Another look at top California cabernets from 2007

Back in November, I blogged about tasting a number of the best California cabernets out there, many of which were from the 2007 vintage, which has been praised by many critics as an excellent year for California cab.  Recently, I had a chance to taste some more (mostly pricey) 2007 cabernet sauvignons and cabernet blends from well-known producers, so here’s a little information to help you separate the wines that will exalt from those that will disappoint.

Again, I think there are important distinctions to be made on style.  For instance, those who like classic, Bordeaux-styled cabs with aromas and flavors of crushed rock, tobacco leaf and the like will find the 2007 Dominus (made by Christian Moueix, who could fairly be described as the king of Pomerol in Bordeaux) to be a wonderful, refined wine.  However, those that like their cabs to feature exuberant fruit as the main attraction might not like Dominus at all.  A better choice for these drinkers would be the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia, which was just as impressive as it was when I tasted it late last year.

One of the producers that is zooming up my list of favorite cabernet sauvignons is Philip Togni.  Both the 2003 Togni cab tasted in November and the 2007 Togni cab showed impeccable balance to me – with pleasing fruit with enough lushness and toasty to make the wines unmistakably California cab, but also a great balance with earthiness and slightly herbal varietal character for lovers of old-school cabs.  There’s a definite argument that these are among the best balanced cabs around, with excellent ageability.

And speaking of old-school cabs, I recently tasted a cab, 2007 Trivium “Les Ivrettes”, whose winemakers have gone so far as to produce a manifesto that announces: “We set out to make a cabernet in the spirit of the years when we first got into the wine business in the 1970′s”… “This is your father’s cabernet.”

So does the wine live up to the manifesto? Well, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – with that introduction, I was girding myself up for something along the lines of Chateau Montelena or Dominus – varietally correct for sure, but perhaps a bit green (in a way that I like) and what some would call “austere”.  The Trivium was not that.  Which is not to say that the wine doesn’t have something very classic about it.  Instead of an earthy Bordeaux-like cab, what I found was a wine that reminded me a lot of another classic – the Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Mondavi Reserves are among the best cabs I’ve ever had, and their hallmark for me is high-quality sweetish fruit, a touch of spice, and a food-friendly balance that doesn’t go over the top like some of the bigger cabs out there.  These elements were pretty much what I found in the Trivium, at a fraction of what the Mondavi Reserve would set you back (wine-searcher prices range from $55-67, vs. $85-125ish for the Mondavi Reserve).  The vineyard source for the Trivium is the Lewelling Estate in St. Helena, which may well be familiar to fans of Napa cab (and Doug Wight of Lewelling is one of the partners behind Trivium).  All in all, I’m not sure I would call the Trivium “old-school” on taste alone, but I followed the wine over several days and it’s undeniably delicious cab and the structure remained in Continue reading

Summer corn and chardonnay

For me, the summer grilling season means a lot of corn on the cob.  And if the corn is sweet enough, you don’t even need butter.  One way to get some of that same feeling in a  lower-cholesterol way is to pair the corn with a wine that has a buttery taste or feel – and that will make most wine drinkers I know think of California chardonnay.  A buttery chardonnay done well can be an opulent experience – unfortunately most examples of buttery California chardonnay I have come across don’t do it quite so deftly.  Often the oakiness and the creamy feeling created by malolactic fermentation and some innate characteristics of chardonnay result in chardonnays that feel too buttery, over-oaked, with vanilla and coconut flavors that can taste artificial.  This is often done, especially with less expensive chardonnays, in the hopes that the oak will mask some other flaws or shortcomings of the wine.

Anyway, when friends came over for dinner last night and brought corn, “butter+corn” was the idea in my mind when I decided on a 2009 Morro Bay Split Oak Estate chardonnay for our first wine of the night.  I have never had this wine before, and given the modest price point, I was prepared for it to be an oak-butter bomb.  (And I have to admit, I was a little wary given my only previous experience with Morro Bay, a cabernet sauvignon that I didn’t particularly care for – which goes to show it pays to set aside your preconceptions sometimes.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find the wine to be a nicely balanced, fresh chardonnay.  And it turned out to be a perfect foil for the corn, which was also a surprise of sorts.  Our guests had made no ordinary corn on the cob, but rather one spiced with a Cajun chili powder blend.  The Morro Bay Split Oak served not only as an uncomplicated summer sipper, but also as a nice way to cool the fire of the pepper.  We didn’t have to worry that we were losing any nuances from an expensive $50 reserve chardonnay – pairing with an inexpensive but well-made chard, we were able to just enjoy the food and wine together (isn’t that what it’s all about?), and enjoy we did.

Some added boons that makes this wine even more recommendable as a budget buy: Split Oak Vineyard, in Lodi, is sustainably farmed, and the winery incorporates sustainable practices as well, including on-site solar energy panels that provide 40% of the power used.  Earth-friendly, food-friendly and wallet-friendly, I was pleasantly surprised by this little wine and I hope you are too.

Coming soon: features on wines from the Jura, from Portugal, and a look at some top 2007 cabernet sauvignons from California!  -Alan

The 2009 Morro Bay Split Oak Estate chardonnay was tasted from a review sample bottle received free of charge.

What I’m Drinking: a lovely Chinon from Joguet

Just a quick post today, the first installment of a new series of posts that I’m going to call What I’m Drinking – just a quick snapshot of one or a small handful of wines, intended to be more of a speedy one-off post than a lot of my more in-depth tasting reports.

Today’s wine is one that I thought was a sleeper when I first tasted it two years ago, at a retailer tasting of about 30 wines from the fantastic Kermit Lynch portfolio.  The tasting was loaded with wines from great producers including Tempier, Coche-Dury and Vieux Telegraphe, but to me the easy winner was this wine from Charles Joguet, who I count along with Baudry and Raffault as my favorite producers of reds from the Loire Valley in France.  I bought a bottle and stashed it away.  Since then, the 2005 Charles Joguet Franc de Pied Les Varennes du Grand Clos has evolved nicely – it now shows as a little more rounded and soft around the edges, displaying the warm character of the 2005 vintage in France, and is an excellent choice for the wine drinker who’s looking to check out more cabernet franc from the Loire, but finds the wines from the area a bit too green or lead-pencil-flavored at times.  Even if you’re a New World wine drinker, this one won’t scare you off, but will show you fresh flavors and the character of cabernet franc with a traditional, medium-bodied feel that’s balanced rather than overly dark or extracted.


  • 2005 Charles Joguet Chinon Franc de Pied Les Varennes du Grand Clos – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Chinon (4/6/2011)Showing very well, with ample acidity and juicy red-fruited character. Not much of the signature graphite you might look for in a Chinon (which may be good for those who can find too much lead pencil/green in cab franc turns them off), but nonetheless clearly an Old World wine. A tasty and delightful wine, with balance, that offers excellent value for the price. Definitely one of the top few Chinon producers for me. 92-93 (93 points)

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