2006 Cardinale Cab: Show me love, not just bread sticks

What’s it like to taste a vaunted 100-point wine? Well, I along with a few hundred of my closest friends can tell you all about it, thanks to a fun tasting held by Cardinale last week at Toast of the Town in San Francisco. But more on that in a moment—or just skip the preamble and read for more on that below. Or cut your loses and skip everything now.

It must be spring, and despite the continued rain (is it just me, or is this more than normal?) a parade of wine events is storming the Bay Area, and wine country.

There’s apprently something for everyone. Some are organized by varietal (Petit Syrah! Rose! Cab!). Others are organized by region (Mendocino. Oakville.). And others are food and wine events such as Pebble Beach Food & Wine that combine trade, press and consumers under one tent… or opera house as is the case with the expansive Toast of the Town.

Note: I’m still looking for the perfect Wine App for my trusty Droid. Does it exist?

100 point Cardinale

Decent. No singing angels. No GEICO-like talking gecko. No shivers. Just decent. That’s what I thought as I tasted the 100-point ’06 Cardinale from a monster-truck Cab glass.

Winemaker Christopher Carpenter: It's hard not to get excited
Winemaker Christopher Carpenter: It’s hard not to get excited

The tasting was one of four that winemaker Chris Carpenter held at Toast of the Town.

They revolved us through in orderly fashion, even providing nicely wrapped wine glasses upon departure. Ah, to be basking in the Heimoff 100-point glow (or Parker 94+ point sales glow). Speaking of Steve Heimoff, I saw him briefly, jutting between the crowds. Alas, by the time Loni and I finally realized that it was the blogger/wine writer himself, we had lost track in the crowds, and Loni was already hugging some winemaker, declaring, “Women power!”

No doubt the Cardinale is smooth, with multiple layers of complexity. Elegant is another word. You can tell it’s something special. How special? Well, that’s where the much critiqued rating systems come in to play. The marketing power of a perfect score, though, is undeniable.

Regardless if you agree or not, or would just rather not even worry about such often banal matters, it was pretty darn cool that Cardinale presented such as well-organized and classy tasting. From what I could recall there was no crying, no spilt wine or blood, and almost no shouting whatsoever.

Toast of the Town

Ah, yes, food and wine. Life’s most pleasurable combination – aside from Angelina… oh, never mind that. This year seemed just as energetic as in 2009 when it was also held in the stately, gorgeous War Memorial Opera House. It’s a clever venue for Wine Enthusiast to use. The wide hallways, soaring archways, and architectural details make it as significant as the very food and wine we’re all there to enjoy.

I know, I know. Up front, yes I agree: These types of events are not ideal for wine tasting. Too much hustle and bustle. Not enough room or even a flat surface around to take notes. Still, you get a lot of variety, and lot of pours under one roof. Tasting for me needs to be more Zen-like, with hushed environment. Not sure why, it’s not that I listen to the wine. But I need to focus.

So when I go to these types of events (same as Pebble Beach Food & Wine which was great) I forgo the notion of serious tastings, and instead enjoy the atmosphere and ability to taste lots with paired foods, which is always an interesting experience.

This year we met up with Sybil Strum, of the dynamic husband/wife co-founding team. We have the video highlights coming soon (damn, LucasArts is slow sometimes). For them, I’m sure the event is a symbolic achievement, and a reminder of the social power of what they do. And while the event is hosted across the US, what could be better than San Francisco, under the shimmering lights of the Opera House in April?!

Taste of Mendocino

Here’s an example of a successful, smaller event organized around a specific wine region. In this case, Mendocino County (“America’s Greenest Wine Region”), of Pacific Ocean breezes and soaring Redwoods fame.

As if channeling some of those northerly picturesque vibes, the event was held in the cozy quarters at the Golden Gate Club on the equally beautiful grounds of the Presidio. No, I did not see Sean Connery or Mark Harmon. But I did enjoy the floor-to-ceiling windows set against the trees and blustery winds. Rain and wine were pouring on this foggy, inclement day. Not that I minded. The poor weather created an intimacy that had the room buzzing with conversation and animated storytelling. Oh, the stories!

