A tasty spin ‘round the globe of Cabernet – (Sauvignon and Franc) - based wines. Put your trays upright and hold on tight:
Enfield Wine Co. Waterhorse Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Fort Ross Seaview, Sonoma Coast. New to BC. We don’t see much Cab coming from Fort Ross Seaview, as the ocean proximity (5 miles from the Pacific) and diurnal shifts favour the widely planted Pinot and Chardonnay grapes. Based on this drop-dead gorgeous Cab from John Lockwood and Amy Seese, though, holy amaze-balls we have been missing out, because this 2017 Cab from Waterhorse Ridge, a dry-farmed organic vineyard, is a revelation. The Pacific fog brings enough cooling effect to prolong sugar ripening but burns off midday to amp up the bright currant notes and allow the phenolics to ripen in balance with the sugar – even with the bizzarro heat spikes of 2017, Enfield achieved the perfect ratio of power and elegance that’s becoming more rare in a warming world. Plum, dust and lavender (a touch more graphite and it’d be a dead ringer for Margaux) over a full frame with a chalk-laced, silken finish. One of my missions this year is to find more Cali Cabs like this. Not submitted for review, 12 bottles available, $115.98 +tax
Ashes + Diamonds Rouge #3 2019, Yountville, Napa Valley. Oh hey, look, I found another Cali Cab like that! From a production so tiny it’s not even on their website (it was destined for restaurants but I’m sneaky), Steve Matthiasson and Diana Snowden Seysses take Cabernet Franc from the Nord Trio vineyard in Yountville and temper it with about 10% Merlot, kind of like a photo-negative Saint-Emillon. A soft red pepper vibe supports the gravelly currant and pencil aromas, the intense medium body leaves a footprint of stone and cocoa powder. Killer Franc from ascendant rock stars. Not submitted for review. 2 6-packs available, $96.98 +tax
Neal Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Howell Mountain, Napa. A statuesque classic from a banner year. The Neals are Mountain Bears, happier staying up the hill playing with their leaves and berries rather than spending time on the valley floor, over-ripening and getting stuck in above-ground pools. Papa Bear Mark Neal let the rocky soils of his Howell Mountain plot build a rugged, playoff-ready Cab, with mocha and dried raspberries crushed with gravel on the dusty nose. The structure, just starting to soften, commands a considerable footprint but is now cohesive with the medium-full body, I’d still like 3 more years on it but there are no longer sharks in the water if you want to dive in. Only 800 cases made, and I got one of them because I’m medium-important. Not submitted for review, 6 bottles available, $166.98 +tax
Domaine de Trevallon Rouge 2011, Alpilles IGP. First let me say how insane it is that I can offer this. I’m rarely impressed with myself, but hey. Good job, buddy. One of France’s most sought-after cult wines (and that’s saying something), Trevallon sits in a kind of wine-no-man’s-land between the Rhone valley and Provence (the Alpilles IGT was unofficially created for them when they got famous), and quietly cranked out small batches of ethereal Cabernet/Syrah blends until Aubert de Villaine (head of DRC in Burgundy) discovered them accidentally, and spread the gospel of Trevallon to all his friends – indeed Trevallon was popular with French winemakers well before the public even knew about them. Returning home to the land his dad René (sculptor and friend of Picasso) owned, Eloi Dürrbach started to research the history of Alpilles and discovered that the area was historically planted to Cabernet Sauvignon before Phylloxera wiped it all out, to be replaced entirely by Grenache a generation later. Seeking to make the wines of yore (despite zero viticultural experience), Eloi replanted to Cab in 1973 and blended it with Syrah (50/50) and the results were bonkers. This 2011 is a richly layered, savoury millefeuille of dried rosemary, thyme, violets, blackberry, pine and mint, with tertiary elements of leather and barn around the fringe. Gloriously French, very much a love child of Bordeaux and Hermitage. The current vintage at the winery is 2018 but I managed to nab these 2011s, which drink well now but will go another 10-15 years easily. I don’t know what else you were going to buy, but buy this instead. Not submitted for review, but Jancis Robinson found some and gave it 17+/20, which is her version of a Happy Dance. 3 wooden 6-packs available, $209.98 +tax
