Suburban Wino 2: The Wordpress Experiment

Napa Eve | December 28, 2009

“Atlanta – 91 miles”

Anniston, AL – We were hurtling down I-20 in my brother-in-law’s 4-wheel-drive sleigh, returning from a Christmas Eve visit to relatives in Birmingham. Had a wonderful time with the wife’s family…copious amounts of ham, quality time with my adorable- if not overly vivacious- niece, and a showering of gifts, including a sleek Vinturi instant aerator (more experimenting with that later).
But my gears had already switched from laser-focus on ham and family (let’s call it “hamily” for short) to the neighbors’ annual Christmas Eve party. I could already taste the reserve wines we always bust open to celebrate the season. Anniston, Alabama might has well have been China. Was the first cork being popped? What was I missing? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? (the last question had little to do with the moment described, but I’m still unclear about it.)

Eventually, we got there, met with the expected level of revelry/joviality/hullabaloo/mirth: an already well-lubricated crowd, unusual treats (including big Bill Blank’s famous chopped liver patĂ© and steamer clams– lovingly referred to as “piss clams”- to be shelled, dipped in broth to remove the sand, and sloshed in melted butter before devouring). Liar’s Dice games were heating up (which- for the record- we were playing long before A Really Goode Job). Dean Martin crooning over the speakers…oh, and the wine.
Seems like Napa Valley was the focus of the evening.

The first one opened, which I missed, was a 2004 Rubicon Estate Gustave Niebaum Captain’s Reserve Merlot, 2004. This is a wine from the Niebaum-Coppola (as in Francis Ford Coppola) family of wines…FFC has some ownership in Rubicon Estate, which is known for some pretty heady and expensive wines. However, not only could I not get a taste of it, but I couldn’t find any information, pricing, or anything about it online. I’m pretty sure it’s expensive, though. If you had some, tell me about it, you wine hogs.

The next bottle to go through the paces was a V. Sattui 2005 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I know the ’04 got a score of 93 in Wine Spectator, so- despite my distaste for wine scoring- I hoped it’d give an indication that this was pretty good. Oh, and the $50+ price tag added pressure to the wine’s success.

Baby Steps – When the label of an American wine designates a vineyard (in this case, “Morisoli”), then 95% of the grapes used to make the wine have to come from that vineyard. When an AVA, or “American Viticultural Area” is listed on the label- in this case, Napa Valley- then 85% of the grapes have to come from vineyards within that AVA. When the varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon) is listed, 75% or more of the wine must be from that grape. Finally, when a year is listed (2005), 95% of the grapes have to come from that growing year. Confused? Wait until you start learning about French wine! Anyway, from the label, we can deduce that 95% of the grapes came from Morisoli Vineyard, within Napa Valley. Of those, at least 75% had to be Cabernet Sauvignon, and 95% had to be grown in 2005. However, I’m guessing 100% came from Morisoli in 2005.

Okay, now I have a headache. Anyway, this Cab from Morisoli demonstrated flavors typical to the “Rutherford Bench” area of Napa Valley: peppery, spicy, and herbaceous, but with complex dark fruit layers underneath. The wine was incredibly concentrated and extracted, which I’ve noticed is a pretty consistent theme with Sattui’s wines. The tannins were still pretty fierce, and I think it could have gone another few years in the bottle, maybe more. That being said, I think it was very good, but probably better with a big piece of lamb or beef than by itself.

By this time, the dice game was getting intense. We needed something a little less complex. We went for the Provenance Vineyards 2004 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. Total fruit bomb, but with a nice balance of tannin, alcohol, and oak. Good wine, and probably worth the $40, but I have a hunch you could find something from Australia with a similar profile for ten bucks less. Regardless, I know Provenance has a very good pedigree for Merlot and Cab, and I think this strong effort was no exception. It was also interesting to compare a 2004 Cab and a 2005 Cab made with grapes from regions very close to each other. Was it vintage or winemaking defining such different styles? One of the many reasons why the grape on the label can sometimes say very little about the wine inside.
All in all, it was a perfect way to end the evening and put a bullet on the joyous occasion…
…yet, another notch in the (expanding) belt of excess. The January purge can’t come soon enough.
Okay. Yes it can.

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