Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still Alive

Despite the lack of evidence on these pages, I am still alive and well, eating and drinking...

Met this morning with Joe Cafaro, winemaker. He makes about a thousand cases a year of Cafaro wines, mainly Cabernet and Merlot. When the vintage is right he makes a reserve tier called Alta Tierra.

Joe's a little old school. His goal is to make wines to go with food, so he tries to avoid the high sugar, maximum ripeness, blockbuster style. He picks at lower sugar levels so his wines will be totally dry around 13.5%. And he wants good acid levels, so he picks a little earlier than most grower/winemakers! Which means his wines have a more European feel to them, and like European wines, Joe's are a little more dependent on the ripeness of the vintage.

The first few years I tasted Joe's wines he was using purchased fruit as he waited for his vineyard (planted in 1996) to mature. The northen edge of the hillside vineyard touches the southern border of the Stags Leap AVA, Joe's immediate neighbor is Shafer. For the last few years the wines have been made with grapes from estate vineyards and the quality has been much more consistent.  We tasted the current releases this morning, all from outstanding vintages and the wines were just delicious.

The 2007 Merlot featured deep juicy black fruit with velvety texture and spicy acids on the finish. It would be perfect with any meats or with rich, oily fish or seafood dish like paella or cioppino. The 2006 Cabernet shows deeper black fruit with cedar notes and integrated tannins. Rich textures and good acid keep the wines alive on the finish. Both wines are blends with small percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. All the wines are vinified separately then blended.

The current Alta Tierra is a treat. 2002 Cabernets were characterized by outstanding integration of the fruits and tannins and the Alta Tierra is no exception. It exudes balance and elegance.

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