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Friday, 12 June 2015 15:03

June 12, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Lindemans Bin 45 Cabernet S Picmonkey

2013 Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon



South Eastern Australia

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $6


“Our 2013 Lindeman’s Bin 45 was purchased in a supermarket this week for about $5.50. Though still a young wine, being the product of a Southern Hemisphere harvest, the wine has six months more age than an American wine from the same vintage. Apparently, the 2014s are now coming into the American marketplace and, while the bottle photo at the winery website indicates they have moved to screwcaps, we doubt there is much difference in the taste of this wine from vintage-to-vintage. We found this bargain-priced Aussie Cab to be nicely balanced and very food-friendly. Not a big wine and not one you should put away for more than a year or so, but at six bucks (or less), this is meant for every day drinking, not cellaring.

“Aroma and tastes seemed true to what a Cabernet Sauvignon should be. They’re just less powerful than you’d find in pricier examples of this wine variety. There is some mint and maybe just a dusting of spice in the aroma, preceding tastes of black currant and blackberry. The Bin 45 Cab is a nicely-balanced everyday wine that’s quite a bargain.”

Food Affinity: “Grilled shoulder chops of lamb that have been marinated with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and just a touch of thyme.”

Friday, 29 May 2015 11:15

May 29, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Liberty Creek Cab S 1.5L Picmnkey

Cabernet Sauvignon (N/V)


Liberty Creek


Alcohol: 12%

Suggested Retail: $11.99 (1.5 liter)


“A wine reviewer’s life isn’t always about first-growth Bordeaux and pricey Napa Cabernet. If those wines are at—or near—the top of the wine pyramid of Cabernet Sauvignon and closely-related varieties, then there are many more options comprising that broader base of the pyramid. Lesser wines? Well, sure. But if they’re lesser in taste, they are also lesser in price—a whole lot less at times!

“A couple of days ago your reviewer decided to take a chance on whatever seemed the best bargain in the wine department of an Albertson’s supermarket in the state of Washington. There were boxed wines ranging from around $18 to $26, but also a bottle of Liberty Creek Cabernet Sauvignon that caught our eye. It was a big bottle, equal to the volume of two normal-sized 750ml bottles. The shelf tag indicated a regular price of $10.99 (a buck less than the winery’s suggested maximum retail). It was marked down to $6.99. Somewhere that evening people would be pulling corks from bottles of Château Mouton and Silver Oak. We’d be drinking something that cost us the equivalent of $3.50 a bottle. How bad could it be? We decided to find out.

“Actually, the wine wasn’t bad. Not particularly to our taste, but not a flawed wine in any technical sense and easy drinking with some grilled chicken thighs. Liberty Creek is a brand owned by Gallo and our bottle indicated a ‘California’ origin. Any wine made from grapes grown in the state qualifies to use that appellation on the label, but wines from more specific—and more prestigious—areas usually indicate those AVAs (areas of origin). Grapes for this wine were very likely grown somewhere in the Central Valley of California, which isn’t the best part of the state for growing Cabernet, but is where the variety can be grown economically enough for this pricing. Though fairly light, the aroma and flavors spoke to its Cabernet composition. There were some of the traditional attributes of this grape variety, but they were just fainter than what you’d find in ‘better’ wines. Twelve or thirteen percent alcohol used to be standard for a bottle of table wine, but you’d be hard pressed to find any American Cabernet Sauvignon less than 14% these days. That lighter 12% alcohol content actually works in Liberty Creek’s favor when pairing with food, so that’s a good thing. However, the wine finishes fairly sweet (not sweet like a Port, you understand, but sweeter than most Cabernet Sauvignon on the market). Our palate considers this a demerit, but the Liberty Creek Cabernet isn’t made for people who taste wines for a living. This style probably hits the sweet spot for the tastes of many consumers. As we said, this is a wine designed for easy drinking.”

Food Affinity: “The back label of the Liberty Creek declares the wine ‘pairs perfectly with juicy cuts of steak, smoky pork chops and marinated leg of lamb.’ We’d tend to go in that smoky pork chop direction and think a grilled meat that had a smoky or spicy component might complement the slightly sweet finish of the wine.”

Friday, 24 April 2015 13:48

April 24, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Barefoot Cab S Picmonkey

N/V Cabernet Sauvignon




Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $ 7


“There might be many suggestions as to why the Barefoot brand has had such huge success. Some of them are found in the book The Barefoot Spirit by founders Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, who applied boundless energy and boundless creativity to building the company. In recent years Barefoot has been operated by Gallo, no slouches in the marketing of wine themselves, who have multiplied the already substantial sales.

