Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cos D'Elena

I own a lot more Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon than a person in my income bracket should. I haven't purchased it all, but suffice to say I haven't stolen any of it. It is such a good wine. If I had more experience with high-end California reds I could say something like: "Admirable old-world restraint distinguishes this aristocratic Cabernet amidst a sea of cloying Napa syrup". But that would be an especially putrid strain of bullshit, and I also happen to love that cloying syrup.

I digress. Montelena just became the first in a not-unlikely succession of top American wineries pursued by foreign buyers with fistfuls of muscle-bound currency. In this case, the suitor was Montelena's oenological frat brother Cos D'Estournel. The Prats clan has combined a keen business acumen and a Midas winemaking touch to build quite a little empire over the years, but acquiring Montelena makes a particularly strong statement vis-a-vis the Paris Tasting (in theaters soon!).

Undoubtedly James Laube knows Montelena a lot better than I do, but I can't contort my palate around his gloom'n'doom post about California red wine, capped by the assertion that Montelena's "quality has lagged" lately. Having tasted the '04, '03, '97, '89, and '88 vintages of Estate in the past month, I think it's doing just fine.

Better, even. Whether the purple-black intensity of a younger vintage or the brick-brown finesse of a Bush/Quayle harvest, I see no yawning gulf between Montelena's quality today and the ideal of a perfect red wine. Versatility? Try their decidedly un-jammy Estate Zinfandel or, if you can find it, the rich, crisp Riesling. I can only imagine Mike Grgich's flag-waving 1973 Chardonnay, but I'll be goddamned if the current release, a sparingly oaked, zero-malo iconoclast is much inferior.

Laube writes somewhat dismissively that Montelena "still has fans who admire its sturdy, distinctive, ageworthy style, but most of them are old-guard collectors". The implication is that the winery is ossifying into a crusty memory that won't spark any nostalgia--let alone interest--in young turk collectors. Well now. As long as Estate is racking up consistent mid-90s from Parker, I don't think it's headed for any clearence racks. First-hand observation bears this out.

And though some seething Montelena-sucks missives from WS commentors make me doubt my frame of reference a little more, I still side with Parker. If the winery's cellars are still infested with TCA, that's a serious issue that needs addressing and I trust the new management to do so--their track record of improving the wineries they acquire is solid. But I have a good feeling Jean-Guillaume Prats, Michel Reybier, et al. won't feel the need to overhaul the Montelena portfolio or the style of the wines.

Why? Because they know that premium, historic terroir like Montelena's doesn't respond well to meddling. They're even smarter wine guys than they are businessmen, which is why I look so forward to opening one of the crown jewels of my modest collection--a Cos D'Estournel 1995--tonight.

Recent notables:
  • Captain Lawrence "Liquid Gold" Ale - Looks like Budweiser, tastes like what Budweiser might taste like if you reduced it over high heat for 10 minutes. Huge malt attack with some interesting woody, violety flavors on the midpalate. Profoundly bitter finish.
  • Lagunitas "Censored" Copper Ale - Spicy, round, slightly doughy character keeps this brawny ale eminently gulpable. The comforting color of a 10 year-old penny. Just edges the Capt. Lawrence as the best new beer I've had in the past 3 months.
  • Magic Hat "Lucky Kat" IPA - Nice floral hoppyness on the attack, disappoints just a little on a finish that could support more bitterness.
  • Ardbeg 10 Year Single Malt Scotch - Not the peat beast it's reputed to be (less so than Laphroaig 10). Definitely some heavy smoke, plus dashes of sugar and brine. OK.
  • La Sacrisite de la Vieille Cure 2005 - The eagle has landed! Finally a non-Petit Chateau bottle of 2005 Bordeaux. A little tight now, but not especially tannic and fantastic balance. I suspect the blackberry, mocha, and mellow currant flavors would be clearer with decanting. Given the reasonable price, I'd like to lay a few of these down.

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