Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A World of Cabernet Sauvignon: Chile, Washington, and Tuscany

I recently convened a tasting panel at the Vines Bar and Grill on Sand Lake Road in Orlando to investigate the characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon grown under differing soil and climatic conditions. The tasting was titled ‘A World of Cabernet Sauvignon’ and its intent and framework were detailed in a previous post.  The tasting was divided into four flights: Bordeaux; Chile/Washington State/Bolgheri; Napa/Sonoma; and Margaret River/Coonawarra/Barossa Valley.  The Bordeaux flight was covered previously.  The second flight, covered herein, included the following wines: 1997 Don Melchor (Maipo Valley, Chile); 2006 Quilceda Creek (Columbia Valley, WA); 2003 Leonetti Reserve (Walla Walla Valley, WA); and 1998 Ornellaia (Bolgheri, Tuscany). 

The 1997 Don Melchor (Parker 94 points) from Concha Y Toro was the first wine tasted in this flight.  The Puente Alto Vineyard, the source of the grapes for this wine, is located south of Santiago in the Maipo Valley at elevations varying between 1200 and 1500 feet. The climate is Mediterranean with 350 to 450 mm of rain annually and thermal oscillation in excess of 68 degrees. The soil is a combination of riverine deposits and eroded rock. The winery contends that its proximity to the Maipo Canyon renders its vineyards the coolest in the region. The Puente Alto Vineyard consists of contiguous sub-divided plots with each of the six Cabernet Sauvignon blocks having its own distinctive style.

Panel tasting notes:  This wine exhibited a lot of green on the nose; bell pepper and dill.  Ron felt that it showed up as new world immediately but, while enjoyable, he found it non-complex.  Andrew indicated that he would not call it non-complex; rather, he would say that geographically it is an indication of Chilean Cabernet.  Vegetal notes are more pronounced in the wines of Chile, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, and lends to them being easily distinguishable.  In response to a query about the ripeness of the fruit Andrew said that the grapes were ripe enough but this is the way that the grapes have adapted to the land.  Ron commented that these wines were no longer the value they used to be.

On the palate, mint, camphor and eucalyptus flavors, clay, very soft acidity, and a rich mouth feel.  A lot of fruit and indications of a hot vintage.  Uni-dimensional.

The 2007 Quilceda Creek (Parker 100 points) was the next wine up.  Quilceda Creek was founded in 1979 and produces a signature Cabernet, two single-vineyard Cabs, and a red blend.  Grapes for the signature Cabernet are sourced from the Tapteil,  Klipsun, and Discovery vineyards. Tapteil Vineyard is a 25-acre property owned by Larry Pearson and located in the Red Mountain AVA.  It is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (15 acres), Cabernet Franc (2 acres) and Merlot (2.5 acres).  The Cabernet Sauvignon is known for concentration of color and supple tannins while the Merlot is known for the production of rich, dark wines. The vineyard sits between 750 and 900 feet on Warden silt loam soil and has a southwest facing slope.  Klipsun Vineyard sits on 280 acres – of which 120 are planted to vine (28 acres Merlot, 60.7 acres Cabernet Sauvignon, 5.2 acres Semillon, 12.6 acres Sauvignon Blanc, 5 acres Syrah, and .5 acres Nebbiola – on the western slope of Red Mountain.  This vineyard produces 300 tons of grapes annually and its fruit is renowned for structure and aromatics.  It has been designated one of the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine and Spirits magazine.  Discovery Vineyard (Horse Heaven Hills AVA) was first planted in 2005 and is home to 17 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 acres of Syrah, and 1 acre of Petit Verdot.  It sits between 500 and 590 feet on wind-blown loess over fractured basalt soil with a south/southeast aspect.

Panel tasting notes:  According to Ron, Quilceda Creek has averaged 99 Parker points since the 1999 vintage.  He remembers Parker’s 1999 tasting notes describing Quilceda Creek as somewhere between a Margaux and a La Mission Haut-Brion so he called the winery immediately and got on their mailing list.

Dulce de leche and caramel on the nose.  Rich and creamy on the palate and reminiscent of cake batter.  Great mouth feel.  Acid and tannin balance out the massive fruit structure.  Highly extracted without being jammy.  Still young but loads of promise.  In Ron’s opinion not a 100-point wine.

The third wine tasted was the 2003 Leonetti Reserve (Parker 97 points).  Leonetti Cellar sources fruit for its wines from Seven Hills, Loess, and Mill Creek Upland Vineyards.  Seven Hills Vineyard was planted in 1980 and, as such, was one of the first vineyards in Walla Walla.  It is currently owned by Gary Figgins, Marty Clubb, and Bob Rupar and its output is sold to 25 premium wineries.  The 235 acres of vineyard sits on Edingford silt loam (wind-blown glacial loess) at between 850 and 1050 feet elevation.  Loess Vineyard sits on 28 acres at 1050 to 1150 feet elevation on Walla Walla silt loam soil.   The primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,  Petit Verdot, and Malbec and the wines are known for intense aromatics, red and dark fruits, and balance.  Mill Creek Upland is a 16-acre property sitting between 1485 and 1600 feet elevation with a south/southwest aspect.  The soil is Athena and Walla Walla silt loam.  Primary varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese.  Wines exhibit traditional mountain fruit characteristics with dry, dark color, great acidity, dark fruits and dried herbs.

Panel tasting notes:  Raspberry and blackberry on the nose along with a certain creaminess.  The components of the wine hang together well.  Beef stock and petrol flavors.  Well integrated tannins.  Ron described the wine as refreshing and in a “perfect place” in terms of development.  Andrew felt that this wine presented much better on the nose than it did on the palate.  This wine was selected as the wine of the flight.

The final wine in this flight was the 1998 Ornellaia.  This wine was rated 93 points by Robert Parker but was rated 96 points by Wine Spectator and crowned 2001 Wine of the Year by that publication.  Full details on the Ornellaia vineyards and winemaking practices are contained in the post on my visit to the Ornellaia estate.

Panel tasting notes:  On the nose vegetal aromas, tobacco, dried earth, spice. Overall, though, a somewhat muted nose (panel agreed on the need for some more decant time).  A lively debate on the Bordeaux-ness of this wine ensued.  Ron felt that it was Bordeaux-like while I argued for the intrusion of some new world elements into the mix.  We felt that the wine was timid on the attack but built well towards the mid-palate.  Great balance.  Well integrated, even in this youthful phase, with the promise of phenomenal longevity.

The room was abuzz.  We were oblivious to the world outside our glass-encased room.  We were drinking very good wine and engaging in spirited discussions about those wines. There was an intoxicating level of dynamism and give and take.  We were in a zone and learning, and tasting, and debunking myths and sacred cows.  I was loving it.

Next up, Napa and Sonoma.