Wine Talk

Snooth User: dmcker

What's wrong with California Cabs?

Original post by dmcker, Jan 29, 2010.

Here's an article I just ran across that points to an issue that has been looming larger for several years now:
http://www.napavalleyregister.com/l...

The sentiments in it have been expressed several times on these boards. GregDP has moaned recently on the subject and I've talked about how I prefer wines that are 'transparent', express what the actual earth and grapes it comes from have to say, and that are manipulated only in ways that allow that expression in its fullest, not to manufacture some overly alcoholic fruit bomb that has the balance and finesse of a sumo wrestler trying ballet.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety, but here're a few short paragraphs from its middle that hopefully will stimulate some good discussion here:
"What we have today, mainly at the $30-and-above price point, are wines that are the near antithesis of this: high in alcohol (almost nothing of supposed quality is less than 14.5 percent; some are 16 percent), very low acid levels (which almost guarantees that the wines won’t age well), and actual residual sugar in many.

"This is wine that some reviewers say smells like chocolate, mocha, smoke and roasted nuts. These aren’t aromas derived from fruit; they come from the smoked oak barrels in which the wines were aged, clearly an idea that was never at play decades ago.

"The most telling — and damaging — aspect of today’s cabernets is what I hear from wine makers, and always off the record. The phrasing may differ, but the sentiment is the same: “I may make cabernet, but I don’t drink it any more.”



So what do people here think on this subject?

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 6, 2010.

So when you're talking about Greg's list, napagirl, are you referring to the scores from Spurrier's '76 tasting? That list I threw up at the beginning of this thread for CA winemakers, who with various varietals 'get it', was meant to spur criticism and rebuttal. Hopefully in the form of a list of other producers who are turning out vineyard-driven, honestly transparent wines--for my own selfish reasons I was hoping that someone would turn me on to good wine I hadn't yet encountered. ;-)

Greg, you might as well throw up Spurrier's 'revisited' tasting as well. Mayacamas did better that time around, but then it would, wouldn't it? I like the winery but never want to drink the wines until they have a *lot* of bottle age.

At some point we can also spin off a thread of Californicated French wines, too, I suppose. Like the right bank Garagistes, what's happened to Chateau Pavie et al., and so forth....

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 6, 2010.

ok.. dmcker.. I'll marry you too!!! Can we do that? Perhaps in japan???? LOL! I just liked his take on the california thing... I agree to some extent on the california crap, but also have a california palate.. remember????

I did, totally appreciate your inital list and have entered it into my "bible". You are an awesome reveiwer... tell me now, dmcker... what is your all time favorite California CAB??????

Say it!

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 6, 2010.

Napagirl, you sound like a lotta fun around midnight on a Friday night!.

For the moment, I'll retain my cloak of mystery, though....

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 6, 2010.

@dmcker... I'm a lotta fun at all times of the day! LOL! but seriously, do you have a favorite California Cab? Any of them?

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Reply by zufrieden, Feb 6, 2010.

Hey - love the budding wine romance. But seriously, dmcker, DO you have a favorite California Cab? I'm not sure I do (I have enjoyed so many over the years) though I admit there are plenty of delicious numbers out there to chose from!

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 6, 2010.

no budding romance, zufrieden. Just my feeble attempt at humor :-) But seriously... I really like Cali Cabs.. some ARE too big, and too high in alcohol. But there are good ones.

One of my faves is the 2001 ZD Estate Cab...

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Reply by Matchupichu, Feb 6, 2010.

I somehow doubt that anyone who has put a thread on this "post" will put up their all time favorite cab or Bordeaux, for fear of the amount of criticism that will inevitably (sp?) come their way - ominous, like storm clouds. I will regret saying this too...

I like -sigh- Andrew Geoffery's 2004 cab blend, still needs some time to incorperate itself, but a beautiful wine none the less. Also, Spring Mountain's '87 Elivette is pretty good, I had it a while ago though; actually, I like most of Spring Mountain's wines. They're very intresting, albiet a bit over-concentrated (that is an understatement) most of the wines when drank young are akin to a ball of tannins bouncing around in your mouth like the ball in a pin-ball machine, this is of course aside from their amrosia-like sauvignon blanc.

