- Q & A
June 2003 NewsletterWines evaluated last month: 250 Rejected: 210 Approved: 40 Selected: 4
Imports have their virtue. One of them is not that it takes weeks to get here. Our import for this month is still in the Panama Canal.
As it turned out, this situation worked to our advantage because this month we feature not one, but TWO wines from the Napa Valley.
A first class white is matched with yet another outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. These are two "can't miss" selections.
And finally, we're featuring two outstanding Merlots for the Limited Series. Sometimes, like this time, adversity can work to our advantage.
The 2002 Castle Rock Sauvignon Blanc is a treat. It has all those peach and herb components we love.
It's not often we can afford Napa Valley Cabernet for the Regular Series. The 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cardiff is an amazing wine you'll want lots more of.
Merlot is the only wine that showed an increase in sales last year. It was like pulling corks to find two in one month of this quality.
The 2001 Muirwood Merlot is the top of the line for Arroyo Seco Vineyards in Monterey. We've featured several wines in the Regular Series from here, but this is the first Limited Series Selection and it's not just a great wine, but as usual, a great value. The 1999 Artesa Merlot was another of those "restaurant only" wines that we just couldn't let get away. This is a small winery that sells out quickly and this wine should too.
Domestic SelectionCastle Rock Sauvignon Blanc is pro¬duced in very small quantities from grapes grown in the Napa Valley which is recog¬nized as one of the finest Sauvignon Blanc growing regions in California. Winemaker, Joe Briggs, obviously has a delicate touch when it comes to this grape and it's a style we thor¬oughly enjoy. First of all, he uses very little oak. We're beginning to feel that this grape has enough presence to stand on its own, without the mak¬ing properties of too much oak. It gives us the opportunity to taste the wine, not the forest. Sauvignon Blanc has been a workhorse white in California for more than three decades. It is one of the few European vari¬etals that has truly taken to California's warm, sun drenched climate. No climate is more sun drenched and suit¬able for this grape than that found in Napa Valley. Arguably, some of the best Sauvignon Blancs in the state come from here. The area is a kin to the warmer climates in New Zealand, around Hawks Bay on the North Island as well as South Africa's Cape Town and the Eastern part of the Loire. This grape likes warmth. It has a slightly thicker skin than most whites and thus can withstand warmer temperatures than say Chardonnay or Riesling. It actually benefits from it. Sauvignon Blanc is also a grape that ripens later in the season. This can pose a prob-lem in some areas where Fall hail storms can sometimes turn a healthy crop into an unmitigated disaster. Obviously, this isn't a problem in Napa, the most famous and expensive wine real estate in the United States and now considered one of the finest grape-growing regions in the world. Finding a value like this is what makes our job that much more pleasurable. We think you'll agree and suggest you stock up since we pur¬chased a large part of the entire production.
2002. Castle Rock
Elegant blend of stone fruit and an herbal twist. Elegant, medium-bodied, crisp and refreshing, with hints of grapefruit, honey and melon flavors all blending into a smooth, silky, harmonious finish.
Domestic SelectionCabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley are almost synonymous with each other. This noble grape of the Bordeaux region in Southwest France, is still considered the king of red wines and is without question, the favorite red wine in the world. Napa is barely 40 miles long and 25 miles wide. Unlike many of the other world-famous grape-growing areas, wine has been made here for less than 150 years. It all started in 1861 when a Hungarian immigrant, Augstin Harasthy convinced the governor of California to finance a trip to Europe. He wanted to bring back cuttings of the famous varieties there and jump start the wine business. Grapes were first planted here in the later 1860s and flour¬ished until Prohibition stopped most of the produc¬tion in 1920. When production resumed in 1933, the industry was in such a shambles that the pre¬vailing idea of the moment was to jump start the wine trade by offering inexpensive jug wines for immedi¬ate sale and consump-tion. By 1966, there were less than 30 wineries in the Napa Valley. Since then there has been an explosion in this area. The ranks of wineries in Napa have swelled to near¬ly 300 and climbing. Along with the boom came the egos and the price rises. Fortunately, Cardiff isn't among those who thought that the public would pay anything for their pre-cious product. Cardiff's wine-maker, Phil Franscioni, likes to keep things on an even keel, producing wines with varietal integrity while pre¬serving the flavors the soil has to offer. In the case of Napa, that soil is as spectacular as any in California. This is Cabernet at its best and at a price that is almost as otherworldly as the flavors in the bottle.
(Kab-ayre-nay Soo-ving-yahn Kar-diff)
Deep, dark magenta with purple hues and a slightly brick edge. The nose is redolent with black cherry, marzipan and cocoa scents. Imposing in the mouth offering similar fla¬vors and a long finish. Great with the lamb recipe on page 13.
