Despite a couple of no shows the wine tasting on Saturday proved to be a success. The weather turned warm after the morning rain but the red wines were still good.
The wine list was interesting since it was four California Cabernets and one Rioja. The wines were a 2004 (instead of 2002) Opus One, a 2005 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Artemis, a 2004 Brookdale Napa Valley Cabernet, a 2003 Vinoce Mt. Veeder red wine and the 2001 Roda I Reserva.
There was not a bad wine in the bunch and the group consensus started at very, very good and went up from there. At the end of the day we decided not to select a group favorite because the voting would have placed at least one of the wines in last place and all were good enough to not merit that.
That said, I still ranked the wines in my mind and they are listed in that order here.
The Opus One was decanted for two hours and was full of ripe, dark cherries, cassis and plums with soft, smooth tannins. There was some great acidity, but the most striking thing was that the wine was in total balance at such an early point in its life. Elegant, yet full flavored it finished with some great length. Interestingly, by the time we got to the last sample the fruit seemed to recede and tannins became very gripping on the finish. The wine retails for around $150 in the stores.
The Roda I Reserva was a surprise hit with the group and a close second to the Opus on my list. It was decanted for an hour. Black and bright red fruit, some earth and herbs a little vanilla oak in the nose and taste. Very smooth tannins, wonderful acidity and an improbably long fruity finish made for an excellent wine. The wine is still young and several more years in the cellar will pay a great dividend. I remarked yesterday about a quality/price ratio and this wine was a steal at the original price of $50 and at a replacement cost of $70 is still a good buy.
The Vinoce was a wine I have never tasted before, and one that I was totally unfamiliar with. It was a most interesting wine and is listed as a 'proprietary red wine.' The blend on this vintage is 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, all from estate vineyards on Mt. Veeder in the southwest corner of Napa Valley. No question that these were mountain grapes as this wine was full of concentrated fruit and heavy tannins. It still retained some acid, and was flirting with being over ripe without ever slipping over the edge and being overblown. I liked the hint of clean dirt in the finish. At just less than $50 it might be interesting to see how this wine develops.
I really couldn't choose between the Vinoce and the Stags Leap Artemis though they were certainly different wines. Since it's an an Olympic year let's call the Vinoce a weightlifter and the Artemis a swimmer. Though it carries only a Napa Valley appellation this wine was so typical of the Stags Leap area that it was no surprise that it contained grapes from both Stags Leap Vineyard and Fay Vineyard. There was ripe fruit with hints of herbs and a a touch of tobacco that wrapped itself around the tannins. Perfectly balanced, lighter than the other wines, but an excellent wine for $55. The Vinoce might overpower you with its strength, but the Artemis just charmed you with its elegance and finesse. I also found it interesting that at the end of the day the Opus One closed up and was tannic while the Artemis was still blooming.The 2004 Brookdale was my least favorite wine of the day but one that I still thought was very good. There was ample fruit, ample tannins, nice balance and everything was correct about the wine. No question it was a well made wine. What seemed lacking to me was any sense of character or individuality. I've tasted this same wine under may different names and labels. The fruit was a blend of several vineyards in Napa, but there was just not enough individuality to make me take notice of the wine. $45.
There was no question that the appetizer of the day turned out to be American Bison mini-burgers, ground bison mixed with jalapeno peppers and a little onion and then grilled. There was a cilantro sauce to go with the burgers and it was good, but it clashed a little with a couple of the wines. Since there was some Maytag blue cheese on the cheese plate we began crumbling that over the top of the burgers and that complimented every wine on the table.