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Some Bordeaux blends I liked in 2012

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There is not and cannot be an answer to the question, “Which is better, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux blend?”, because the question is meaningless. One might say that the nearer a wine approaches 100% Cabernet the more tannic it is, and the more its flavors approach those of classic blackberries and cassis; it also may be more ageable. This is true in theory and often in reality, but depending on where the Cabernet is grown its other qualities will assume equally important roles. For instance, Cabernets grown in rich, fertile soils will be less tannic but also less concentrated than those in the mountains, while a Cabernet from a cooler area will show an herbaceousness seldom found in Napa.

One might say also that a Bordeaux blend is rounder, mellower and drinkable earlier because varieties such as the Merlot and the Cabernet Franc make it so. Certainly, a winemaker with access to good fruit from all classic Bordeaux varieties has a wider range on his palate with which to fill in divots. As this Scottish website notes about Bordeaux, “the skills of assemblage – the synergistic blending of grape varieties… are vital in a region where climate does not always allow all varieties to ripen to the required level.” So true in a place like Bordeaux, where vintage variation is more extreme than here in California. Our dependable heat means, however, that a properly grown and ripened Cabernet has no divots. Anyway, as we’ll shortly see, the federal 75% rule pertaining to varietal labeling is arbitrary to the point of silliness.

Having said that, the interesting point about Bordeaux blends and Meritages (more about this word in a moment) is that the category is not dominated by the 800-pound gorilla of Napa Valley. In terms of sheer numbers, if I count up my 90-plus wines, there are more of them from Napa than from anywhere else; but the list also contains an impressive number of wines from beyond Napa. The Jackson Family’s Verité wines, from their Mayacamas Mountain vineyards high above the Alexander Valley, easily produced the greatest blends last year, with a range of 2007s and 2008s; the former vintage gets the nod by a hair, but then, they had an additional year in the bottle.

Also impressive were Jonata’s 2007 El Alma de Jonata, based on Cabernet Franc, and their 2007 El Desafio de Jonata, based on Cabernet Sauvignon, both from the Santa Ynez Valley. The Capture 2009 Harmonie, with a Sonoma County appellation, is very good, as is Thomas Fogarty 2007 Lexington Meritage, proving that the Santa Cruz Mountains still count, especially in an opulent vintage. I quite enjoyed Geyser Peak’s 2007 Reserve Alexandre, Wellington’s 2007 Victory Reserve Meritage, Korbin Kameron 2008 Cuvée Kristin, Chateau St. Jean 2008 Cinq Cepages and Ferrari-Carano’s 2009 Trésor, all from various parts of Sonoma County.

But we have to give Napa its due. Ovid 2009, Terra Valentine 2009 Marriage from Spring Mountain, Chimney Rock 2009 Elevage from Stags Leap, Terlato 2009 Episode, Sequoia Grove 2008 Cambrium, Viader 2009, Merryvale 2009 Profile, Carte Blanche 2009, Les Belles Collines 2009 Les Sommets, Jarvis 2009 Will Jarvis’ Science Project, Kenefick Ranch 2008 Pickett Road Red—all sensational wines, restaurant wines, flashy, opulent food wines.

I opened by saying that it’s useless to speculate which is better, Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux blend, but the market apparently has made up its mind: Cabernet Sauvignon. That I review, year after year, 15 to 20 times more Cabs than blends is proof that vintners, for whatever reason, choose to adhere to the 75% minimum for varietal labeling. I’m sure their sales people and distributors tell them that it’s far more difficult trying to sell a wine with a proprietary name, no matter how good it is, because most consumers just don’t get the concept. And unless they’ve been living under a rock, who hasn’t heard of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Ought we as a nation to revisit our concept of varietal labeling requirements? Probably it would be too much of a hassle, and in the end only the consultants would profit. Besides, the public, already hopelessly confused, would be needlessly driven insane if they were asked to absorb yet another rule imposed by a distant bureaucracy. But the 75% varietal minimum gave rise to the Frankenstein of “Meritage” as well as these pompous proprietary names, many of which seem like they were plucked at random from a Thesaurus, if not invented outright, by an inebriated marketing manager. Poor Joe Phelps can hardly have known what he was starting when he dubbed his 1974 Bordeaux blend “Insignia.”

Happy New Year! May you have a glorious 2013.

  1. Two words: Monte Bello

  2. STEVE!,

    This has nothing to do with Meritage, but thanks for another great year of interesting, well-written posts.

    Let me be the first to wish you Happy New Year!

    Cheers,
    Ye Olde HoseMaster of Wine

  3. Bob Henry says:

    DR,

    See this decade-old posting praising Ridge “Monte Bello.”

    ~~ Bob

    Excertps from Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine Web site
    (posted April 15, 2001):

    “Is California dreaming? — an extraordinary assessment
    of the cult wines that cost more than Bordeaux’s first growths.”

    [Link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/jr715.html

    [California Cult Cabs: Ridge “Monte Bello” is a Steal]

    Individual tasting notes reproduced below.

    RIDGE “MONTE BELLO”

    1990:19 [points] and not there yet

    Really appetising, layered, interesting mineral-scented nose. Massive dry (as in not sweet) structure with lots still to give. This Santa Cruz Mountains style contrasted markedly with the ultra-ripe Napa Valley ferments from further north.

    1991:18 [points] and at its peak

    Relatively pale in colour and simple in flavour but still round, full and gentle with many appetising layers. Quite evolved.

    1992:18 [points] and still climbing

    Very very deep colour, layered fruit. Ultra-ripe and very youthful. On the palate, big and tough and a bit of a bruiser. Massive palate impact. Dry (as opposed to sweet) but not drying in terms of its neat tannic charge.

    1993:17.5 [points] and extremely youthful

    The least impressive of this array. Very dumb indeed with a nose of essence of tea and the palate completely dominated by tannins. There is even a hint of some slightly unripe fruit. This wine will need considerable ageing.

    1994:18 [points] and youthful

    A much more restrained wine than the other 1994s. There is obviously lots of ripe fruit and ripe tannin here but both are well hidden and tucked in for future development. Quite stern in Ridge’s typically confident, almost Latourish style.

    1995:17.5 [points] and climbing

    This wine is so unevolved it is difficult to judge. Savoury but extremely deeply buried notes on top of obvious sweetness from ripe grapes. Tannins at present contributing to a note of dryness on the finish.

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