From time to time I like to preach the benefits of tasting similar wines in side-by-side comparison. This "compare-and-contrast" approach, which many of us remember with mixed nostalgia and pain from college English 101, works well for just about any kind of learning, including wine.
As I've said before, it's not really complicated. All you have to do is open two (or more) bottles, preferably choosing selections with something in common. You can do it with the labels showing, or add to the challenge by tasting "blind," having someone pour the wines while you're not watching, then put them on the table in unmarked glasses.
The possibilities are endless, and the concept is simple: When you have two similar items at hand, you can learn more about them by examining what they have in common and how they differ.
Let's not read any political significance into today's tasting, in which I paired a Cabernet Sauvignon from California against a modest French Bordeaux, both from the 2000 vintage.
The California wine is a value favorite, Hawk Crest (which is the affordable "second label" of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars). Although the "California" appellation on the label means the grapes could have come from anywhere in the Golden State, the winery Website indicates that the grapes were grown in the hilly Paso Robles area in the Central Coast. It's made almost entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon, with tiny additions of Merlot and Ruby Cabernet.
The French wine is from the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, on the steeply sloped right bank of the Garonne River just southeast of the city of Bordeaux. A bit upriver to be considered prime wine real estate, it's nevertheless a well-situated and historic region that can produce wines of real quality and value. Specifics weren't available for the Chateau Saint-Yves featured today, but judging from its characteristics and the tradition of the region, it's likely a Merlot-dominant blend with Cabernet.
Both wines fared well in my tasting, and "New World" fruitiness and sweet oak in the California wine made it easy to recognize against the "Old World" earthiness and relative complexity and aging potential in the Bordeaux.
Hawk Crest 2000 California Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.49)
Dark garnet. Herbal notes of tarragon and vanilla aromatics make a pleasant background for ripe black fruit. Juicy black-plum fruit and sweet oak make this one a pleasant quaff, with sufficient acidic structure for flavor interest. Good, straightforward "New World" Cabernet. (March 29, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Cabernet fruit makes a natural match with a medium-rare T-bone.
VALUE: Good value, competitive with other California Cabernets in the lower teens.
WHEN TO DRINK: Will hold for a few years of careful cellaring, but fresh fruit and soft structure suggest early drinking.
WEB LINK: You'll find Stag's Leap's Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon report at
Chateau Saint-Yves 2000 Premières Côtes de Bordeaux ($7.99)
Spicy, "dusty" black-cherry and berry scents add a pleasant, complex nuance of rose potpourri in the aroma of this dark reddish-purple wine. Earthy elements of leather and restrained "barnyard" add flavor interest to fresh, crisp fruit on the palate. More complex and more earthy than the California Cabernet, there's distinct "Old World" style in this wine of exceptional value. U.S. importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (March 29, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Demonstrating the affinity of Bordeaux with quality beef, the wine's earthy fruit works magic with a premium Hereford T-bone.
VALUE: Exceptional value.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking well now, but balance and tannins suggest that it could evolve with a few years of cellar time.
WEB LINK: I was unable to find information about Chateau Saint-Yves online, but the producer, D. Milhade & Fils, has its Website (in French) at
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Primeurs 2002 begin!
The Primeurs 2002 are under way this week in Bordeaux, as the public gets its first look at the top wines of the new vintage. Here's a report from our friends at Château Palmer:
2002 was a mostly dry year, characterized by very low yields at Palmer due to a significant development of coulure, or poor fruit set, during flowering.
Despite summer rains, the vines experienced major water stress which produced a natural concentration in the grapes. Very good weather arrived in late August, lasting through the harvest for an excellent level of maturity. Sugar levels were naturally very high, and the grapes' phenolic content was greater than has been seen in recent years.
The 2002 vintage of Château Palmer is very powerful and fruity, supported by a remarkable freshness which underscores the fine balance of the wine’s acidity with its alcohol and tannins. Elegant and charming, this robust vintage expresses great delicacy and finesse shaped by supple and silky tannins.
To learn more about the 2002 vintage of Château Palmer and Alter Ego de
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
How far would you go?
Some wine lovers find that the thrill of the chase is almost - if not quite - up there with the actual enjoyment of the wine itself. The joy of discovering, tracking down and acquiring that special "trophy" bottle, whether it's an aged beauty or a just-released "cult" wine, becomes a significant part of the whole wine experience.
This week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth takes on a lighter topic as we present a spectrum of possibilities and invite you to place yourself upon it, as we ask, "How far would you go to get a special bottle of wine?"
To cast your ballot and see the results, click to the Voting Booth,
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Introducing Nero d'Avola (March 28, 2003)
Savoring Gerald Asher (March 26, 2003)
Corked! (March 24, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Tofu (March 27, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, March 31, 2003