Let the criticisms begin! Sorry for the haphazard spelling.

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 6, 2010.

I won't criticize... I had forgotten about spring mountain... I like their wines too! Haven't had the other...

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Reply by wlstiles3, Feb 6, 2010.

GregT, all I've got is generalizations, which are crap. But, after reading you "rant", which it was not, I see your angle. Current styles reflect what is in current demand. I buy it. Do you think wines or more produced today, then maybe even a decade or decades ago? When I say produced, I mean manipulated to meet with current "style" demands. Is it just a romanticism and naivete to believe that wines, at one time, were the product of the terroir and not the manipulations of the winemakers. Teach me something.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 6, 2010.

I'll have to think a bit more about California wines I've had. I don't have a single favorite, but over a 30plus-year drinking career (afraid I did start before reaching legal majority), instead, several memorable experiences, including a few epiphanies, that I can fairly easily recall. Ditto for Bordeaux. I did say this in a thread more than half a year ago,
http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/be...
though I'm not going to run down Latour and several others on the left and right banks.

Over that 40-50 years of California vintages that I've been drinking, quite a lot of change has occurred (that's my understatement for the day). So I wonder whether talking about a BV I had from the '60s at the end of the '70s, or a Heitz Martha's that was made very differently than they make them today, is all that relevant.

You'll notice. though, that I am the only one to have put up a list here, with producers whose approach I do like right now, except for maybe napagirl. Come on, people, step up with specifics! ;-)

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 7, 2010.

ok dmcker.. here I go... specifics.....

like I said.. 2001 zd estate cab.. do not care for any of their other wines, but I like this one.


1997 Big horn celllars, napa the year is the key here.... was great for most Napa cabs..

2003 Juslyn Cab , napa

2002??not sure on vintage.... Robert sinskey vineyards vineyard reserve

any vintage Casa Nuestra Vineyards. Napa

Benett lane winerey, calistoga

Clos pegase winery, calistoga


Calistoga cellars, calistoga

I want to explore Howell mtn cabs.. am planning a trip with friends and will post back.. I am very interested in this area.

I am also interested in Ca cab francs.. just talked to a tasting room person today who recommended the Conn Creek Cab franc..

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Reply by GregT, Feb 7, 2010.

Napagirl no marrying Dmucker! I have first dibs!

Matchupichu, why would you hesitate to post your favorite wine? Has anyone on this forum ever ridiculed or criticized anyone for their taste? I sure hope I haven't. Likes and dislikes are very personal. I sometimes get impatient with gross generalizations but everyone is certainly entitled to his or her unique preferences w/out feeling that they need to be in any way defensive!

wstiles - for my 2 cts, no I don't think wines are more "produced" today than yesterday. Think about it. I don't think there was a single vine of cabernet sauvignon growing in California back in the 1300s. Somebody had to plant them. They had to decide where exactly to plant. They had to decide whether to plant in rows or just randomly. How widely to space the rows. Whether to plant on the north side of the hill or the south. How densely to plant. Then when the vines are mature, they have to decide when to pick the grapes. Whether to macerate for one day, two days, two weeks or whatever. Whether to try keeping the grapes cool while soaking and fermenting or not to worry about it. Whether to punch the cap down or treat it more gently. Then they decide whether to put the wine into barrels or not, whether to use new barrels or old, etc.

At every step of the way, somebody is making a decision. So if I pick the first week in Sept and you pick the third, and we otherwise do everything exactly the same, which wine reflects the terroir better? If you put your wine in new barriques and I use 2 year old barrique, which reflects the terroir better? You can ask the same questions every step along the way.

People want to believe a lot of things about wine. Whether most of it is true or not is another issue. A few years ago in CA they tried to model their wines on France. Over time they learned more about their properties and as confidence grew, they stopped looking elsewhere for models, which I believe is the correct approach. The salutary effect on Bordeaux for example, is that they had to raise their game once they were no longer the only story around. Competition works, which is one reason people who are established try to restrict newcomers and one reason the EU has restrictions on establishing new vineyards.

