Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Finding a Wine You Love? Priceless.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I don't think it's necessary to pay high prices for good wine. There's plenty of good, food-friendly wine out there to quench your thirst, engage your intellect, and pair beautifully with dinner.

That doesn't mean that you should never spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. One of the reasons to be budget-conscious most days is precisely so that you can afford to splurge every now and then on a wine that you absolutely love, even if it carries a relatively hefty price tag.

Finding a bottle of wine that you love, that astounds you, that leaves you tingling and wanting more is something you should do at least once in your life. For me, and for many other Americans, that wine often turns out to be Cabernet Sauvignon. I have never regretted a single penny I've spent on a pricier Cabernet--which cannot be said for the runner up in my list of expensive reds, Pinot Noir. With the latter I often discover I've paid more than I think a wine is actually worth when get around to drinking it.

What makes me plunk down more than $30 for a Cabernet Sauvignon? First, it has to taste great and be balanced between fruit and acidity. It also has to have a complexity of sensations and textures that I simply don't find in less expensive, everyday wines. In my experience, what gives a Cab that kind of complexity is an attentiveness in the vineyard to growing and selecting the fruit, and an equal measure of attentiveness and experience when it comes to managing the winemaking process. Neither good fruit nor good experience comes cheap--and I find that I'm happy to pay for both as long as I can taste the difference in the glass.

If you are interested in trying and buying some more expensive Cabernet, I've got two domestic offerings that you should consider. Both are from the 2005 vintage, and both are available for $75. Though both will benefit from a rest in your wine cellar, they are perfectly drinkable now if they spend a little time with the cork pulled or in a decanter. I didn't pay for either bottle of wine--but I'll tell you right now that I would pay for them without a second thought if I was looking for an excellent, memorable Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first wine that I'm recommending is the 2005 Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon. Made from fruit grown in a single vineyard in Sonoma's Alexander Valley, this bottle represents Rodney Strong's entry into high-end wines. The current owner, Tom Klein, wanted to dedicate some of his efforts to making small production wines that were selected from particular places, like the Rockaway Vineyard. The importance of place in this bottle of wine finds expression in the latitude and longitude coordinates for the vineyard that are on the back of the bottle. Like Rodney Strong before him, Klein believes that Sonoma County has the potential to produce world-class wines. This wine certainly proves that the confidence in Sonoma expressed by Strong and Klein was not an error in judgment. If this is what Sonoma County can do in terms of Cabernet, then we are in for some wonderful wine.

The wine opened to a dark, dark color somewhere between garnet and aubergine. Initial aromas of plums, currant, and pepper were touched with green herbs and whiffs of smoke. As it opened up, the spiciness increased, and lots of cassis came forward along with some licorice aromas. The whole experience was like drinking in the aromas of a dark bar with jazz playing in the back room. Flavors of blackberry and pure cassis provided the perfect foreground notes for that persistent, dark smokiness of a backbeat that never left the wine even through the peppery aftertaste. Even though it was fruity, this wine was not flabby and had a good core of acidity to give the wine its structure. The wine was surprisingly approachable for a young Cabernet, and had that glycerin texture that I simply adore and which gives wine such a beautiful feeling in your mouth. It took about three days for the wine to knit completely together into a perfect balance of soft tannins, fruit, spice, and licorice aromas and flavors. I think it will age well and continue to develop over the next five to ten years. If you want to get in on this wine before the frenzy begins, you can sign up for the mailing list here. The initial offering will take place on September 1, 2008. After that, good luck because I think this wine will develop quite a following, and deservedly so.

Another wine that deserves a following is the 2005 Phifer Pavitt "Date Night" Cabernet Sauvignon. The husband and wife team of Suzanne Phifer Pavitt and Shane Pavitt decided to take no half measures when they got into the wine business. They hired Ted Osborne to be their winemaker, and selected the very best organic Napa Valley fruit from Arthur Spencer's Temple Family Vineyards. Together they wanted to make a wine that was worthy of being shared on a special night with someone you love--even if that special night involves sitting at home and eating In 'n Out burgers. The important thing for Phifer Pavitt is that you enjoy their wine as it's meant to be enjoyed: with family, friends, and food. They even have a place on their site where you can tell them how you enjoyed their wine--and yes, they do read the submissions. I assure you that you will not need the lasso that the lady on the label carries to get someone to share this wine with you, if you are lucky enough to have a bottle.

The wine's first impressions are wrapped up in its enticing aromas. It has beautiful, floral aromatics of plum and cherry blossom along with some darker notes of ripe plum and leather. The next impression is all about texture: it's got the texture of silk velvet. If you've never felt silk velvet it's magical stuff. My great grandmother's turn of the century opera coat was made from it, and it has a kind of plush, warm glide that's like nothing else on this earth. When I sipped this wine in Suzanne Phifer Pavitt's kitchen, I immediately thought of that opera coat. Once you get past the floral aromas and the feeling of the wine in your mouth, you will notice blackberry, red currant, and cassis flavors along with a strong core of tobacco, earth, and black tea notes running through it that give it great depth and complexity. The aftertaste is rich and juicy, with a bright acidity that keeps the wine from ever feeling heavy. Proof positive of this fact is that Suzanne served the wine with some farm-fresh tomatoes and a veggie quiche. If you had told me that either of these dishes would go well with a Napa Cab I would have bet you good money that you were wrong. The 2005 Phifer Pavitt Date Night has many good years ahead of it, and I imagine that it will continue to evolve and grow over the next five years. If you open yours up this year or the next, I'd recommend opening it a few hours before serving and giving it a good swirl in the glass, or just decant it to bring out its full potential. As with the previous wine, if you want some Date Night you need to get on the mailing list and see if you can snag some from their initial offering, or pray to the gods you get there in time for the 2006 release later this fall.

$75 is a lot to spend on wine every day--but in the market, it's not that expensive for Cabernet Sauvignon of this quality. I'm not sure I agree with Mr. Laube that if you find a Napa Cabernet of distinction for under $75 you should consider it a bargain, but I do think that if you find one that you enjoy for around this price it is worth celebrating, given that the median price for deluxe California cabs is around $115. If you find two bottles you love, as I did this summer, then you are doubly fortunate because when you need a splurge, have a special occasion, or want to make a special occasion out of some takeout and a set of old birthday candles, you will know just which bottle of wine to open. That knowledge may not constitute a bargain, but it is priceless.

Feel free to share the wines that you absolutely love and are willing to purchase--despite their cost--below. And don't be afraid to sign up for the mailing lists for these two great wines while you still can. They're worth it--and I don't tell you that about $75 wine often.

1 comment:

Jesse Porter said...

"It took about three days for the wine to knit completely together into a perfect balance of soft tannins, fruit, spice, and licorice aromas and flavors."

A lot of Young Winos sometimes wonder how best to allow a wine some time to change once opened. What did you do in order to let this wine "knit together?" Was it open in a decanter? A bottle? Was it re-corked, or left completely open?