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A tasting of Sonoma County Cabernets and Bordeaux blends: Call me a Verité kinda guy

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I couldn’t have been more pleased that in yesterday’s tasting I gave the Verite 2012 La Joie * a perfect 100 points. (All wines marked with an asterisk are from Jackson Family Wines.)

It was back in 2009 that I gave the 2006 La Joie a near-perfect 98 points. A year later I gave the 2007 Verite La Muse 100 points. So you could say these wines, produced by Pierre Seillan, delight and amaze me and rise to my highest expectations of what California-Bordeaux can and should be.

Our tasting was entirely blind. The other wines and their scores were Matanzas Creek 2011 Journey * (96 points), Rodney Strong 2012 Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon (88 points), Hall 2012 T Bar T Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (90 points), Hidden Ridge 2012 Impassable Mountain Reserve 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon (91 points), Lancaster 2012 Nicole’s Red Wine (91 points), Arrowood 2012 Reserve Speciale Cabernet Sauvignon * (92 points), Stonestreet 2012 Legacy Red Wine * (98 points), Stonestreet 2011 Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon * (88 points), Silver Oak 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (92 points), Cenyth 2010 Red Wine * (93 points), Anakota 2012 Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon * (93 points) and Kendall-Jackson 2012 Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon * (93 points).

The vintages all were either current releases or the most current releases I was able to obtain buying direct from the wineries. I should add that I also was pleased that one of my fellow tasters, Chris Jackson, also scored the Verite ’12 La Joie a perfect 100 points. When the paper bags came off, it was high-five time.

As some of my readers know who followed my career, I never gave very many 100 point scores, but one was that ’07 La Muse. These Verités are extraordinary wines. They are of course blends from mountain vineyards throughout Sonoma County; it was those wines, in part, that led me to understand that a California-Bordeaux does not have to be sourced from a single vineyard in order to attain perfection. In fact, quite the opposite can be argued: That having your choice of multiple pedigreed vineyards, rather than having to source from only one, allows the winemaker to fill in the divots in order to produce a more complete, wholesome wine. Of course, this implies a very high level of skill on the part of the blender! Nor would I concede that such a blended wine doesn’t display terroir. (Another blend I gave 100 points to was the 2006 Cardinale, made from grapes grown in Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Stags Leap and Oakville.) I do think a great Pinot Noir should probably come from a single piece of dirt, but even here I could be wrong.

It often is said that the difference between Sonoma-grown Bordeaux wines and Napa Valley Bordeaux wines is that the former are earthier and more “French.” I think that is largely true; the tannins are firmer and there is slightly more herbaceousness in the form of sweet dried herbs and often a floral character reminiscent of violets. Most of the wines in yesterday’s tasting were grown on the western slope of the Mayacamas, not far from places like Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain, in fact just on the other side of the ridge. But Napa Valley is one mountain range further inland and so is that much warmer and drier; the resulting wines tend to be lusher, more opulent, and higher in alcohol. But I would not want to over-emphasize those distinctions. Suffice it to say that some of these Sonoma Cabs, especially from the west side of the Mayacamas, are stunning and ageworthy.

I don’t hesitate to praise the Jackson Family wines just because I work there; in fact it makes me very happy to see them do so well. As I said, the tasting was absolutely blind. Nobody had any idea what the wines were, although that didn’t stop us from guessing. I was troubled by the relatively modest score of the ’11 Stonestreet Christopher’s, a wine I’ve always liked (I gave the ’06 and ’07 both 96 points, for example), but as you know 2011 was “the year summer never came,” and this wine, grown at 2,400 feet on the winery’s Alexander Mountain Estate, is exquisitely sensitive to vintage conditions. I think the fruit, in that brutal environment of 2011, just didn’t get ripe enough (although it’s only fair to add that Wine Advocate gave that wine 94 points. So maybe I just didn’t “get it”).

Anyhow, bravo to Sonoma County for doing so well. I think for our next tasting we’ll do Jackson Family’s Napa Valley Cab/Bordeaux blends against some of the top-rated wines in the valley. That will be interesting, if expensive, and I’ll report on the results right here!

  1. “. . . Sonoma-grown Bordeaux wines . . . are earthier and more ‘French.’ I think that is largely true; the tannins are firmer and there is slightly more herbaceousness in the form of sweet dried herbs and often a floral character reminiscent of violets.”

    How much of that herbal/violets character comes from Cabernet Franc?

    (Bill Dyer, “ring in” here as you grow and make a mountain fruit Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc.)

  2. An herbal note often comes with cooler climate, but as Bob says Cab Franc can also add a layer of herbal and floral characters that provide “lift” to the aroma.

  3. Kyle Schlachter says:

    Good showing by JFW wines. Top 7! How did you choose the 5 non-JFW wines?

    I’m curious into the details of how the tasting was conducted. As the organizer, you knew 8 out of 13 wines were JFW wines, did the other tasters know that as well? Were the brown bags in front of you or was someone pouring them in a different room and bringing just the glasses to the tasters? How were the bags labeled? How were the different bottle heights/weights/capsules hidden? Were all the tasters JFW employees? I did find these two lines contradictory:

    “all were either current releases or the most current releases I was able to obtain buying direct from the wineries.”

    “Nobody had any idea what the wines were, although that didn’t stop us from guessing.”

    Perhaps the organizer should recuse him/herself from the actual tasting?

  4. Interesting results, but one of the best if not comical lines from you Steve had to be this.

    “I think for our next tasting we’ll do Jackson Family’s Napa Valley Cab/Bordeaux blends against some of the top-rated wines in the valley. That will be interesting, if expensive”

    Are you paying for non JFW wines next time?? Legit LOL moment, c’mon.

  5. There is no question that JFW has the wherewithall to procure low production, expensive Napa Valley Cabernets and Bordeaux style red blends.

    The larger question is: Does JFW have the will?

    In other industries, it is common practice to purchase (discreetly) your competitors’ products to sample them and reverse engineer them.

    By way of example, American car companies acquire (say) Porsches and Ferraris and Lamborghinis and Maseratis and Saleens and Corvettes and Teslas and Mercedes Benzes and BMWs and Audis and Jaguars to “benchmark” their performance.

    Out of that comparison research new cars like this 2017 Ford GT are born:

    http://o.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/GLOB/crop/1920×1081+0+86/resize/800×450!/format/jpg/quality/85/http://o.aolcdn.com/hss/storage/midas/f11ab2fa8c9a634a57b2194c59a2df4f/201647243/06-2017-ford-gt-chicago-1.jpg

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