Chateau Pontet Canet 2000, Pauillac, Bordeaux. Nothing not to like, here. An essential vintage captures a criminally under-classed 5th growth just as the changes Alfred Tesseron made to the winery (he modernized by un-modernizing) were starting to bear fruit. Many Bordeaux nerds place Pontet Canet as a Second Growth in their fantasy-football-like re-imaginings of the 1855 Classification (do ya like rabbit holes? You’ll never find your way out of this one). I get a lot of offers for Pontet Canet and refuse most of them, but I think this shows really good value. A slight ferrous note lurks beneath the cedar, blackberry and currant aromas, some secondary vanilla lingers with a touch of earth on the finish. Structure is silky but ever-present. 94+ points Robert Parker, 1 wooden case available, $499.98 +tax
L'Orme de Rauzan-Gassies 2016, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux. An unofficial Third Wine to Second Growth Ch. Rauzan-Gassies, grown just outside the Margaux delineation in Haut-Medoc, and a rompin’ stompin’ deal. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s a generous helping of cassis and lavender, restrained by a sandalwood-laced structure with lingering red fruits on the ripe, grippy finish. Drinks now but I’d like to see what 3-4 years can do. 97 points Decanter, 3 6-packs available, $59.98 +tax
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Puente Alto, Chile. Concha Y Toro’s Enrique Tirado and Bordeaux consultant Eric Boissenot (who works on four out of the five 1st Growths and a whack of Seconds) have crafted the most complex Don Melchor in years for this 2018 vintage, replacing brute force with understated elegance and perfume and blending in small percentages of Merlot and Petit Verdot for the first time in a long while. Zippy red cherry lifts the black currant notes, with violet and Provençale herbs following through the savoury palate towards a long, generous finish. Delicious now, a glorious dragon with wings of victory and song in 5 years. 100 points James Suckling, 98 points Tim Atkin, 95 points Wine Spectator, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $179.98 +tax.
El Enemigo “Gran Enemigo” 2017, Gualtallary, Mendoza. Ok, you caught me, this is not a straight Cab, in fact it’s half Malbec, but there’s lots of Cab Sauv and Cab Franc in there and it’s my party so I’ll cheat if I want to. An homage of sorts to the pre-phylloxera Malbec-driven Bordeaux of the mid-1800s (Ch. Haut-Brion, for instance, was Malbec-dominant before the 1870s), the Gran Enemigo pulls off classical permanence despite the hotter 2017 vintage in Mendoza. Peppercorn and cedar notes underscore the chocolate, lavender, plum and mint. Earlier drinking than other Gran Enemigos but every inch as statuesque, Alejandro Vigil and Adrianna Catena justify their seats at the vanguard of Argentinian innovation; as I’ve often said before, these wines will not remain at these prices. 97 points James Suckling, 97 points Vinous, 2 wooden 6-packs available, $131.98 +tax
Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Franschhoek, Western Cape. Off the market for a couple years, re-imported at my request (I asked a year and a half ago, such is the world today). A stunning overlap of Old and New World aesthetics, the Rupert family worked closely with Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) to propagate vines clipped from Lafite, and took special biodynamic measures to ensure that the new plants didn’t fall prey to Leaf Roll Virus, which had for decades had created smoky notes in South African red wines (for years I thought I didn’t like SA reds, turns out I don’t like viruses). Carrying on after his brother Anthonij’s untimely death in 2001, Johann Rupert carried on the family winery with Dawie Botha, a winemaker who studied in both Bordeaux and Napa, and his learnings show loudly in this gorgeously balanced 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon: cherry-stuffed cigar box with blackberry and blueberry over a licorice/vanilla body with firm but silky tannins. A gravelly minerality lurks from front to back. Everything is in its right place. Outrageous. No ratings found. 3 6-packs available, $103.98 +tax
