Big Red Wines 1

For Fall Entertaining

As the weather cools and the menu changes, it is time to reshape the wine selection. If you are entertaining with red meat dishes this Fall, then consider a fine American Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Here we taste examples from Napa, Sonoma and Washington State  They all have enough tannic backbone to stand up the meat and enough fruit to make them enjoyable to drink now. However, these wines are going to age well if you buy to cellar. We indicate how long next to each one.

2012 Mercer ‘Cavalie’ Reserve, Horse Heaven Hills, Washington. $42.

The wines of Washington State have been quietly but unremittingly creeping up the quality ladder for over a decade. The quaintly named ‘Horse Heaven Hills’ AVA (American Viticultural Area) is in the vanguard. Mercer is located in Prosser, just outside the northern boundary. This blend of 52% merlot, 27% cabernet sauvignon with malbec and petit verdot making up the remainder, has a pronounced earthy, vegetal character in the nose. Blueberry flavors and a velvety mouthful. When we voted between these wines, those tasters who liked soft wines put this wine on top.

2012 Kenwood Vineyards Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California. $75

Each year, venerated Sonoma winery Kenwood Vineyards selects the best of their cabernet sauvignon and reserves it for their ‘Artist Series’. This vintage features the work of photographic artist Nathan Wirth on the label. Inside, 81% of the wine is cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, and the remainder malbec and petit verdot. That is, same varieties but vastly different blend from the previous wine. The effect is profound. The soft textures are replaced by a firm structure with tannins that while not harsh, are clearly manifest. This wine is likely ageable for a decade and would improve as it is rather closed in right now. There is a bright ruby color and flavors of French oak and blackberries.

2012 Profile Red Wine. Merryvale Vineyards, Napa Valley, California. $200.

Merryvale is an esteemed Napa wine producer and Profile is their flagship red wine. At 85% cabernet sauvignon and 15% petit verdot the blend is typical of cabernet-centric Napa Valley. Nose of blackcurrant, cigar box, and just enough greenness to exude breed. In the mouth, the dark fruit flavors are echoed but there is also thyme, oak and cocoa. This is a complex wine and it is frankly oenological infanticide to drink it this young. Put away a few bottles and try them every five years or so. It will evolve for at least a decade. Proof of this aging was shown by proprietor René Schlatter at a recent media/trade tasting in Dallas. He tasted through vintages back to the 1990s (1999, 1998, and 1996). This was an audience paid to be skeptical, if not downright grumpy, and they were won over by the wine’s development. Profile is Merryvale’s shot at the boutique Napa cabernet market and if you collect this coveted genre add it to your list.

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery, Maestro, Red Wine, California. $40.

It hardly seems 50 years since Robert Mondavi split with the family to find his own winery in Oakville. And at the tender entrepreneur’s age of 52. The rest is history, as they say, and how fitting that this should be the wine to commemorate the winery’s first 50 years. What a wine. A quantum step up in the intensity stakes. The tannins envelop the tongue but are not harsh. Classic cabernet dark fruit nose with oak and greenness. Voluptuous in the mouth. It will age but is seductive even now. This selection is something of a bargain.

2013 Grassini Family Vineyards, ‘Articondo’ Red Wine, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara, California. $45.

A little known winery in Santa Barbara specializing in estate grown wines. This is their halo wine. Bordeaux blend. Classic cabernet nose of dark fruits, oak, mocha. Mouth is chewy tannins. Flavors of dark fruit (blackcurrant, blackberry). Aging potential. Complex interplay of flavors in the mouth. Forget the triviality that an AVA like ‘Happy Canyon’ seems to imply (is there a ‘Sad Canyon’? What about a ‘Sarcastic Canyon’?) These people are from California. Humor them. The important thing is, that this area is turning out some prodigious wines.

These wines are available locally at Sigel’s and other fine wine stores, or online.