Cabernet rules this roost

One of LA’s most impressive wine cellars is behind this door.

Dinner with Carlitos and Alice means plowing through the finest classic Cabernet Sauvignon wines produced in Napa. You should know by now that tBoW is not a cab fan. As a good friend and winemaker once put it…Cabernet – a terrific blending grape.
On its own I find Cabernet Sauvignon to be too damn big. I recognize Napa makes what are probably the world’s best Cabernet wines (so sorry Bordeaux) BUT…I said BUT these are wines for either trophy hunters at worst and/or people with steel plated palates at best. There are few blended Cabernet wines that I find appealing. tBoW found the Argentina blends of Malbec and Cabernet were the least interesting from that region, preferring Malbec and Merlot or even Syrah. In California styles, the most appealing Napa red wines are less than half Cabernet and preferably that quantity is closer to 30%.
No matter. When Carlitos opens his wine cellar, people of the Cabernet persuasion sit up and take notice. Even I am impressed with the depth of his stash.
He selected four wines for dinner at local Italian dining room Giorgios in Rolling Hills Estates. We could choose from a 1996 Beringer Private Reserve, 1998 MacKenzie Mueller, 2000 Phelps Insignia and 2004 Opus. The choice was not easy. The Insignia is closest to the blend I would have preferred but the millennium vintage is notoriously “off”. The MacKenzie Mueller is a tBoW house favorite but 1998 is another vintage less than stellar. I will say I would bet the Phelps and the MM would be fine wines despite the weak reputation vintages.
We settled on the Beringer and the Opus. Like Indiana Jones …we …chose …wisely.

beringerPR 1996.jpg1996 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon~$150: Big berry fruit right off the first pour. In the nose, on the tongue. Berry berry berry. Blackberries. Delicious. Pour some on your pancakes. Still tannic. Thought we might not need to decant but we did. A monster albeit a 12 year old one. Rich, straightforward. Half and half estate mountain fruit and valley floor. By the end of the meal – after a couple hours – it was kind of simple. I did appreciate the somewhat lighter alcohol. 13.4%
People do make a fuss over Napa wines. Here is a worthwhile website provided by Beringer to assess any older vintage of the Reserve.
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2004 Opus One
$175: The 2004 is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Malbec. Supposedly this 25th vintage is the best Opus ever (like they don’t say that every other vintage). This is perhaps the most widely held “collector’s” wine. It has everything needed to be such. Pedigree of Bordeaux First Growth (yes, Baron Philipe had to wheedle his way inside the top 5) and Napa marketing genius. Oakville floor Cabernet blended with Mouton juice in Napa. With 20,000 cases produced there is just enough to sell out 6-packs at approximately $1,000 each to an audience waiting to show one off. [ed. snot nosed ingrate snob how was the wine dammit?]. The wine was outstanding. An absolutely stunning “robe”, i.e., it was really pretty to look at. Balanced. Muted nose but intense flavors; also creamy. High toned say the notes. We did decant. Merlot shows off up front. Then the cab moves in and takes over. Cherries, red berries, some coffee. Much more elegant than the Beringer. Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris. Kung Fu vs. Karate. A balled fist, or what was once referred to as an iron fist in a velvet glove. Iron fist in a velvet glove….medieval isn’t it? 14.1%

Carlos has cases, not bottles, of these wines. His selection is focused on classic Napa Cabernets…Beaulieu Georges de la Tour, Sterling Reserves, Grgich, Montelena. Selection goes back to the 90s for all and into the 80s for some. Cases, not bottles. Now, about that Phelps Insignia….
Later that same week…
2006 Domaine Fouassier Quincy $14: This is Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley. Tastes nothing like California SB. No way no how. None of the grassy aromas and flavors. Clean super clean. Fresh. Kind of stoney but really not. Hey! I covered this wine in October 2007. Liked it then and like it now. How can you go wrong? Very fair price for a very straightforward wine that is very easy to enjoy. This was the second Quincy this week. Ordered the other off the list at Geoffreys in Malibu. Lovely setting but I know better beach views on the coast. A restaurant resting on its laurels for d-e-c-a-d-e-s. The online wine list (yes I tried to look up the Quincy) was from Autumn 2007. IGTY even the idea of an Autumn wine list irks me which makes me a hypocrite since I endorse the notion that wines are seasonal and being able to bring a wine matched to the season signals wine smarts. For tourists and the brain-dead only. 12.5%
D-cubed-Zin.jpg2003 D Cubed Napa Valley Zinfandel $25: Overripe Napa juice AND it is a zin. Prunes meet figs. Rich, unctuous. Overripe. Tastes like zin. Not a fan with Franus Brandlin Zin the lone exception [ed. and you haven’t tasted one of his wines in a decade]. Where does one begin with commenting on this wine? The words Napa Valley on the label are worth a 100% price bump. Doesn’t make the wine any better. Just more expensive. The good news is the vintner kept the price below $30. Zin is not a terribly versatile grape. It seems winemakers have only two choices: rich and jammy or rich and overbearing. Franus manages a claret style that was nimble, light to medium weight and down-weighted the jammy prunes. And the final comment? 15.2%
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2007 Root:1
$9: Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon purchased at Costco. Deep red robe. Pretty. Sweet black cherry flavors. Reminiscent of some Argentine Malbecs in the richness and simple approach of a satisfying drink. Has a story. Ungrafted Cab vines not grafted to phyloxera resistant root stock; “original European stock”. Parker 90 points. Of course with flavors this forward and robust. Slight volatile acidity that is not quite a spritz but is tingly on the tongue. Nicely balanced, pepper mocha. Everyone liked it especially at the price. Alcohol level not outrageous at 14%.

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