Way back in the dark ages of wine retailing (circa: 1970s), fine wine shops had Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Chile was nowhere to be found and even California was an afterthought. As the years went by and California gained prominence with the Judgement of Paris, Chile got into the marketplace with its cheap Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlots. Often found in sale bins, these became the drinking wines of budget conscious wine imbibers. I drank so much of these bargain basement wines that I ended up throwing the whole class into the “good value” category. As an active retailer in San Francisco in those days, the wines of Chile gave me something “to stack high and let them fly.”
This is no longer the case. While Chile took a back seat to Australian Shiraz and Argentine Malbec, producers started to find the right fit with varieties and vineyards, including Chile’s flagship variety, Carmenere. This wise move is still working its way into the hearts and minds of international wine consumers. More exciting is the work being done with cool climate Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca and mineral-like Chardonnays from Limarí, not to mention major statements being made with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and blends. While the country is still known for value wines, production over the past decade proves it shall be known for quality as well.
Jake Pippin, USA Market Manager for Wines of Chile, recently presented an array of a dozen top Chilean wines that would measure up with top wines from anywhere in the world. So while I cut my teeth on cheap Chilean Merlot in the 1970s, I know have been introduced to some of the world’s very top wines and they are Chilean. It is time for Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and yes, the Napa Valley to share the spotlight; the Chileans are making a huge statement. Isn’t great to revisit an old friend and see how they have evolved into something greater? Here is a trio of super fine Chilean wines that will bring you up to speed on where Chilean wines are today.
The 2014 Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay, – rich and creamy, but with a zippy layer of minerality to keep it fresh
The 2012 Calcu Cabernet Franc – yes, Cabernet Franc can shine here, with earthy, peppery spice and dried fruit character
The 2012 Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – classic producer with a classic, quality Cabernet – it says Chile and Cabernet in a concise, easy-drinking way.
The journey to Cabernet Sauvignon can start anywhere. If you live in the United States, Cabernet is everywhere. Restaurants, retailers, a wine friend’s home, there is no shortage of this varietal. Cabernet is the red wine that runs the show. How did this one varietal become so dominating? Cabernet Sauvignon is a resilient grape that grows and prospers in many viticultural regions around the world. Historically it is a wine that has traveled well. When wines were first exported across the Atlantic to the United States, Bordeaux was one of the best survivors on the long and arduous journey. Cabernet and Bordeaux: Bordeaux is one of the most classic wine regions in the world. Cabernet Sauvignon made its mark in the Médoc (Left Bank) region of Bordeaux, where it acts as the principal grape of the blend. Generally combined with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and sometimes Malbec, the ”Médoc blend” became the model of Cabernet Sauvignon blends throughout the world. Despite the imitation of the Cabernet-based Bordeaux blend, no Cabernet is quite like Bordeaux. And when vintners use its prized varietal in their own backyard, the results are diverse and distinct. A wonderful international varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon serves as a foundation to some of the world’s greatest wines.
As far as one varietal, international wine drinkers can always count on Cabernet Sauvignon. I cut my teeth on California Cabernets (mostly from the Napa Valley) in the late 1960’s. Over the years I have found great examples from Walla Walla in Washington State, Sonoma Mountain, and even Livermore Valley. The Australians make great cabs from the Barossa Valley. I most recently re-discovered Coonawarra, an Australian region known for this varietal. That is the beauty and magic of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is resilient, prospers worldwide, and makes wines that even the most particular of wine lovers will enjoy.
Cabernet and Napa: Most recently, all attention has been on Napa, and rightly so. After the earthquake, wineries have been cleaning up the broken bottles, taking stock of lost wine and taking survey of the damage. Luckily there was no human loss in the quake, but it’s hard to say the same for Napa Valley’s most prized product: wine. As we celebrate Cabernet, the most planted grape in Napa Valley, we encourage you to pick up a glass of Cabernet (or any other varietal!) from Napa and toast your support. Tweet it, Instagram it, share it on Facebook. There’s no better time to #drinknapa! Cheers.
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!