Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cabernet from Washington, Malbec from California, What!?

Wine these days continues to evolve - with different regions trying their hand at different varietals and seeing what happens. At least in the New World. In Europe, it is still pretty strictly controlled which grapes can be grown where to ensure a region's quality and continuity remain in tact - a Burgundy will still be a Burgundy (made of Pinot Noir grapes if we're talking reds) a Chianti will still be a Chianti (made primarily of the Nebbiolo grape and blended with other locals varietals) and a Bordeaux will still be a Bordeaux (the 5 Nobles, Left Back primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and the Right Bank primarily Merlot). 

But in the New World, these requirements are far less strict. In the United States, for example, you can pretty much grow anything anywhere. The label requirements are for location rather than varietal - as long as there is 75% of one type of varietal in the bottle, it can be labeled as such. 

This is all to lead into the fact that in both established and emerging wine regions, interesting wines produced from varietals not typically associated with the region are producing some great results. 

Take, for example, Washington State. For a handful of years now, Washington State - and particularly the Walla Walla Valley - has been earning its reputation for quality wine on the backs of Merlot and Syrah. Both of which it makes very well. But Merlot and Syrah aren't the only grapes grown there, nor is the only good wine coming out of Walla Walla either Merlot or Syrah. 

Pepper Bridge Winery's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great example. There is a lot of dark fruit, spice, wood and mocha to detect in this full-bodied Cab. Having never tried Washington State Cabernet before (preferring their Merlots) I was not only pleasantly surprised, but determined to write a blog post to spread the word about Washington State Cabernet. 

For what it's worth, the Pepper Bridge Cabernet is, in fact, a Bordeaux-style blend comprised of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. The blending adds structure and balance to this wine, but make no mistake about it - this is a big, bold Cabernet through and through. It can easily hold its own against the Cabs coming out of Rutherford (though would be a little too fruit-forward to be confused for an Old World wine). 

This is also a wine the opens up, changes in complexity and flavors over time, so you would be wise to try a glass upon opening and then let the second glad sit for a while either in your glass or a decanter and notice how it changes.  

Pepper Bridge's 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon was a Great Introduction to Washington State Cabs
Speaking of Rutherford - and Napa Valley more generally - has the opposite problem. The region is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. So much so that planting much of anything else is almost economically unfeasible nowadays. 

But Napa Valley does produce other really, really good wines. Take, for example, the Hess Collection's Small Block Series 2010 Malbec from the Mt. Veeder sub-appellation. Given that Napa Valley is known for its Cabernet, and Argentina has pretty much cornered the Malbec market, it is interesting to try a Napa Valley Malbec with the expectations of Napa Cabernet and Argentine Malbec floating around my head. 

Needless to say, this wine is unique based on past experiences from Napa and Argentina. It is well structured, with ample dry-fruit and a big, long spicy finish. It is not a fruit-forward as a Argentine Malbec and is not as big and bold as a Napa Cab. What it is is earthy, spicy and smooth. A great robust steak wine that has enough earth on it to keep it interesting.   

You know the Hess Chardonnay with the Green Label and the Hess Cabernet in the Red Label You can get at the Supermarket? This is way, way better.
What both of these wines demonstrate is that no matter how well-established a region is, trying new varietals can lead to some great results. As wine regions around the world continue to grow and develop, continuing to keep an open mind and letting winemakers experiment will likely yield some very tasty and unique results. 

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