Monday, January 17, 2011

What It's Not

Sometimes it's easier to see what a wine is when it's in a group of wines that it's not. Even a wine you know well can have different sides of it shown.

I was calling on a friend, Greg Bardakos, the wine director at a great restaurant in Los Gatos called Steamers, and decided to have a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Greg has been pouring the Steven Kent for quite a while, and this day he also had it in a flight with two other cabs from two different appellations.

I've always felt that one of the primary differences between Livermore Valley Cabernet and Napa Valley Cabernet is the tannin content in the wine. Livermore Cabs tend to have real dense, rich, fruit upfront and a tannic structure that one perceives mostly on the finish. Contrast this with Napa Cabs which usually display  tannin running all the way through the wine but not nearly as much fruit as Livermore.

It intrigued me then, when I tasted the 2007 Steven Kent alongside the 2007 Robert Hall Cabernet from Paso Robles and the 2007 Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet from Napa Valley. One would expect the mountain fruit in Napa to be tannic and have a limited amount of fruit. And as a gross generalization that's how I perceived the wine. More specifically though, the Mount Veeder had beautiful, if muted, fruit. It was more red cherry than cassis and had significant tannin all the way through the wine especially on the finish. But there was more fruit there than I thought there'd be before I tasted the wine.

The Hall Cabernet was a beautiful wine also. This wine, I think, showed a bit more dark fruit than the Mt. Veeder wine and had a plushness on entry that neither of the other two wines had.

It was my old wine, though, that was most surprising. This Livermore Valley offering is one of the best we've made so far. One of its defining characteristics is its tannin level (when compared to previous vintages), tasted alongside these other two wines, however, it showed significantly darker fruit (black even), and a tannic structure on the finish that nearly rivaled that of the Mount Veeder.

Tasting as many wines of my own as I do (especially in comparative flights) has revealed that the context and order in which the wines are tasted dramatically affects how one perceives tannin and structure in the wines. Still, it was very gratifying to see that the Livermore stood up quite well in both richness and tannin to the other two wines.

Greg does a wonderful job with the wine program at Steamers. Steamers is a Los Gatos landmark and is highly recommended for both the wine and the food.

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