“But the quality of the products obviously had something to do with things, too. A sticker on the bottle of Barefoot Cab we’re reviewing this week reads ‘Consistent Quality. Proven Value.’ That sounds to us like a motto all businesses should strive for. That same sticker also indicates that ‘Barefoot’s Cabernet Blends Have Won Gold! (at the) 2012 San Antonio Express News Wine Competition.’ That statement, while no doubt true, may be somewhat misleading in that a wine shopper may assume that a wine identical to this one won that gold medal. That’s unlikely. Any wine entered in a competition taking place in 2012 obviously would have been from grapes harvested before then—in the case of modestly-priced red wines, probably a year or two earlier. This week’s featured wine is non-vintage (NV), which gives the winemaker the latitude to produce a wine entirely from one harvest, or (more likely) from the juice of grapes from two or more vintages. So while we can’t say for sure, we would guess the bottle purchased at an Albertson’s grocery store in mid-April of 2015 was made from grapes harvested in spring of 2014 and/or 2013. Harvested in the spring? Yes, while Barefoot is a California company, it has begun to source grapes not just from outside the state, but outside the U.S. The back label of our bottle of wine indicates the grapes are from Argentina in the Southern Hemisphere. This isn’t necessarily bad, as that country produces some very good quality red wines.

“Our first impression of this Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon was the aromas of red plums and Boysenberries, with some vaguely herbal aspects in the background. These were followed by a rich feeling in the mouth. Tastes akin to raspberries and blackberries predominate, with a slight herbaceousness (which we liked and found added an element of complexity) and just a bit of spice. This wine surprised us. Fairly priced for a generic red table wine, it actually displayed decent Cabernet Sauvignon character and is quite a bargain for that variety.”

Food Affinity: “Calves liver with onions. Chicken thighs braised in red wine with garlic, black oil-cured olives and a little cinnamon.”

Saturday, 18 April 2015 15:33

April 17, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Mondavi 99 Cab S. Reservr Picmonkey

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Res.


Robert Mondavi

Napa Valley

Alcohol: 14%

Suggested Retail: $145 (for the current release)


After disappointment when opening a Bordeaux of similar age a couple of weeks ago (see our wine “Pick” for April 3), our publisher got nervous about a few other older wines he’d been saving for special occasions. Today’s featured wine had special meaning for him, since it was a bottle given to attendees at Robert Mondavi’s 90th birthday party. Better to pop a cork a little too early than too late, he figured. Fortunately, this wine from the 1998 vintage fared much better than the ’99 Chateau Magnol.

“I hadn’t sampled this particular vintage of the Mondavi Reserve Cabernet in years. When opened this week for a family birthday dinner it was different from the way I remembered it. Not worse. Not better. Just different. This Napa Cabernet Sauvignon had traded power for finesse. If it didn’t have the commanding presence that could overshadow most first-growth Bordeaux in its youth, at age 17 it did show an almost delicate side. Sourced primarily from the Oakville AVA and with most of the fruit coming from the famed To Kalon vineyard, this Cabernet Sauvignon includes a bit of Cabernet Franc (12%) and a smidgen of Petit Verdot (2%). The aroma still evokes blackberries and black currants, with a little spice in the background. Those fruits make up a major part of the taste, along with dark plum characteristics. On the palate, the wine seems lighter than younger versions of quality Napa Cabernet, but there is a long, lingering finish. Wine is a living beverage that changes over time. The presumption that older wine is automatically better than young, isn’t necessarily accurate. This week’s experience with the ’98 Mondavi Reserve was delightful, but I’m happy I chose to open the bottle this year, rather than next.”

Food Affinity: “Almost any good red meat would be enhanced by the presence of this wine in your glass (for that matter, so might special vegetarian dishes). We referenced power and finesse above—we think this wine would be a great pairing with a prime grade filet mignon, cooked medium rare.”

Wednesday, 04 February 2015 14:12

January 30, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Two Rivers Cab S Bottle Picmonkey

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon


Two Rivers Winery

Grand Valley (Colorado)

Alcohol: 13.2%

Suggested Retail: $16.50


“Our reviewer discovered the wines of Colorado a decade ago.  He enjoyed the 2002 Cabernet from Two Rivers Winery when tasting it as a new wine on its release in 2005.  A recently uncovered bottle from that same vintage proved to be a pleasant surprise.

“Two Rivers is located in Mesa County, near the city of Grand Junction. Its vineyards lie within the Grand Valley appellation, where grapes are grown at very high altitude (averaging about 4700-feet in elevation).  Some of Colorado’s wines are excellent, but most are not widely distributed. About half of Two Rivers’ 14,000 annual case production is sold direct to consumers at the tasting room of the winery and chateau. The balance goes to many of the state’s better restaurants and hotels and to internet customers.

“We found this 13 year old Cabernet Sauvignon showed nicely integrated aspects of plum and cassis. Beyond the plum were blackberry flavors and maybe a little Bing Cherry.  Soft and smooth in the mid-palate, there was an almost glycerol-like richness to the finish.”

Food Affinity:  “Enough structure and acidity left to pair very nicely with food. We’d suggest serving a wine like this with lamb stew incorporating Cipollini

Friday, 14 November 2014 19:33

November 14, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Bumgarner Cab S bottle shot Picmonkey

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon


Bumgarner Winery

El Dorado County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $35


“Sourced from two El Dorado County Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards at 3000-foot elevation. Blend includes 3% Merlot. Traditional Cabernet attributes evoking cassis, dark cherries and some cedar, with a bit of black olive in the background.

