Haute Wines: Two California Classics

I tend to struggle a bit with California Wines. Once in a while I find gems but with the glut of over-ripened fruit bombs and oaky Chardonnays out there I often veer away from Golden State. Though California grows numerous amounts of grape varietals I like to stay within the classics. To me, classic California wines are Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Say what you will about Chardonnay but I think that two grapes produce beautiful, unique and evocative wines.

A beautiful example of a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon that is a new release is the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 from Napa Valley. I recently sat down to try some of the best of the best of California and was quite impressed with this stunner. For those wine enthusiasts out there, 2007 was a fantastic year for Cabernet Sauvignon in California with Wine Spectator rating this vintage a 99 on a 100 point scale due to a long growing season free of extreme heat that allowed the grapes to fully ripen.

At 16 percent alcohol, the Mondavi packs a quite a punch. On the nose one gets notes of blackberry syrup, fresh herbs and black pepper that develop once the wine evolves in the glass. On the palate this is a big bold wine with astringent but elegant tannins and a long lingering finish.  It’s rich body screams for a steak or cured meats and is also decedent paired with dark chocolate. This wine is drinkable now but also a great option to cellar as it should evolve over the next 15 to 20 years.

Next I tried the Ravenswood Single Vineyard Barrica Zinfandel, 2007 from Sonoma. Sonoma Zins, epically those from the Barrica Vineyard, have beautiful acidity due to their warm but not excessively hot climate. Zinfandel is a favorite of mine and is a California classic that often gets overshadowed by its popular quaffing Country Club cousin White Zinfandel. This is a classic example of a single-vineyard old-vine Zinfandel that is very expressive but beautifully restrained.

Its nose has notes of sweet spice, jammy black fruit and white pepper. On the palate is it luscious with a silky and zesty finish and integrated black fruit. Old-vine Zinfandel has a unique richness to it which this lived up to. Its finish was long and elegant with a hint of fruit preserves. A rich dark chocolate is a perfect pairing but also try it with a char-grilled chicken or barbeque.

California in the last few years has developed a reputation for wines that smack you in the face. These wines however, highlight good craftsmanship rather than heavy-handed winemaking. These beautiful new releases showcase the best that California has to offer and are a must for your next dinner party!

Click here for more haute drinking from wine expert Tiffany Westlie.

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