Bloody Bubbly Lambrusco For Halloween

Happy Halloween! We begin tonight with bloody bubbles from Italy. Umberto Cavicchioli e Figli’s Vigna del Cristo Lambrusco di Sorbara 2015 is dry, crisp, and light with strawberry pith, red grapefruit, and a fine chalk finish.

IMG_5230Ok! Maybe it is a little more cadillac pink than blood red, but it works!

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Monster Halloween Wine: ZD Abacus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley XVIII

This Halloween, if you really want to blow minds and scare money out of your wallet or purse, consider a wine unlike any other. It is made by  ZD winery, which has grown for three generations under the deLeuze family. They make great Napa Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but their organic Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Rutherford is top notch.

How about we ease into things:

$75 will buy you ZD’s 2013 Cab: a fresh-faced, bright red cherry driven wine with light vanilla, mint, and coconut (thanks to old school American oak). It feels medium bodied, soft yet brassy, ringing like a small bell with acidity, and mild tannins perfect for grilled chicken with a balsamic glaze, charcuterie. It is very good (4 of 5) with years to go.

If you feel a bit more serious, $210 will buy ZD’s 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It rings with concentrated red cherry liquor, fresh blackberry, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. The palate feels drier, wooded, grippy, toasty, serious, yet smooth enough. It loves triple creme brie, lean meats, even dark chocolate. It is outstanding (5 of 5) and could peak in five more years.

But enough dancing around the tombstone. If you really want a shocking Cabernet, unleash ZD’s Abacus XVIII Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from its black alligator-skinned, red velvet-lined coffin:

Abacus Box


This one bottle holds twenty four vintages of ZD Reserve Cabernet. Yes, in 1992 ZD decided it would be fun to start a solera program, holding barrels of Cab, bottling some 15%, then topping them off with the next vintage. Like Count Dracula, that old Cabernet will live forever on the blood of the young.

Today’s XVII’s retains a small portion that original Cabernet grown when Clinton became president, films like Wayne’s World, Aladdin, and Batman Returns graced the cinema, and Euro Disney was built. Good times.

So does Abacus time travel or taste like the undead?

Abacus Wine

The APPEARANCE looks a clear, medium intense garnet with a seamless bricked edge and doughy legs.

Intense AROMAS swarm the entire glass bowl and carry skyward.  Violets, fresh and dried glow, like the fanciest potpourri imaginable. Ripe blueberry and black cherry liquor get layered into mocha, dried black vanilla bean, and soft caramel.

The dry PALATE, pings about with brambly acidity, rich, whole-grained tannins, a nearly full body. But be wary of sediment.

Intense FLAVORS kick about the palate with twangy orange peel, tart red and yet ripe supple black cherry, lightly toasted cedar, and dried tobacco that last endlessly.

Twenty four years form a synced cacophony of murmurs and shouts.  Each vintage, some tired, some hot, some bright, some dark, all call for attention.  We overuse words like complex or unique with wine.  But ZD’s Abacus stands alone. It is outstanding stuff (5 of 5). Honestly, do not worry about pairing anything with it.

One would expect oxidation or sherry-like notes, but ZD has avoided that. Also, this wine does not really evolve open.  It also has no reflection in mirrors.  Days on, it remains just as fresh yet shadowy: trapped in time.

The real scary part though, a three bottle pack will burn $1,950 of your hard-earned cash (or get a three liter bottle for $5,250). Then again, they only produce twelve barrels and it will age forever.  Dracula’s castle might need to rent rooms on AirBNB.  But its hard to put a price on imortality.

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Give Australia a Second Chance

Ignore the echo chamber. Australia makes amazing wine. Yet more than a decade has passed since “critter wines” tanked Australia’s image and sales internationally.  And still customers cling to herd mentality and scoff at them. Restaurant and shop owners share blame too, claiming they cannot sell them.

The key: take a break from buying $10 wine and expecting it to change your world. Disappointment usually follows. Spend what you would on any great bottle.

For example:

Two Hands, Shiraz, Bella’s Garden, Barossa Valley, Australia 2013 $45-$62


Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz founded Two Hands Winery in 1999 to only make high-end Shiraz: no koalas, no wallabies, no fish, no kangaroos, no overcropped vineyards, nor cheats like barrel staves, tartaric acid, or oak powder.

