Like The Corners Of My Mind …

Memories, that is.  Yeah, I’m referencing the theme song from an old Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford movie (1973).  Why?  First, it won the Oscar for best song.  Second, it’s apropos because …

J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon holds a special place along my journey in wine.  See, I remember several years ago — no, not 1973 — when my wine mentors were telling me about red wines that had flavors of cocoa and chocolate in them.  As a neophyte at the time, I didn’t really believe them.  I mean, I listened, nodded, and made appropriately excited and amazed rejoinders to keep them sharing their knowledge with me.  But deep in my heart of hearts, I just didn’t buy it – not completely. After all, I hadn’t as yet tasted a wine that had such a non-grapey flavor.  Until, that is, I popped the cork on a bottle of a J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon.  I don’t remember the exact vintage.  I want to say it was 1992 which, as folks know, was a pretty good year for California Cabs.  I can’t be absolutely certain because I wasn’t recording tasting notes, so it’s all just misty water-colored memories.

Anyway, I do remember the experience.  I took my first sip and let it run the palate.  “Wait,” I thought, “What was that?”  I took another sip.  Holy cow!  It was there!  It wasn’t a heavy-handed one-note thing, but there was a definite chocolatey flavor.  Those tall tales of wines from my friends’ pasts – they were true!  It was a moment that made me realize I needed to be just a bit more open-minded about the kinds of flavors vintners could coax out of grapes.

They say you can never go back, and in many ways that’s true.  Certainly, I don’t expect every vintage of a wine to taste exactly like the previous.  Part of what I enjoy about exploring wines is that changes in the weather or changes in the wine-making process can produce noticeable and notable differences in the final result.  Thus, not expecting to repeat my previous experience, I recently popped the cork on another bottle of J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles to see what was in store this time around.

Winemaker:  J. Lohr
Wine: Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2011
Appellation: Paso Robles, California
Price: $19.98

Notes:  Color on pour was very purple; in the glass it was a deep red plum.  The bouquet was really very enjoyable with loads of barnyard (sous bois), tangy plum, earth and a touch of cedar.  Acidity was high and the body was on the lighter side of medium.  Alcohol was at 13.5%, and I’d say the tannins were in the medium range.  On the palate I tasted lots of plum, oak, black pepper, coffee grounds, a little tar and some green bell pepper.  It was pretty good.  As you may know, I focus on inexpensive wines on this blog with a splurge here and there.  This was a splurge but not a very big one since I snagged it on sale for $13.99.  I think this would be a nice compliment to just about any beef or game dish.  It isn’t so expensive that you shouldn’t serve it with a casual meal, but it could also do fine with a juicy steak.

Firefly Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

If memory serves me correctly, not two years ago these Firefly Ridge wines were selling in my local grocery store for about $8 a bottle retail.  Admittedly, Firefly Ridge is not readily available at other nearby merchants.  But, seriously, today’s posted price of $15.99 seems out of whack.  And guess what?  Today, Firefly Ridge is on sale for $7.99 a bottle.  So, yes, I bought one to try.

abernetSauvignon2011Winemaker: Firefly Ridge
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2011
Appellation: Central Coast, California
Price: $15.99

Notes:  The color of this California Cab was a dark ruby.  The bouquet brought me scents of cherry, plum and tea leaf.  The body was light, tannins were light, and acidity was fine.  Alcohol was a little low at 12.5%.  On the palate, I tasted sweet plum and cherry – mostly sweet plum.  There were also hints of cassis and leather along with herbal notes.  On the finish I caught a tiny dash of pepper and eucalyptus.  For a Cabernet Sauvignon, I found this to be a fairly disappointing experience.  The wine was sweet with very little structure.  I’m not saying this is a bad wine, but it isn’t a good exemplar of a Cabernet Sauvignon.  That being said, it may well be a good selection for the season of Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in people’s heads.  And when I think of a mulled wine, this one seems like a pretty good base for that.  So, maybe this selection will help bring cheer to the holidays after all.  But hurry up and get it while it’s on sale for $7.99.

365 Paul Valmer Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Here is another of the Whole Foods private label selections.  Like the Paul Valmer Chardonnay, this wine is made in Spain by Felix Solis.

Winemaker:  Felix Solis for Whole Foods
Wine: 365 Paul Valmer Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2011
Appellation: Castilla, Spain
Price: $5.99 at Whole Foods

Notes:  This is not a Cabernet Sauvignon for Cab fans, but perhaps one for Pinot Noir lovers.  Seriously.  In the glass, the color was a deep, dark ruby.  On the nose I detected gentle scents of earth and berries.  In fact, the bouquet reminded me of a drink mix I had years ago when I was living in Germany.  The particular flavor (scent, actually) this brought to mind was called Forest Berry (Waldbeere).  But I digress.  The Paul Valmer Cab was light-bodied.  I’d even call it thin.  It had moderate tannins, decent acidity, and the alcohol was at 12.5%.  The flavors I found in this budget-friendly vino were a core of cherry and plum, some oak, a tiny bit of pepper, a touch of cranberry on the finish, and an herbal component I can best compare with Stevia – in part because of the light sweetness of the wine.  I didn’t dislike this 365 selection at all, but I prefer a Cabernet Sauvignon with more body and structure.  Personal preferences aside, I think you could certainly drink this with a turkey dish or a light pizza (like spinach and chicken or ham and banana peppers).

Important:  I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

There is nothing like getting out of your old rut to provide a fresh outlook on life – or some facet of it.  In this case, I dropped in at a new store.  Not that this merchant  is some hidden treasure.  It’s a chain grocery store in the ilk of Trader Joe’s, Harris Teeter and Whole Foods called Wegman’s.  You probably already know all about it.  I didn’t because there aren’t any very close to my home or work.  Sure, I’d heard reports from friends and associates about the place.  So when I recently had reason to be just across the street from one, I made it my business to drop in.  And what should I find there but a cornucopia of wine selections!  Good grief!  The amount of shelf space they have devoted to the fruit of the vine is easily 3 times that of my local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.  I could have browsed for hours.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that general vicinity because of the store or to buy wine.  Thus, I only came away with one little bottle to sip.  But I’ll be back.  You bet I will!

Winemaker:  Excelsior
Varietal:  Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage:  2011
Appellation:  Ashton, South Africa
Price:  $6.49 at Wegmans *

Notes:   This Cabernet Sauvignon was a very dark, almost inky garnet (more translucent than transparent) in the glass.  On the nose, I smelled spiced plum, dusty earth, and some menthol.  It was medium-bodied with what I considered moderate tannins.  Alcohol is at 14.5%; acidity was good; and it had some nice legs.  On first pour, the flavors I found were dark fruits (blackberry and black currant), wood, and menthol with a lingering plum on the finish.  After some time to breathe (20 minutes or so), the vibrant blackberry fruit flavor settled to plum.  Black currant as well as wood and menthol (you might call it cedar) remained.  In addition, I tasted coffee grounds, and black pepper.  Overall, I thought it was a pretty darned decent Cabernet in this price range.  In my opinion, this Excelsior would be fine in accompaniment to a nice juicy beef steak or maybe some lamb chops.

Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur.  See “About” for the full disclaimer.

*  Also Whole Foods at $8.99