“Accepted wisdom is that mountain-grown grapes yield flavors of greater intensity, which would seem to be evidenced here. But what's even more appealing about this small-production wine (396 cases), is its sophistication and elegance. Winemaker Brian Bumgarner has crafted an extraordinary wine at a bargain price. His 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon would fare well if competing against Napa Cabs at double the cost.”

Food Affinity: “Pick a red meat to be accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes. Venison would be great, as would the richness of slowly-cooked osso buco. Hanger steak is another option.”

Saturday, 27 September 2014 12:24

September 26, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Stags Leap Artemis Cab S Picmonkey

2011 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon


Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Napa Valley

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $55


“A fine bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from a legendary producer. Grapes were sourced from several vineyards in the Napa Valley and the Cabernet component is buoyed by inclusion of 14% Merlot. Barrel aged for 16 months (35% new French oak).

“The nose displays a minty, herbal quality, complemented by a little vanilla from the oak. The dried herb and currant fruit segues into flavors of blackberry and a little dark cherry. Nice full feeling in the mouth precedes silky finish. A fine example of Napa Cabernet. Plenty of personality and, at just 13.5% alcohol, there is balance and sophistication. A relative bargain for Napa Cab in this era.”

Food Affinity: “Would be a fine addition to almost any dinner where you'd want to pour a red wine. We think grilled Portobello mushrooms that had been marinated in a garlic and an oil/vinegar dressing would be a meaty, non-meat option. Carnivores could pull a medium-rare porterhouse off that same grill.”

Saturday, 21 June 2014 13:42

June 20, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Sanctuary Cab S bottle shot Picmonkey

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon


Sanctuary Wines


Alcohol: 14.2%

Suggested retail: $40


“Here is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Usibelli Vineyard in the Rutherford appellation. As the price of Napa Cab moves higher and higher, $40 isn't bad for such single-vineyard bottlings and an internet check indicates this wine can often be found for less.

“Wines made from grapes grown in this part of Napa are often said to exhibit the 'Rutherford dust.' The phrase may sound like marketing department hype, but there really is a dusty/spicy aspect to wines made from Rutherford fruit that doesn't show up in most of the neighboring appellations. Most find this an attractive quality. When the cork was first pulled, the Sanctuary Cabernet seemed just OK, but as it opened up we began to appreciate it more. The aroma of the 2010 Sanctuary evokes black cherries and has a vaguely cola-like quality, plus that spicy, berry-like Rutherford dust, which becomes much more evident after the wine has some time to open up in the glass.”

Food Affinity: “At this time of year, grilled beef on the backyard barbecue seems a natural suggestion, but some preparation involving a rub giving some spiciness or aromatic kick might be good. On a cooler night maybe braised beef using cloves, star anise and/or orange peel would be interesting.”

Saturday, 10 May 2014 11:32

May 9, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

La Capra Cab S bottle shot Picmonkey

2012 La Capra Cabernet Sauvignon



Coastal Origin Region (So. Africa)

Alcohol: 14%

Suggested Retail: $ 8.99


“Opens with aromas of blackberry and plum. Flavors include those fruits, along with some mocha and just a bit of spice. Not a great wine, but a decent one that reflects a different interpretation of this grape variety than would be found in California—or in Bordeaux, for that matter.”

Food Affinity: “We'd like to be clever here and suggest some esoteric South African dish. However, we're not familiar enough with the cuisine of that country to do so. We enjoyed the wine with a steak cut from from prime-graded cross rib of beef (Good flavor, but too tough. Save this cut for slower cooking as a roast.). Cross-cultural success might be found in trying with Mexican food sauced with a dark, rich molé that includes a bit of chocolate.”

Sunday, 16 March 2014 02:09

March 14, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Souverain 2011 Cab S Picmonkey

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon


Souverain Winery

North Coast (California)

Alcohol: 13.6%

Suggested Retail: $15


“Composition is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon (law requires a minimum of 75%), augmented by traditional Bordeaux blending grapes of Petit Verdot (7%) and Cabernet Franc (5%), and two other varieties native to France's Rhone Valley, Petite Sirah (5%) and Syrah (2%). Such a mélange wouldn't be allowed in France, but their laws are often a codification of centuries-old tradition, rather than restrictions that actually guarantee a better wine. If Souverain winemaker Ed Killian decides such a combination is what he wants, we're inclined to think it's what works best for this particular bottling.

“We get aromas of vanilla and mocha, followed by a lot of blackberry-like fruit. Some cherry notes are there, too. Reasonably long finish. Restrained alcohol level (13.6%) and substantial tannin leads us to believe this modestly-priced Cab will age well. Certainly it will get better for at least the next five years or so.”

Food Affinity: “Of course, Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural pairing with beef and lamb, but we think the mocha quality and the young tannins would make this a natural if served with a dish incorporating a deep, rich molé and the vibrancy of some jalapeño or serrano peppers. 

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