Chardonnay and Cabernet lovers should make their reservations now for my end-of-the-year "Best Of" tastings. In the meantime, here are some great examples to savor until then.
In the month of November, I will be doing two tastings that are focused on featuring the best examples of Chardonnay (Saturday November 10th) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Friday evening 7:30 November 30) that The Wine Country carries. They will all be great tasting and excellent examples of the varietal for sure, but the term “best” is really subjective to your palate, personal taste and the cost amount you’re willing to spend.
Having said that, if you come to these events we’re going to spoil you with some great examples of these grapes.
I’d like to use this posting to highlight some great Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons we offer in different taste profiles that you might consider the best for that style. For me personally, the wines that I consider great quality are from excellent vineyards that have oak treatments that add depth and complexity without distracting from the fruit quality too much and present refreshing acidity to balance the wine with crisp flavors that make it irresistible to pass up another taste.
Oak barrels have been used to enhance the flavor and texture of wine since Roman times and the vanilla, caramel and spice notes they bring to a wine were seen by many as a vast improvement over the clay amphora used widely before. Barrels have the added benefit of allowing a small amount of oxygen slowly into the wine which gives a more pleasant and smooth mouthfeel.
Today many people are still in love with oak aromas and flavors and wouldn’t consider a wine to be of high quality if it didn’t see a certain amount of new oak.
One of the main drawbacks to this, though, is the added cost of the expensive oak barrel to a bottle. To satisfy our oak-loving customers, we have great selection of quality wines that bring the oak flavor without the huge price tag. The Knuttel Family ($25.99-Cabernet, $19.99-Chardonnay) and Hook & Ladder ($26.99-Cabernet, $19.99-Chardonnay) brands are two great examples of producers who use a generous amount of new oak considering the price they charge. I would encourage anyone who considers a wine with a rich presence of new oak at a low cost the best, to go out and try one of these if they haven’t already.
Chardonnay grapes, almost ready for the harvest
Chardonnay is a grape that expresses itself best in colder climates, with apple, pear and lemon fruits character. Stone fruits like peach can be found along with tropical pineapple in warmer growing areas. This information might be basic for some of our seasoned wine lovers at the store but for some of the new faces I’ve seen at the store lately, I would recommend focusing on some of these primary fruit flavors found in your glass and find out which is the most appealing to you.
For people who like a leaner, crisp style of Chardonnay with apple, pear and citrus lemon notes you might enjoy the 2016 North Valley Chardonnay ($30.99) from the Oregon Willamette Valley. If you’re a fan of the weightier riper tropical flavor with a healthy amount of oak presence you would probably enjoy 2017 Rombauer Chardonnay ($36.99 at the store) which is an excellent example of a Chardonnay that many people consider among the best in that style.
OLELO 2016 CHARDONNAY, CENTRAL COAST, CALIFORNIA
With its wonderful fresh pineapple juice quality, this tropical Chardonnay has the amazing ability to transport you to the beach surrounded by sand and surf. This is very appropriate since the wine is made mostly for the Disney Resort Aulani in Hawaii by Master Sommelier Michael Jordan. 30% new French oak is in this wine but since malolactic fermentation has been kept to half, keeping the butter and cream quality low, refreshing acidity can shine. This allows the tropical fruits to appear vibrant and juicy. Meyer lemon, white peach, honeydew melon plus many more fruit flavors await when opening this bottle.
$13.99 per bottle
SHAFER 2015 CHARDONNAY RED SHOULDER RANCH,
CARNEROS NAPA VALLEY
Shafer has been producing delicious Chardonnay for over 20 years and the current vintage is one of the finest from this most famous Chardonnay Vineyard: golden yellow apples bubbling on the stovetop with cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise combine with freshly baked croissants and hints of lemon curd. On the palate, this wine is rich and broad, and coats the mouth with layers of phyllo pastry, exotic tropical tones, and baked pear. Round and creamy, with great structure and obvious pedigree. Perfection!
$56.99 per bottle
RAMEY 2014 CHARDONNAY
PLATT VINEYARD, SONOMA COAST
The cool ocean influenced, and mineral driven Platt Vineyard will no longer be available to Ramey and many other high-quality producers as it has recently been sold. Soils here are ancient uplifted ocean floor, helping to create a current of citrus electricity that gives this wine verve and vibrancy. Full malolactic fermentation and lees stirring occur for complex texture and creamy mouthfeel. Aged for 19 months in 25% new Taransaud French oak barrels. This wine leads with tart lemon, followed by creamy apple and light oak toast for a layered complex finish. Bottled without filtration.
$63.99 per bottle
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon grape bunches waiting to be made into wine
Cabernet Sauvignon is widely considered the champion of the wine world with its amazing ability to capture both power and elegance at the same time. With this grape it’s important to remember your style preference when reviewing what you consider the best..
People who enjoy the riper black fruited, higher alcohol and lower tannin presence wouldn’t necessarily consider the lighter bodied, higher tannic structure and slight green and herbal note wines the best and vice versa.
The kind of Cabernet Sauvignon I would consider the best includes amazing aromatic qualities of violet and black currant with layers of fresh raspberry mixed in with denser blackberry and plum flavors. Slight secondary notes of vanilla, graphite, smoke and leather are always welcomed aromas in Cabernet Sauvignon for me. Sometimes surprising herbal notes like mint can appear along with a slight dark chocolate note that combines to form an aromatic version of an Andes mint.
For me this happened with the Acre Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($43.99) that we currently carry in our stacks. Some other amazing Cabernet Sauvignons we offer are listed below and I hope to see you at these “Best” of tastings events soon. Please stop by the store and tell me the brands you consider your best and why.
DRY CREEK 2015 CABERNET SAUVIGNON,
DRY CREEK VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
This is a lot of Cab for the money! Rich and juicy blackberry burst from the glass. Notes of black licorice, graphite and peppercorn complement the rich full-bodied fruits on the palate and some nice French oak adds a good bit of structure and depth. A long satisfying finish completes the package. A stately and full-bodied Cabernet that belies the great price. Organically farmed and all estate fruit makes this the perfect choice for any occasion.
$24.99 per bottle
NEYERS 2014 CABERNET SAUVIGNON "AME", NAPA VALLEY
AME stands for the first initial of each of the three children of Bruce and Barbara Neyers. It also just happens to be the French world for soul, which this amazing wine has plenty of. The AME vineyard is a three-acre parcel within the Neyers Ranch with a south facing 45-degree slope that ripens Cabernet Sauvignon with ease. Planted with heirloom grapevine budwood that can be traced to Chateau Margaux in France on soils that are a mix of gravel and terroir driven compressed volcanic ash basalt. Elegant black fruit with a strong oaky tannin presence. 40% new French Oak and only 225 cases produced.
$85.99 per bottle
SPOTTSWOODE 2014 ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON,
St. HELENA, NAPA VALLEY
Tucked into the base of Spring Mountain at the western border of St. Helena, the Spottswoode vineyard has been producing some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in California. After having to completely replant in the 1980s, the small winery has bounced back and is now among our favorite Napa wineries of all. The 2014 exudes power and elegance. Dense and focused with primary, bright, youthful, fresh characters. Plenty of ripe blue and red fruit accompanied by notes of mocha, carob, butterscotch, and toast. Hints of dried herb and rose petal. Long, clean, and fresh, its strong acid backbone is a hallmark of what will be another long-lived, collectible wine. Discernable tannins that are youthful yet lengthy complement the underlying intense fruit. Great texture! All the promise you like to find in a young wine.
$179.99 per bottle