Tawse Laundry Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2016, Lincoln Lakeshore, Ontario. Tasting this Franc – the very best Canadian Franc I’ve ever tasted and yes, even better than the amazing BC Francs I’ve tried – is laced with sadness because of Paul Pender’s passing just a couple weeks ago. Winemaker at Tawse since 2006, he oversaw a stunning run of accolades, having earned Winery of the Year four times between 2010 and 2016. I never met Paul but his influence was widely felt on this side of the Rockies, his absence leaves a big hole. This 2016 Franc from the Laundry Vineyard has an intensity seldom seen in the variety – often extracted at the risk of also pulling harsh tannins and pyrazines – but Mr. Pender somehow lands the plane with perfect balance and grace. Leafy raspberry and jasmine notes swirl with dusty white pepper towards a savoury ripe blackberry palate, medium bodied, with a beautifully concentrated, focused finish. I’ve long been a fan of Niagara Francs but this shifted the paradigm. No ratings found. 12 bottles available, $55.98 +tax
Black Hills Nota Bene 2019, Black Sage Bench, BC. Judging from the amount of phone calls we’ve been getting, this 2019 chapter of one of BC’s top cult wines is rabidly anticipated, perhaps because of its rarity: this is only the 3rd vintage since inception where Merlot is the dominant grape (Cab Sauv is a close second) and it’s the first vintage to use 100% wild yeasts for fermentation. The result is a more complex, layered Nota Bene, with savoury elements like dried sage twisting alongside the blackberry, plum and tobacco leaf notes. The Merlot lends a roundness to the mid-palate and the finish keeps those toasty baking spice vibes that we’ve come to expect from Black Hills’ flagship wine. To be perfectly candid: it has been a tough 2020/2021 on the Okanagan and we will see a scarcity of premium BC reds over the next couple years, especially in retail; smoke, fires, heat domes and, this year, extreme cold around Kelowna and points north, these have all taken their toll on the fragile vinifera plants that are genetically accustomed to more temperate weather (if they were poodles we’d put sweaters on them). Small quantities of very good wines will be made, but they’re more likely to be sold exclusively at the wineries, and Black Hills has notified us accordingly. We might get a smattering of Nota Bene from 2020/2021, or we might not, so if this is your jam act swiftly and decisively because you’re gonna run out of jam. No ratings found. 6 cases arriving tomorrow (Friday), $69.99 +tax
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Margaret River. James Suckling called this the “Mouton Rothschild of Australia”, and although the aromatics are different, the shape of this Cab, born of a maritime climate (just like Pauillac), does share a lot of Mouton’s broader qualities. Deep dark fruit, some bramble, with Mediterranean streaks of olive and sage over an underlying cocoa nibs base. Still a tad tight, 4 years should loosen the finish up a bit, I just want the acid to integrate on the finish. Slight lavender hue on the finish. 97 points James Halliday, 94 points Wine Spectator, 12 bottles available, 78.98 +tax.
NON-STOP CLASSIC HITS
What follows is a brief listing of some wines that fit this theme and have previously been written about, but featured again for the benefit of those who’ve recently joined my Collectors List and may have missed ‘em the first time. If anyone requires more info, I’m happy to send over the original blurb to you.
Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Oakville, Napa. 95 points Wine Enthusiast, 2 6-packs available, $206.98 +tax
Carruades de Lafite 2018, Pauillac, Bordeaux. 97 points James Suckling, 94 points Robert Parker, 6 bottles available, $575.00 +tax - One Magnum (1.5L) available, $1150.00 +tax
Yarra Yering Dry Red #1 2017, Yarra Valley, Australia. 98 points James Halliday, 12 bottles available, $106.98 +tax
Senegal Details Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, Sonoma. 95 points Vinous, 8 cases available, $59.99 +tax