Have people changed over the years? Some have, sure. Grgich for example. In 1976 they didn't exist. Then he started his own winery. He made a cab and a zin and in the early 1980s maybe the alcohol level stated was 12.5 or 13. Sometime in the 1990s they started picking a little riper. Is that good or bad? I don't know. For a company that was maybe 20 years old, I don't find it amazing that they would have some significant changes as they mature.

The other thing to consider is how many people who posted on this thread actually drink, on a regular basis, more aged wines than young ones. Are people really drinking 15 or 20 or 25 year old wines? Or are they like most people who buy a bottle, take it home, and drink it? If producers put out a wine that is ready to drink on release, what is the problem w that? I drink a fair bit of older wine, but I'd be lying if I said that most of the wine I drink wasn't fairly young.

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 7, 2010.

@ gregT- Oh baby oh baby!!! LOL!!!

But seriously.... I LOVED your list, and yes, if you had all those wines in your possesion, and were somewhat cute, I WOULD marry you in a heartbeat!...if I was not already married!!

Kidding!!! I really liked your list!!! I am copying it into my "bible" of wines.. Thank you for posting :-) :-)

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Reply by Matchupichu, Feb 7, 2010.

GregT, I am not worried about being ridiculed, critiqued, or ostracized for expressing my opinion, I seem to do that fairly easily; but I do thank you earnestly for your welcoming me to express my opinion (there have been others here who seem to disagree, though not on this thread). I am the first to admit that the wines that I like are all over the board and are, in actuality, contradictory to each other in their styles. I love Amarone, a big full-bodied red, however, I dislike most South American wines (there are a few exceptions); the same goes with Austrailia, who tend to be of similair natures. I don't particuarly care for the Napa floor cabs and tend to climb into the mountains surrounding the valley. I like the people there. They are a nice group of farmers who talk of neighboring wineries as their friends, and compete with each other in a friendly way, I can relate to that. I find that there is much less of that on the valley floor. The floor is agro-industrial cut-throat competition, whereas up in the mountains it is a much more rural area with a simpler life. I see this in their wine, and that is what I really look foward to when I drink a glass of Keenan, Krupp Brothers, Spring Mountain, School House, and Andrew Geoffery. I've talked to these people, had dinner with them, and debated this topic with them (valley floor vs. the mountains). I've had some terrible experiences with some really snobby winemakers on the valley floor, (Ravenna being one of them) this I feel, reflects in their wine, an arrogant, angry wine. I have yet to encounter this up in the mountains. But, enough of that, to sum it up: I prefer the Napa Valley's mountain wine: Howell, Spring, and Diamond mountains. So, to say which cab I prefer most is difficult; there are so many. As a constant, my tastes will surely change, but wine is an experience, and is explained as such. I can clearly remember the day I drank the '87 Spring Mountain cab (I mis-spoke earlier when I said Elivette), I remember tasting the '04 Andrew Geoffery cab on top of Diamond Moiuntain with the wine maker and a small group of friends, the panorama view of the valley - it was amazing and moving. These experiences made the wine for me, and these wines made the experiences; if that makes any kind of sense! I do apologize for the sort of tangent here, I feel though that it is much easier and effective to explain your personal ideology of wine rather to point out your favorites; there is much more clairity and meaning. However, I am only talking about the Napa cabs I like; oddly, cabernet sauvignon really isn't my favorite varietal!

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 7, 2010.

Yes, I don't think it's a catch-all and while some wines from CA are perhaps purposely made to suit the big, overripe, bruiser style, others are still crafted by vintners who are serious about their work and wine and who many, are inspired by the old world style of winemaking and who yield lovely wines. Of course, those who take great care to produce such a bottling tend to cost us the consumers more because of the time and the grapes/vineyards chosen and small production. They're out there. It's just a trial and error, but hey, drinking our way around to find the god ones isn't all bad, right?

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Reply by GregT, Feb 7, 2010.

Great post, particularly about the arrogant wine. I'll keep my counsel but I know exactly what you mean!

As far as liking "contradictory" things, why not? I always marvel at people who will eat French pastry and cheese, Italian sausage, Chinese dumplings, Japanese sushi, curries from India, and Boston baked beans, but who have narrow and rigid tastes in wine. Nobody is going to like everything but that doesn't mean you can't like a lot of different things.

