Oct 26 2009

Cabernet with Carnivores

by Maggie Smith

Tasting wine for a living is a tough job, but someone has to relay this information to you! Last week at Gibson’s Steakhouse, our barrel group’s “mission” (linked blog post from last thursday) was to bring a bottle of wine in the $50-to-$100 price range from anywhere in the world to blind taste, recognize the different styles, and rate them on what we liked best. This is all part of the process of deciding what style of wine we like when it comes down to creating our own barrel.

As it turns out, each person in the group ended up spending more on their individual bottle than planned, so we were tasting wine in the $100-plus category, and it was all current vintage releases (2005 and 2006). When you are dealing with this upper tier of wine, it sits in barrel and in bottle for an average of two years from when they harvest it; then it “rests” in bottle until the winemaker thinks it tastes good enough to release to the public. We all ended up bringing wine from California and Australia (Bordeaux is another region known for their high-end Cabernet production), which makes sense since we are making a new world Cabernet.

Well what better place to showcase high-end New World Cabernet Sauvignon other then a Chicago steakhouse? Wine always tastes better with food, and we all know how much Cabernet loves steak! It was very interesting tasting each wine basically as soon as the cork was pulled out. Not only are these wines meant to be aged, but at the very least, they should be decanted to enjoy them at their best. What the group was supposed to do was taste, and then rate the wines from 1-5 (1 being the best.) I only jotted down a few tasting notes on each, but all were very different.

The wine that the group ranked number one was an Australian Cabernet! The 2005 Elderton Ashmead single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was such a surprise for this group of people that adore California Cabernet; but this wine was different and was definately unique from the rest. We tasted this wine third in the line-up, and my tasting notes read “lighter in color, high acidity and more earthy notes to it.” Now, knowing New World wine, these tasting notes do not sound like a Barossa Valley powerhouse like the other Aussie Cab we tasted. The other Aussie Cabernet was the 2005 Noon Reserve. If you’ve never heard of this wine, it’s not suprising. They are a winery that makes such a small amount of wine, and wine people in-the-know always snatch it up, most goes to their own wine club members. My tasting notes on the Noon were “deep, dark, velvety, round, voluptous Cabernet with hints of mint”—this clearly says, I’m an Aussie, don’t question my roots! Number 2 was a California Cabernet (not surprising), the 2005 Quintessa Rutherford Red wine. Quintessa is an estate produced “red wine.” They use this term because they want to highlight and express the land on which their grapes grow and it’s not just about making Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the basic make up of this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon, they also blend in Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere (all Bordeaux varietals.) This wine had a very spicy jalapeño pepper nose with a plummy fruit aspect to it, and it kept me guessing as to what this wine was trying to reveal to me when only opened for such a short while. Wine number 4 was the 2005 Chimney Rock Alpine Vineyard. This wine ranked fourth in our line up. My tasting notes on this wine was ‘lighter more delicate and more nuance” again not what I would expect from a Stag’s Leap district wine. This wine is only available to wine club members (lucky them!). The wine that ranked last (keep in mind just because it ranked last, don’t shut this wine out) was the 2005 Palmaz Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was a powerhouse! It was all about strutting it’s stuff on the runway, big, concentrated, coffee, chocolate, dark fruits and a finish that would not quit! In all fairness, this wine is probably the one that would benefit the most from aging it and is not meant to be opened this early. However when we revisited it a half an hour later, it was a different wine; more Bordeaux like and starting to show more colors.

All these wines showed off more as they were opened longer and were evolving in the glass while we ate. This is the beauty of wine, it’s a living, breathing organism that slowly opens up like a flower that is just starting to bloom. I hate that we had to give each wine a ranking because none of them were deserved of last place but we had to put a score on it. This is just one of many barrel meetings that we get to experience throughout the process of making our own wine. Not to late to join in the fun!

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