Lower alcohol Cali Cab? Been there Dunn that…

2004Dunn_front 2004Dunn_HowellSorry for the cheesy article title, I couldn’t resist. Many of my wine aficionado friends have an affinity for top tier (cult) California Chardonnay and Cabernet.

California cult wines are usually very tannic upon release, heavily oaked, and highly extracted (they are a mouthful). The term coined for this type of wine is “cocktail cabernet”.

I tend to prefer European wines as they are generally higher in acid and lower in sugar (alcohol), therefore pairing better with food.

One alternative to the standard California Cabernet “recipe” is Dunn Vineyards.

Although Dunn wines can be very tannic on release, they purposely keep the alcohol low in their wines. They are so adamant about their wines being below 14% that they often “dealcoholize their wine.

There are two main ways to reduce the amount of alcohol in a finished wine:

1. Add water (secretly known as Jesus units).

2. Use technology (like reverse osmosis).

There is some debate as to whether this produces “better” wines. Father and son certainly disagree. Many believe that this conviction has cost Dunn Vineyards favorable reviews from wine critics.

I was fortunate enough to sample a 2004 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet from Imperial (Imperial=Quadruple Magnum or 8 bottles of wine). A limited release- only 100 of these were produced (see the bottom of the bottle above). This wine was dealcoholized when it came in at around 14.3 percent.

But, is it good…now?

After 10+ years it is still primary and “hot”.  If I didn’t know it was held to 14% alcohol I would swear it was 15%+. Ripe Dark fruit, vanilla and still some apparent oak. It changed/evolved in the glass which is a sign of a great wine.

Yes, it is very good but will keep getting better. Try and hold off on drinking this wine. If you can’t wait- decant it for a few hours…or a few days…seriously.

redwine_invisalignWarning: BIG red wine will stain invisalign.

For more related reading…

Wine bottles…Why bigger IS better!

2005_OakvilleRanch_6L Recently I was fortunate enough to try wine from a pretty large bottle. The wine was a 6L (holds 8 bottles) 2005 Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was bursting of red/black fruit, especially cassis, had an excellent mid-palate and a long ROUND finish. I couldn’t believe how soft this wine tasted. I then asked the owner how long the bottle had been open. “Two days”, he replied “and it is finally drinking really well”. “Very tannic when we first opened it”.

So what is it with BIG bottles of wine? They are very hard to store. They are generally difficult to find. They almost ALWAYS cost more than if you had bought the single bottles, separately.

There are obvious fun factors– they are cool to break out at parties and it is entertaining to watch someone pour from the really large ones. However there are some very important reasons to go big…

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Is Old Wine Better?

To join in the fun of Open That Bottle Night  I decided to open a wine special to me- a 1986 California Cabernet Sauvignon (this was the year I graduated High School).

Since I am often asked, “Are old wines better?” AND I had a younger   Napa Cab downstairs in the “cellar”- I opened them both.

2006 Atlas Peak (L) / 1986 Beringer (R)

About Older wines… Approximately 95% of wines are made to be consumed within 1 year of their release (when they are first on shelves).

As a general guide, the wines that usually reward aging are the robust reds – the better Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhones from France, their counterparts (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah) from the New World; sturdy Italian reds like Brunello and Barolo; and the rich, strong dessert wines like Port, Sauternes and the fine late-harvest Rieslings from Germany.

 On to the wines…

As you can see from the corks above there is a big difference in the color of the wines. Whites wines get darker as they age but red wines actually get lighter and less saturated (less colorful) as they age.

The 2006 Atlas Peak in the glass, was purple and opaque but the 1986 Beringer was more transparent and brick orange-red in color.

Tasting the wines proved they tasted as different as they appeared.

Atlas Peak 2006 is still a young wine and has some noticeable tannin that will soften as it ages. It had VERY ripe flavors of dark fruit (blackberry, currant), almost jammy, with noticeable OAK.

