Saturday, January 25, 2014

2005 Artesa cabernet reserve

My notes, for what they are worth:

  • Very dark -- licorice -- opened up to caramel flavors -- not terribly fruity -- restrained (I think?). Acidic -- still, lots of sweetness
  • 2nd day: can there be an austere licorice bomb? Cabernets don't have a vivid aroma, to me ... Toasty, burnt caramel aftertaste with food
  • The use of French oak = "taut," "cedar" (Jancis Robinson, How to Taste)
  • The use of American oak = "vanilla," "sweet" (ditto)

So, can there be an Austere Licorice Bomb? I can almost see this as a proprietary name on a wine label, although I would defy any graphic artist to come up with an appropriate design.

The one characteristic of cabernet which puzzles me, because wine writers all seem to agree on it and I don't see why, is its scent. Or lack thereof. Experts speak of the grape's unmistakable black currant aromas, just the thing for people who want a lushly smelling wine. I find a cabernet's scent weak to the point of non-existence, nothing like a chianti's horsiness, a riesling's lemon and clove, or a sauvignon blanc's grapefruit. If you're lucky you might get a big whiff of barbecue sauce, but that's not fruit.

And then there is the challenge of identifying cabernets that have been vinified in the French or the California style. California cabs are all thick, jammy, high tannin and high alcohol, grape-strudels-in-a-glass; the best French cabs are thinner, subtler, meant to be aged until those rich attributes -- if they've managed to attain them, in Bordeaux's shall we say, subtle climate -- have become all elegance, refinement, and structure. But while we puzzle over this, we should keep in mind that winemakers have been sampling each other's product, and making decisions, and taking stands, and not least of all looking at their spreadsheets, too. So there are California cabernet growers who want to produce subtle, French style wines, and there are Bordelais who make fruit forward, "global reds" to catch that share of the market trained by Robert Parker to like "huge" wines. If he can't see through it, he gives it 91 points, I've been told.

When you drink Artesa, or any cabernet that is obviously of a certain class, which have you got? Subtle or huge? French or California? Putting your nose in the glass and trying for that first clue, "explosive" black currant aromas, may prove a disappointment. And is it masculine or feminine? (To me, this old fashioned way of thinking about a wine is more interesting and challenging than identifying endless fruit-basket flavors.) Is jamminess and power "masculine" because it knocks your socks off, or is it feminine because it's lush and sweet? Are elegance and refinement feminine because they can be construed as quiet, or are they masculine because they an be thought of as pared down and undecorated? Can subtlety knock your socks off? (And could that be another cute proprietary label name? If so, I get credit.)

You see how wildly important it is to get this right. For the sake of a shared vocabulary and all.

The wine, in sum: very good. A bit austere and licorice-like, though. Have it with something luscious and -- feminine. Artesa, by the way, is owned by the Spanish firm Codorniu, famed for their cava; this cabernet retails for about $44.

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