Monday, August 15, 2011

Battle of the Reds: Washington vs. Napa Valley

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days—the kind you usually only see in movies where the characters all have perfect teeth and unwrinkled wardrobes. I spent the morning reading Middlesex outside amongst the dandelions, and by four o’clock a very light breeze had picked up, cutting the afternoon heat into evening warmth. At five o’clock, I went to a friend’s farewell dinner party, where we drank excellent lemon drops and ate fresh Caprese salad out on the porch. For dinner, along with steaks and grilled portabellas, we had two different new world cabernet sauvignons and finished the evening with homemade cheesecake and black tea. There is something magical about the clinking dance that people do as they pass glasses, knives, forks, wine bottles, and serving trays around the room. Goods exchange hands rather rapidly, bright red wine dripping down bottles and onto the tablecloth, long trays of grilled zucchini and corn lifted above shorter heads and passed around taller ones. It is almost choreographed, a broken glass or dropping fork the only suggestion that the whole beautiful scene wasn’t set up for someone else’s viewing pleasure.

In between courses and lulls in conversation, I pulled my aerator from my purse (I was asked to bring it!) and began taste-testing the just-opened cabernets. The results were remarkable; propelling a chain of tasting that overtook the dinner table completely. I’ve already given a spiel about the joys of the Vinturi aerator, so I won’t bore you with another (you can read the original post if you want to), but I will say that the difference in wine quality of aerated versus non-aerated was particularly intense in the newly opened bottles of cabernet. The tightness of the wines, the undeveloped notes, and the high acidity at the end of each sip were completely dissolved—what emerged were well-rounded, totally drinkable wines, just minutes after being opened. A definite plus for people that aren't keen on waiting a few hours for a wine to naturally aerate.

The first wine we tasted was a 2008 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon ($15). The wine opened with soft notes of cherry and plum, full enough to give the wine body but not overpowering or jammy. It was balanced with notes of oak, pepper, and a finished with smooth and soft tannins. The second wine we tried was a 2008 Hawkstone Vineyards: Barney's Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon ($19). This Napa Valley cabernet was more complex than the Washington state cabernet, the earthy and peppery notes especially strong. I had a hard time grasping the opening fruit notes as they seemed overpowered by the structured tannins and spicy flavors. I would have much rather had this cabernet in the winter, when a heartier and warmer wine would have had a better effect. In the summer weather it seemed a bit too heavy for my tastes and I found myself going back to the Chateau Ste. Michelle where there was a notable balance to the wine. I was particularly thrilled to find that I enjoyed the less expensive wine more than the more expensive wine, further proving that higher price does not necessarily mean higher quality, and inexpensive wines have much to offer. I guess it doesn’t hurt that a Washington state wine beat out a Napa Valley wine… but that’s a whole different story.

No comments:

Post a Comment