Made from Cabernet Sauvignon from different Napa Valley mountain vineyards it is a great wine for the price (around $25).

The 1986 Beringer, Knights Valley was much more subtle and restrained. As wine ages in barrel,   the tannins, imparted from the grape skins and stems, become less apparent. The flavors of this wine were less ripe fruit, but still darker fruits, like currant and black cherry, with some earth and iron. Although this wine still had some life left it was nowhere near as  fruit forward as the Atlas Peak.

So which is better?

Kinda like comparing your niece and your grandmother. One is youthful, carefree and full of life, the other has experience/wisdom and has “mellowed” a bit with life and age.

But you love them both.


Silver Oak vertical tasting…Does vintage matter?

Silver Oak Napa Valley- 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004

The year, or vintage, listed on a the wine label is the year that the grapes were harvested. It is a snapshot of the entire year, in a bottle, (the weather in the region, the weather in the vineyard, and it’s effect on the fruit.)

In wine regions with cooler climates, like Germany or France, there is wider variation in the growing conditions so it is more difficult to consistently get fully ripe fruit. Experts say vintage is VERY important with these wines.

In hotter wine regions like California, the conditions are much more reliable and therefore the wines vary less from vintage to vintage. Let’s see if this is true.

The best way to taste the TRUE difference vintage makes, in a wine, is to drink them side by side, in a vertical tasting. Basically drinking many glasses of the same wine, from different vintages. I know…I know, it sounds like work, but someone has to do it.

I was invited to a vertical tasting, by friends from #Westchester Wine Meetup, of a classic California Cabernet, Silver Oak. My wife and I biked around Napa several years ago and tasted wines at Silver Oak so I know a little about them.

Silver Oak Vineyard- Napa

• They produce full bodied wine, yet they make it ready to drink upon release.

They use 100% American Oak, which gives the wine a spicy quality.

• Silver Oak Cabernet vines are HUGE and are actually a part of the Tolerant Taster web page header above.

• They started out making one wine that contained only 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Now they produce two wines:

1. Silver Oak Alexander Valley- still 100% Cab blended from several of their vineyards.

2. Silver Oak Napa Valley- a Bordeaux style Blend that is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (around 80%). See my tasting notes for actuals.

Now…can I tell the difference from one year to another…

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“Bottle Shock”- Drinking Wine with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena and Heidi Barrett of La Sirena.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of an opportunity to taste wine with 2 legends of Napa Valley, Bo and Heidi Barrett.

A little about them…

In 1976, Bo Barrett, working at Chateau Montelena with his father, submitted Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay to the “Judgment of Paris” competition. The Napa Valley wine was up against several top white French Burgundies – and Montelena won. The American victory stunned the wine world and put Napa on the wine map overnight. What’s even more impressive is that the wines were rated by French wine experts.

Click to read more about the Judgement of Paris, and what happened at the “rematch”.

Heidi Barrett, Bo’s wife, was THE wine maker responsible for Screaming Eagle, a California cult Cab, when the wines achieved 99 and 100 point ratings from Robert Parker and  started commanding in excess of $1,000 PER BOTTLE.

Click here to see current prices for Screaming Eagle.

At the event, Bo gave his take on biodynamics: “It’s bullshit.” He talked about how difficult it is Continue reading

Gone to California-Part 1

I have to admit it, before my first trip to Napa & Sonoma, California wines were not my favorite. My experience with the whites (mostly Chardonnay) was that they were either too oaky, or too buttery. The reds (Cabernet and Cabernet blends) were too tannic and too high in alcohol.

That trip changed my thinking

It began when my wife surprised me with a special birthday present- a biking trip of Napa & Sonoma (Napa Valley Bike Tours).  It was a perfect way to experience the vineyards and the wines. Each day we would bike to several smaller, family owned or operated, vineyards. This gave us privileged access to tour and taste with the owners and/or the winemakers.

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