Their Bella’s Garden comes from great Shiraz sites across the Barossa Valley.  Two fermentations: 80% destemmed grapes with pump-overs and 20% with stems, 14 days of skin contact, 24 hours on the lees. It ages 18 months in French oak hogsheads and puncheons, with 17% in new and the remainder in older oak.

Does all this extra effort matter?

The APPEARANCE looks an inky yet clear, ruby-rimmed, leggy thing.

AROMAS burn clean with flint, dried tobacco, a crush of blueberry, pomegranate, and a heady, fruity, highland whisky note hovers.

The PALATE feels dry, dense, and richly textured. Enough acidity clicks along and flinty, cedar-like tannins ratchet it up. The alcohol burns like coals. Yet smoothness pervades.

Black fruit and toasted oak clash and meld into a dense, complex mix. But the gorgeous fat line of boysenberry syrup carries into a tidy, mineral finish.

Two Hands, Bella’s Garden Shiraz is outstanding stuff (5 of 5). It will stay packed like this for a decade or more.

I do not like decanting wine.  The immediate gratification feels cheap.  I enjoy opening it and finding this wound youth packed in there. Then let it evolve over an evening, sipping, pairing, then cap it and revisit it the next day.  Like layers of strata, wine deserves digging thoroughly. Because Bella’s Garden needs that patience. It shows best after a few evenings open.

So give Australia a real chance. It deserve it.

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Happy Birthday to Me

No birthday would be complete without some cool climate, alcoholic magic. The pure tidiness of Chardonnay-only Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne kicks and curls with lemon, white pear, angel food cake, and light chalk.

Then a pumpkin millefeuille begs for dessert wine. Kracher

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Across Time and Space: Olga Raffault Les Picasses Chinon Cabernet Franc 2010


tours me building

So young, so naive, so thirsty…

Four years ago, my wife and I landed in Tours on the Loire River in France. The city jumbled modern and medieval comfortably. Our ’70’s dorm sat a few blocks from “an indoor market, rioting with vendors, that provides salvation in the form of local bread and cheese.” At entrance sat the wine shop, Les Belles Caves.  I grabbed multiple bottles of Chinon, Cabernet Franc, from textbook producer, Olga Raffault.

Olga took over her husband’s vines after WWII.  With Ernest Zenninger’s expertise, Olga’s wines gained glory.  She worked into her eighties, while her son Jean and wife Irma followed. Now her granddaughter, Silvie, with her husband Eric de la Vigerie run the reigns.

We first tried Olga’s Les Peuilles 2009. I claimed it “good (3 of 5) wine, perfect for a very French lunch, but probably too young to flaunt its stuff.” Luckily, we also had Olga Raffault’s Les Picasses vineyard 2006.

olga raffault chinon picasses 2006

Not a shabby dorm view

Maybe it was the fifty-plus year-old vines. Maybe we finally got to eat our potato dinner. Either way, Les Picasses was “very good (4 of 5).  Lovely wood spice, florals, earth, and silken, chai tea like characteristics compensate for lean fruit.”

So. Now that I am older, less wise, and no longer in France, how might Olga Raffault’s 2010 Les Picasses fair?

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2010

AROMAS smell intensely of iron filings, tanned leather, porcini mushrooms, cedar, boysenberry jam, and lavender.

The dry PALATE feels reedy, lean, with twangy acidity and a soft yet splintered woody tannic structure.

Medium intensity FLAVORS taste of boysenberry, lemon, red apple skin, cedar, and fresh herbs that carry a long length. 4 of 5 very good.

Honestly, most would find these descriptors unpleasant.  Even in 2012, Olga’s 2006 ranged from “tart red apple, to a soft, woody cigar core, and a tangy lime finish”.  Yum?  Probably not.  But one cannot always sit in a hammock and wear sweats.  From time to time, an office chair and a suit force us to take things seriously.

Likewise, Olga Raffault’s Les Picasses 2010, as with their 2006, is a masterwork in controlling Brettanomyces.  The wild yeast can ruin a wine.  But the Raffaults have enough twangy fruit and effort to tame the beast.  But this thing still demands food.  Charcuterie, coq au vin, baked garlic, grilled game bird, and aged hard cheeses will set it straight.

To Raffault’s credit, Les Picasses 2006 and 2010 maintain a line of continuity and quality, even across continents and time.  They demand one to perk up, focus, make an effort but not try too hard.


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