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A Tale of Two Cabs   Leave a comment

Which of the following two Cabs would you like to drink?

 Wine #1: Dry, dustily tannic and somewhat closed down, this Cabernet clearly wants some time in the cellar. It has rich, juicy blackberry and cherry flavors, but the tannins and acidity close in fast, locking them down and making the wine astringent and tart. Give it a few years, or decant if you’re opening it now.

Wine #2: The fragrant bouquet of blueberries and flowers is followed by admirable complexity, sweet tannins, a medium to full-bodied, graceful mouthfeel and no hard edges. Drink this outstanding * * * Cabernet over the next 15+ years.

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USAPretty simple decision, huh?  Wine #2, is the hands down winner, right?  But for the price of a single $34 bottle you can have them both, for they are the same wine:  Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.

A quick word about the 2007 vintage.  This appears to be an excellent one according to the established wine-press– 94-97 points per the Wine Spectator, 95 points per the Wine Enthusiast and 96 Points according to the Wine Advocate.   So expectations for this wine should be pretty high.  And at $34 that would seem justified.

Two reviewers.  Same Wine.  Two different experiences.  In fact Reviewer #1 had what I would call a pretty unpleasant experience.  Aside from the disparate reviews, what I find puzzling is Reviewer #1’s generous rating:  90 Points.  How can an astringent, tart and closed down wine be a 90-pointer?  Is he rewarding the wine for what it will become?  Perhaps, but how can he know for sure?  Is he rewarding the Frank Family for past performance?  I hope not.  

Some comparative observations drawn from these two reviews are worth calling out:

Nose: Reviewer #1 got hung up on the wine being closed down while the other got a “bouquet of blueberries and flowers”.  Off the bat, it seems like two different wines.

Fruit: Reviewer #1 got “juicy blackberry and cherry flavors” while Reviewer #2, despite talk of that “bouquet of blueberries” did not really give us much information on this point.   This seems like an odd omission.

Tannins: “sweet tannins” vs. “dustily tannic”– one pleasant and one, not so much. 

Acidity: Reviewer #1 seems overwhelmed by acidity, while Reviewer #2 noticed “no hard edges”.  

Mouth Feel: “astringent and tart” vs. “graceful mouthfeel”. 

These two reviews emphasize what a personal experience wine really is and so any attempt to reconcile them is futile.  But it might also indicate that there may have been some bottle variation or worse, depending on where it was tasted, perhaps damage in transport. 

Assuming no bottle variation and no damage to the wine, what are we consumers to do, given such contradictory information? It is best to remember that reviews are merely opinions, not scientific fact, despite the scientific exactitude implied by that 100 point scale.  As with all things that one experiences through the senses– be it Painting, Food, Sculpture, Wine and even Lovers– notions of Beauty are intimately personal.  Let us then make this totally personal.  We shall taste and make up our own minds. 

We shared a bottle of the Frank Family cab amongst 4 of us during a picnic supper of charcuterie, cheese and marinated Lomo Saltado (that’s right we recycled the Independence Day fare) Steak Sandwiches on crispy baguettes with a garlic-paprika-mustard-aioli prior to the outdoor performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  

Now we’re not professional reviewers, but we know what we like and what we do not.  Generally, whenever I see wine reviews that take such different views of the same wine, I tend to generally agree with the lesser review.  Whether that’s a coincidence or just the way my brain is wired, I can’t say.  But merrily, not tonight, as the more flattering review prevailed.   Here is my take:

Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007.  The wine was indeed closed, but only in the beginning.  Then it blossomed and gave us a pretty nice experience: By turns, notes of cassis and eucalyptus mixed with just a hint of vanilla on the nose.  Dark fruit and cherries on the palate.  The tannins were soft and sweet.  And a touch of acidity on the back-end polished it off.  It kept evolving down to the last drop.  I found it to be a pretty well-balanced wine– and my experience to be closer to Reviewer #2.  Rated ***

So who does #2 work for?  He works for us.

OK, maybe we like to think that, but not really– in fact, he may be the Number 1 of the wine world (you know who I mean).  

The identities of the two professional reviewers?

Reviewer # 1 Wine Enthusiast Score: 90. —Steve Heimoff, April 01, 2011. 
Reviewer #2: Wine Advocate  Score: 93. —Robert Parker, December 2010.
Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007But just to compare this to a Napa peer, my buddy brought along another 2007 Napa wine from a favorite and fabled producer:  the Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (2007).  By comparison to the Frank Family Cabernet, this one did seem closed off.  A good wine with solid fruit and more chewy tannins but lacking the complexity of the Frank.  Perhaps with another few years in the bottle this wine will overtake the Frank Family Napa Cab.  But not tonight.  Rated **1/2

Posted July 7, 2011 by Sybarite Sauvage in A Tale of Two...