Wine column no. 11: Grape expectations

Let's hear it for the muddled world of wine appreciation, where labels can be just as deceiving as your own expectations.Thinking of pairing a cabernet sauvignon with steak for that special occasion? That'd be the typical pairing for the wine varietal that Greg and I would describe as heavy and muscular. But truth be told, most of our own experience with Cabernet Sauvignon is with the Californian variety. This means that we've come to expect Cabernet Sauvignon to be earthy, slightly fruity, serious and bold. Take the 2007 Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon that we got at Winetree last December. This 14.1 percent alcohol recommendation by Tim Wilkins was, to us, a perfect match for steak in that it was strong enough to keep pace with the entree — but it also was distinct enough to stand on its own. Around $14. Now contrast that with the 2004 Salentein Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from Valle de Uco in Mendoza, Argentina, which we opened up a couple of weeks ago. This Varsity Liquors purchase was completely different from the Californians we're used to, and that might be because it was grown in South America, with a different climate and soil. This Argentine was so fruity and light it almost tasted like grape juice without the alcohol, which was surprising given that, at 14.5 percent alcohol, it should have been packing a punch. Greg was convinced that this Cabernet was actually more like a Pinot Noir than what we understand as a Cabernet Sauvignon — but then again, that might be because we're used to the Californian versions. About $20.
Here's another wine that surprised us because of how different it was compared to what we're used to. The 2009 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Pinot Noir from Geyserville, Calif., was so fruity that it lacked the slight woodiness we'd usually expect to find in Pinot Noir. We paired it with grilled salmon that I marinated for a few hours in lemon juice, garlic, fresh basil and parsley, salt, pepper and olive oil. This Votre Sante wasn't bad at all; it just seemed a bit uncomplicated, tossing out a concentration of black cherry flavors — and not much else. That said, if you like fruity, smooth wines, then this one is a good bet. It definitely had more of a feminine feel to it, and on a rather warm evening in our backyard it was easy to drink. We found it at Varsity Liquors.
Now here's a wine that fit our expectations of what a red Zinfandel should be: The 2006 So Zin from Mendocino County, Calif. Greg blended ground venison and beef, and a fair amount of spice, to grill up some hamburgers a while ago, and I bought this Ukiah, Californian to pair with it. Especially after we slapped some pepperjack cheese on the burgers, this was quite good. Think blackberries that aren't too sweet, add smooth textures and then top it off with some earth — not too much, but just enough to keep you grounded. 14.7 percent alcohol. Somewhere around $12-$15 at Winetree.
And finally, here's a wine varietal we'd never had before but liked all the same. That means we have nothing to compare it to, but sometimes that can be a good thing, since as we've shown above, labels (and our own expectations) can be misleading. The 2008 Sauvion Vouvray, a white wine from the Loire Valley in France, is to us the perfect light summer wine. This Winetree purchase was 12 percent alcohol. It tasted of melons, honey and lemon, was slightly sweet and easy to swirl in your glass on a hot and humid summer evening.

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