I always check out the mix of media, looking for familiar faces; magazine, newspaper, blogs or otherwise. As always the case, there were many. A world that at times can seem so big, is actually fairly small when you start hitting the wine event and media circuit.

58 wineries participated, and with only a three-hour window there was a lot of ground to cover. Fortunately the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission had wineries organized alphabetically and provided tasting booklets with all the necessary details.

I liked a lot of these wines. And almost all are small, family run operations with most producing under 1,000 cases. Often you’ll find gems, tasty wines with lots of character that bely their low price point. Here are a few highlights from my notes:

2005 Albertina Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($25/758 cases) – my first stop. The proprietor looked like Geppetto. And I think he was pouring like mad, what with the drops and red wine stains on the label. Structure as they say, solid. Note that I love tannins, so others may run. Bold, cherry with that all important hint of vanilla. A nice Cab.

2007 Le Vin Winery & Vineyards Cabernet Franc ($40/56 cases) – see what I mean about low production numbers? All told, just under 400 cases are produced of the five wines the husband wife team were pouring. This Cab Franc was a good example of a hot little number. It feels less processed, more raw compared to commercial offerings. Some will like that, some won’t. It works for me. It give the wine some character, and differentiates it. New flavors come to the fore.

This was one was so new that owner Eric Levin told me his wife hadn’t had time to make a label for it. He pointed to the adjacent table (Lolonis Winery), “She won’t make my wine a label, but she’ll make one for them!” Ah yes, the joys of running a business with your spouse. Tell me about it, mon ami.

2006 Terra Savia Blanc de Blancs ($25/300 cases) – I was skeptical at first. I really, really don’t like sweet wines, ports. Sparkling can be hit and miss. Thanfully this was a hit. Winemaker Jim Milone was right, this is a clean, dry sparkling wine. After 34 years, he probably does know a thing or two, eh. Very enjoyable. It cleansed my palette of some of the big reds I had been sampling. Made from 100% Chardonnay.

2004 Rosati Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon ($28/1,000 cases) – Proprietor Danelle Rosati was pouring up a storm. The busy aisle was hard to navigate. Or maybe I was balancing too much with my notes, wine glass, and Moto Droid. It was worth the effort. This Cab has that woodsy feel to it that sends my taste buds soaring to la la land. Add to it some herbs, some black fruit. And, of course, tannins and long finish, and you have a winner.

Again, a this price point you can see why Mendocino can offer some veritable bargains compared to its famous southern neighbors.

Also, Parducci Wine Cellars was on hand to showcase five wines. My pick is their ’06 True Grit Petite Sirah. I’ve previously written about their ’05 which I really enjoyed. Rivino impressed with their ’08 Chardonnay. Their notes emphatically state, “This is not a heavily oaked, buttery, yellow wine…” And they be right. It was indeed crisp and clean, just how I like it.

Scarecrow Unboxing

For some reason I’m stacking four articles in one here. Bear with me, perhaps I’m rambling. But I just couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of Loni’s excitement in receiving three bottles of wine that we’ll probably never drink. That Loni even looked inside the box was a momentous occasion. Normally, they go immediately from delivery into the dark recesses of the wine cellar like an ancient treasure chest.

I knew something was up last night.

Loni came prancing down the hall as if Brad Pitt had just dropped in for a visit. She skips with excitement, I think this is the Scarecrow!

Excuse my Fred Flintsone-like droll, but it might as well have been three lumps of coal, and a dinosaur bone. They’d end up in the same place: some long-forgotten, dark place never to be seen again by humanity. Yes, hats off to the insane collectors. I, for one, prefer to salute the insane drinkers. Well, to each their own.

And for the first time in recorded web history (or possibly not) I present the ’06 Scarecrow Cabernet unboxing.

+1 for velvet rope, wait list marketing.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear