Notes and Conclusions from the 2009 Hingham Wine Merchant Holiday Show

Monday, November 9, 2009

This past weekend, I attended my 3rd consecutive Hingham Wine Merchant Holiday event. We tasted through a really nice assortment of red wines and focused our time on Napa Cabs, Malbecs from Argentina, Italy, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Here are my notes...

Napa Cabs

We started off the evening at a table featuring mostly Napa Cabs. Dennis Gilligan was manning the table and I recognized him from a Robert Foley wine dinner at BOKX109 in Newton.

'06 Faust Cabernet Napa Valley
-Showing well and offered at a really good price. Bought 1 bottle.

'05 Ramey Cabernet Napa Valley
-I've been looking for Ramey wines at a good price since being so impressed with Hall Wines I tasted earlier this year and learning that David Ramey is a consulting winemaker there. This too was showing well and was offered at a price I'd expect to pay for his more affordable Claret bottling. Bought 1 bottle, maybe I should have bought more?

'06 Cade Cabernet Howell Mountain
-New vineyard and winery from the Plumpjack folks. Very impressive, but pricey.

'06 Switchback Ridge Cabernet Napa Valley
-Probably my favorite Napa Cab of the night, but pricey.

'06 Chappellet Signature Cab
-Showing quite well, and less tightly wound than when I tried it earlier this year (but it's hard to say in a quick tasting like this). Over the past 2 vintages, Chappellet has really done well with this wine, and if the '06 is like the '05, it really evolves nicely over the first year or two after release. Definitely a smart buy south of $40. Sure to be on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list (if not the Top 10).

'06 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cab
-Beautiful wine, but very expensive. Not showing better than others at this point (but it's more of an age-worthy thing).

'06 Snowden Cabernet "The Ranch"
-Wow, this wine was showing amazingly well and was less than $40. A textbook example of what I'm looking for in Napa Cab with rich black currant, blackberries, and savory components. Bought 1 bottle. Fantastic stuff.

Dennis really knows his stuff- I always enjoy his descriptions. We took a break, and had some delicious beef tenderloin sandwiches with horseradish sauce (the food is always a cut above at these events) and then went off to taste some Malbec.

Napa Conclusion: Some say to skip '06 Napa Cab and wait for '07. I think there's value to be had at this point even in the '06s as $80 wines sell for $50, $50 wines sell in the $30s, and $30 wines sell in the high teens.

Malbecs from Argentina

This is a category I've dabbled in mostly at the $10-$20 price point. I've heard that although it's possible to find great Malbec for $10-$15 (indeed, I thought the Altos Las Hormigas at $10 was a fabulous wine) there is a lot of lousy Malbec out there in the market. Tasting through the Catena line-up (and some others) provided a chance to try a range of Malbecs from $10 to ~$100.

We tried the '07 Catena Malbec, '06 Catena Malbec Alta, '06 Catena Cabernet Alta, the '06 Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna, and the '06 Nicolas Catena Zapata Cab/Malbec blend. It was really interesting climbing the ladder from ~$20 - ~$100 on these wines. I thought they were all really good, but somehow I'm not willing to spend big money on wines from Argentina. I consider it a value category, and I'm hard pressed to imagine an occasion where I can justify breaking out a $100 bottle of Malbec (or Cab for Argentina). Maybe that'll change in the future- these wines were really good.

'06 Ernesta Catena Alma Negra Bonarda
-Andy Gesell did a great job pouring and describing these wines and told us Bonarda was a more widely planted grape variety in Argentina than Malbec. Tihs wine was a 60/40 Bonarda Malbec blend and I thought it was really fascinating wine. Fruity and delicious, but still dense and serious. I bought a bottle.

'07 Pascual Toso Malbec Reserve
-I've had the '08 Pascual Toso (~$11) before, and thought it was "ok". However, this reserve bottling at $20 was quite nice. Although I didn't buy a bottle, I might in the future- it was a noticeable step up from the regular '08 bottling.

'08 Achaval Ferrer Malbec/'07 Achaval Ferrer Quimera

-I've seen these wines around but haven't tried them before. I think these are their entry level offerings (around $22-$45) and they didn't stand out for me in the tasting for whatever reason.

Malbec Conclusion: Gaining courage to spend more in this category but still hesitant to go north of $20 with so many great values around $10.

Italy

I've struggled mightily finding value in this category historically. So many lousy $30 bottles over the years. Last year this show, I didn't even make my way up to the Italian room on the 2nd floor but I've very glad I did this year because I found some wines I really liked (and some great pasta dishes as well)...

We started out a Masciarelli table with Debbie Pecce pouring mostly Montepulciano d'Abruzzos.

'07 Valori Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
-At $16, this wine was the value find of the night. Beautiful dried fruit aromas and a delight on the palate. A nice change of pace from the Malbecs. I bought a bottle and maybe should have bought more.

'04 Capanna Brunello di Montalcinio
-I was intrigued by a sub-$40 Brunello but disappointed with this wine. Bruenllo is killing me lately. So expensive and I'm so often disappointed. At this point in time, for me, Barbaresco is where it's at.

We bounced over to Liz O'Brien's Indigenous Selections table next. She offered up a couple of wines that really impressed:

The wines from Giorgio Rivetti's La Spinetta tend to have a rhino on the label, and I've heard "trust the rhino" before. I previously tried an '07 Langhe Nebbiolo that was very good but it didn't blow me away. I tried that wine again tonight, but it was the wine sitting next to it (also with a rhino on the label) that blew me away:

'05 La Spinetta Barbera d'Alba Gallina
-Such a rich and complex wine. Ripe dark fruits, smoke, and savory stuff. An absolute pleasure to drink. Might have been my "wow" wine of the night in terms of a category and a wine that really surprised me in a good way. Bought 1 bottle.

'04 Cigliuti Barbaresco Serraboella
-This was a gorgeous wine. Dried rose petals, earthy mushrooms, and cherry on the nose. A delight to drink, but for my wallet very expensive (nearly $60 for this one). I wanted to pull the trigger, but I remembered that I wanted to have The Wine Bottega be my Italian wine sherpa.

Italian Conclusion: Some of these wines surprised me, and I think I may be finding some paths into Italian wine that weren't the first I would have guessed to start with.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The 2007 vintage of CdP is probably the most heralded of any winegrowing region coming to market currently. John Junguenet did an awesome job walking us through wines in the $30-$50 range. He did an awesome job representing this unique region, and his eyes lit up when I told him my boy could pick a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of a line-up when he was only 2 years old (video). He gave us some temporary CdP tattoos!

These wines, as a whole, were drinking quite well at such a young age. I remember tasting through some 2005 Châteauneufs when they were about 2 years old and thought they were all closed aromatically and entirely unimpressive. Some of these 2007s are remarkably approachable already.

'07 Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape
-Although this wasn't the most fruit forward nor tastiest of the wines I tried, I bought it for it's reputation and the impressions of the pros. Nice looking bottle, famous name. Sometimes, that's how I buy wine (especially when it's the last category of the night and I've tried 50+ wines).

'07 Vieux Telegramme Châteauneuf-du-Pape
-Another nice looking bottle, this one with a famous more expensive sibling (Vieux Telegramme La Crau). I thought this one was nice too so I bought a bottle.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Conclusion: Check back tomorrow for a combined case purchase opportunity (only the 2nd we've done here) on a value-priced red CdP. Subscribe to the WWP and we'll send you an E-mail when there are new updates.

I've also been seeing a lot of wine deals come and go so quickly, I don't even have a chance to blog about them. However, I do have a chance to tweet about them. Follow me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) so you don't miss out on these.

Question of the Day: What do you think of these picks?

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