May Day… May Day… Next on our journey of investigating the big six, it is time to see what the reds have in store by exploring Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Merlot, this time with another twist.
Cabernet Sauvignon is King. It is a grape that ages into subtle splendor, and is a world traveler. When its tiny dark blue berries are coupled with great winemaking, Cabernet Sauvignon can produce some of the longest lived and the most intriguing wines in the world. Cabernet from Bordeaux can produce some of the world’s costliest wines in the world and yet you can find an amazing value such as those offered by a Petite Chateau, Chateau Picau Perna. This Cabernet based wine gives you structure and depth and blends with the addition of a bit of Merlot, ensures you won’t break your wine budget. Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina deserves to be mentioned as that nation’s high altitude has an affect on grape growing that along with a unique climate showcases a specific style and quality of wine.
Terrazes from Mendoza, Argentina harnesses quality over quantity. With an average rainfall of 8 inches a year, the vines have to work harder to get their nutrients which leads to a wine that showcases terroir. If you were to travel to Paso Robles, which is located in the Central Coast of California, you find Cabernet Sauvignon takes on two personalities. On one side of Highway 101, it is hot with no direct access to cooling ocean breezes. Here the soils are deep, fertile and produce subtle fruit. On the other side, the soils are more calcareous, the vineyards are cooled by marine influence and you will find wines such as those of Justin, who pioneered Cabernet Sauvignon grape growing, long before Cabernet was cool in the area.
Pinot Noir is an extremely elusive grape as it is very sensitive to terroir and ripens early. When planted in warm climates, it ripens too fast and can lose its fascinating flavor compounds. Pinot Noir’s perfect place on earth lies in Burgundy where it can convey intricate flavors. Another great Pinot growing area is Oregon where the climate is similar to Burgundy. One producer that was a pioneer in the Willamette Valley is Erath winery. Another producer and region to explore across the globe is Villa Maria located in Marlborough New Zealand. This region is best known for Sauvignon Blanc, but try Pinot Noir from this area and you will be hooked.
Merlot is often used as a blending partner. It ripens earlier that Cabernet Sauvignon in cooler vintages, and it lends to more alcohol in warmer climates. It has bigger berries and thinner skins than Cabernet which lends to less tannic, more opulent wines. The traditional style of Merlot is plump, soft and plummy. Matanzas Creek Merlot from Bennett Valley California takes plantings from the original clones from Pomerol located in Bordeaux and produces an amazing bottle of wine. Merlot from the Wahluke Slope in Washington comes from a warmer climate showcasing brilliant bright fruit. A good example that is reflective of this warmer climate style comes from Chateau Ste Michelle and that winery’s Indian Wells offering.
These last two months we have explored the big six grapes. These grapes can vary according to location, soil, aspect, barrel treatment, terroir and types of clones. Don’t stop with one varietal if you decide you don’t like it. Continue to walk down the path and see what else awaits you. By doing a comparison tastings like these, you will be amazed at the differences, the similarities and the passion that goes into taking these majestic grapes and turning them into something so amazing…