Limited Series SelectionMuirwood is the high end limited pro¬duction brand for Arroyo Seco Vineyards, Monterey's oldest and most prestigious vine¬yard. Most of the grapes come from their finest lots on the Arroyo Seco site. The wine is blended with small lots from their other premium hold¬ings in Paso Robles for body and strength. The resultant wine combines all the prop¬erties of great Merlot; soft, engaging fruit matched with spice and wood elements and a long finish. Merlot is now the only red grape show¬ing increased con¬sumption over its competition, namely Cabernet and, to a cer¬tain degree, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. It may have something to do with what we call the "immediacy" factor. Most of the high-end Cabernet Sauvignons are quite rough around the edges when released. This means that they need additional time in the bottle to round out the rough edges. Since most of us are interested in consum¬ing our wine right after purchase, and fewer still even have the facilities to prop¬erly store wine, these wines are not suitable for our lifestyles. Enter Merlot. By its very nature, this grape is softer and easier to drink right out of the shoot. Because it possesses many of the other fine flavor characteristics of Cabernet, it can be served as an able sub¬stitute for this noble grape. Merlot in California is a rela¬tively new phe¬nomenon. Very tiny amounts were planted here in the 1970s and up until the late 1980s it was almost a non¬entity. Because of its eas ier adaptability to California's soil and climate, it has blos-somed into not only one of the most popu¬lar wines in the coun¬try, but with produc¬ers like Muirwood leading the way, also one of the best.
Dark intense color signals a big, brooding wine. That suspicion is unfounded, however when we behold the soft character of the ripe, concentrated berry and spice flavors matched with touches of vanilla and cocoa. Great with lamb.
Limited Series SelectionArtesa is Napa's newest, most exciting win¬ery. Their facility opened as Codorniu Napa in 1991, dedicated solely to méthode champ¬enoise sparkling wine. In 1997, with the arrival of a world-class winemaker and a $10 million conversion, the winery shifted focus dramatically. Artesa was born with the inaugural release of ultra-premium still wines in 1999. Artesa means "craftsman" and con¬notes "handcrafted" in Catalan, the language of Barcelona and the owner, Codorniu, one of the world's largest and oldest wineries. So, while the name might be new, the her¬itage is rich and impressive. They share five centuries of histo¬ry with 15 generations of a remarkable winemaking family. Their winemaker, Don Van Staaveren, and the Vice President, Vineyard Operations & Grower Relations, David DiPiero, togeth¬er bring nearly 60 years of experience in grow¬ing and making award-winning wines in Napa and Sonoma Counties. The 352-acre estate surrounding the win¬ery in the Carneros region of Napa Valley has 173 acres of vine-yard. The estate boasts impressive diversity in terrain, vineyard spac¬ing and a total of 18 clones and selections of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Their 409-acre property in the Alexander Valley is ideal for the Bordeaux varieties, namely, Cabernet and Merlot. Their plantings there encompass nearly 150 acres, much of it on hillsides with superb exposures. All of their vine¬yards practice sustain¬able agriculture. They employ cover crops to prevent erosion and provide a natural envi-ronment for predatory insects. This integrated approach to pest man¬agement allows them to greatly reduce or eliminate even the most benign insecti¬cides as well as make a constant, concerted effort to be good stew¬ards of the land.
A generous wave of ripe fruit with an emphasis on black cherry and cassis laced flavors. The wine is both rich and complex displaying a host of mineral notes along with chocolate, tobacco and licorice.
Member Inquiry"Paul, What is the criteria you look for when selecting a monthly selection for the Club?"
C.T., San Jose, CA
Obviously, we're looking for great value. That is always our pri¬mary goal. However, we also have a tradi¬tion to uphold.
The Regular Series club is based on select¬ing two wines per month. One is domes¬tic, the other an import. We typically choose a red and a white. If the red is a domestic one month, then the red is an import the next. At least that is the theory.
Since our primary concern is value, we occasionally have to bend the rules to accommodate that con¬cern. Every so often, we find a wine that is so good we have to feature it because we run the risk of losing it if we don't act quickly. If it happens to be a domestic red, and that is the month we are supposed to feature an imported red, we'll sometimes bend the rules so that we offer the absolute best that is available at that time.
We have a little more room with the Limited Series in that we aren't bound by the same circumstances. However, the primary goal of value is still the most important factor. Finally, we always ask ourselves, "Would we pay that much for this wine?" That's why a lot of wines don't make the grade.