As far as CA wine and the original post on this thread, here are some stats.

In 1889, CA wines won 20 of 34 medals in Paris. There were 140 wineries in Napa. Phylloxera, followed by prohibition, simply wiped out American winemaking. There was some plonk made, but very little excellent wine because there was very little market for it. America drank highballs and beer during the 1940s and 1950s.

It's a bit oversimplified, because there were some good wines made, but few. And because the family traditions of winemaking had largely been destroyed except for a few like the Mondavis, the Martinis, the Gallos, and a handful of others, frequently Italian, Americans learned how to make wine in schools, not in family businesses.

The wine industry really started up again in the 1970s, perhaps as a result of some of the back-to-nature feelings from the 1960s. The schools, mostly Davis and Fresno, took an academic approach, studying what made European areas special and looking for similarities in CA. Rather than rely on a few centuries of local peasants, they studied meteorological and geographical and geological data, as well as technical winemaking data. But most of the professors weren't winemakers. I think Heitz taught, and a few others, but as a rule they were academics, not winemakers, so they were learning as they went along.

The first thing the Americans did was clean up their wine. A lot of it was made in garages and places with lots of bacteria and problems, and Americans have an aversion to that. We created Kraft cheese after all. That approach has been criticized, and it is now understood to be a reaction to the state of affairs at the time, but the understanding that was developed has also influenced the Europeans in all countries. There is less spoilage in the Rhone or Tuscany or Bordeaux or many places today than there was. That doesn't mean that all wine tastes the same. It means that you have less random microbes attacking your wine and you have a better understanding of what is happening. With a better understanding, you can pick and choose. It's like painting. If you can't draw and you have no eye-hand coordination and no sense of design or color, you paint as a three year old. Da Vinci on the other hand, knew how to use his tools.

The other thing that has happened is the dominance of cabernet sauvignon. At one time there were many more grapes used. Carignan and barbera were two of the most widely planted, and in Napa Heitz was making grignolino, and others were making riesling, zinfandel, gamay, malvasia, chenin blanc, petit sirah, and others. Not all would be great obviously, but much has been squeezed out by cab.

In 1966, there were just 25 wineries in Napa Valley, including Robert Mondavi, which had just started up. In 1975 there were 330 bonded wineries in all of CA. In 2008 there were 2843, more than eight times as many.

In 1990 they crushed 94177 tons of cabernet sauvignon. In 2008 they crushed 326129, more than three times as much. The reason is the market. In the early 1990s, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah and sangiovese brought in more money per ton, partly because they are harder to produce and grow. Today, pinot noir and cab franc still bring in more per ton, but there is a smaller market for them, while the market for cab sauv has simply exploded.

With growth rates like that, it's hard to make any generalizations about CA wine, and nearly impossible to talk about CA wine history. The history is being made as we speak.

One last thought. A lot of people who are starting wineries today have worked with other wineries, or hire people who have. If people have personal preferences, why wouldn't those be reflected in the wines they make? As a result, you find family resemblances to many wines. A winemaker is hired because he or she has a particular touch. If Helen Turley for example, likes a big ripe wine, and you hire her, that's probably what you're going to get. That's not unique to CA or the US. But it accounts in part for the fact that you find similarities in some wines.

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 7, 2010.

Great reply GregT! Very informative!!

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Reply by napagirl68, Feb 7, 2010.

I second that, Vegas!

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 28, 2010.

Someone, separately, asked for details of the Judgment of Paris tasting by Spurrier in '76, and then a reprise with the same reds in '06, and I thought I'd post the links here, too, since they were referred to earlier up the thread.

Here's a link for details on the original '76 tasting:
--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judgment_of_Paris_%28wine%29

Then for subsequent tastings:
--http://www.encyclowine.org/?title=Judgment_of_Paris_30th_Anniversary_Wine_Tasting
--http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Judgment-of-Paris-%28wine%29

 

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 28, 2010.

Wonder what we'd see these days with Parker in charge of such a tasting, instead of Spurrier. Also, would be nice to do a comparitive of more recent vintages from those wineries included in '76, stacked against similar vintages from other Napa wineries popular these days....



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