wine should not be so difficult; we professionals sometimes take the subject a little too far. We go into acidity, pH and alcohol. Some of us even talk about volatile acidity and brettanomyces. Certainly, these are subjects we can get into, if anyone wants to learn more. But wine is about enjoyment. When I started drinking wines at age 21 (or maybe a bit earlier when I took a sip of some Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet out of my dad’s glass when he wasn’t looking) it tasted good to me. I was just mimicking what the French did with their children to get them acclimated to the world of food and wine. Tasting.
One of my wine missions in life is to bring good values to the wine-drinking public. Heck, anyone can buy the most expensive wine in the world, with a reasonable expectation that it may be pretty good. But to find bona fide values in the marketplace takes more than just knowing brands. So I want to share with you three delicious wines that most of us can afford. This trio hovers in the $10.00 to $15.00 range – what we call great values.
The Hess Select brand is one of the wine world’s hottest and recognized values and the Chardonnay, from Monterey County, drinks exceptional well. Ripe fruit abounds, and its easiness on the palate puts it a cut above the rest. I can see this one as a superior cocktail party wine and one that a working chef can enjoy before the meal is served.
Over the last few years, Red Diamond has become a great American standard for good wine. My favorite of the line is the Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth and delectable, could be a treat for the backyard cook at the grilling station.
Loosen is an extraordinary international name and the Loosen Bros. Riesling Dr. L from the Mosel drinks with grace and style. A well-defined Riesling, this wine shows telltale apple and flowers in its flavors, and is elegant on the palate. For those fearful of Riesling, this one will take you to the head of the class.
Wine does not have to be complicated. Don’t fret if you are not following the right protocols – just enjoy!