Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cakebread and Far Niente; tasting cult wines.

The other day, I found myself in one of my local enomatic bars with about an hour to kill, and decided to do some tasting.  This particular bar has a good selection of upper-end Californian wines, and (it being Florida in the beginning of the summer, ergo hot), therefore, I decided to taste the whites.

First on the block was Cakebread Cellars 2007 Chardonnay.  This is, if you don't know, a cult-classic chard that is quite hard to get a hold of at retail (Cakebread allocates their wines, slanting heavily towards the restaurant market -- and the wine bar can get a large allocation, since they're an on-premises license holder, hence a "restaurant" so far as the winery is concerned).  My thoughts:

Yellow-gold in the glass.  Highly oaky nose, not showing a bunch of fruit.  In the mouth, the oak dominates, showing some vanilla, with a creamy mouthfeel.  There is amazingly little fruit in this wine; it tastes like chewing on a toothpick.  The oak astringency throws the balance out of whack, but the finish is long.  I can see why people hunt for this wine -- it's rarity, primarily, drives demand -- but it's a big pass for me.  87 points.

So, you can see, this is -- to my eyes, at least -- a demand-driven cult wine.  It's good, if you like oak, but the main reason people seek it out is it's rarity, not it's flavor (well... unless you love tasting barrel rather than wine).  I was actually quite surprised how much I didn't like this wine -- as much as it's hyped, it was downright disappointing.  This wine is a poor value, period.

Then, there was the other wine I tried -- well, the other Chardonnay, at least.  Far Niente Chardonnay 2006 (note: pictured is the 2005, although it's hard to see the neck label).  Far Niente is a luxe producer from Napa, a product of the Nickel and Nickel partnership.  They're best known for making exactly two wines -- a Chardonnay and a Cabernet.  No "reserve," no "special selection," and that's it.  According to their website, "[we produce wine of] the highest quality possible from our estate vineyards; if the wine doesn't meet expectations, it doesn't make the final blend."  So how is their Chardonnay?

Golden in the glass.  On the nose, the wine shows buttered fig and some pear notes; this may not have gone through intentional malolactic fermentation, but there's definitely some cream evident.  In the mouth, the wine is luxuriantly rich, with well-controlled oak underlying the fruit and buttercream.  This is deep, intense wine.  Balance is nearly perfect; just enough acidity to keep it interesting, enough weight to be intense.  Finish is quite long.  90 points.

So, there, you can see the difference.  For me, at least, the controlled use of oak in the Far Niente made it a much better wine than the Cakebread.  And I can understand why this wine is so sought-after; the flavor, not the rarity (Far Niente may allocate, but it's not nearly as slanted towards restaurants as Cakebread is.  So you can, you know, actually buy some in a wine shop!).

And the upshot?  Both these wines are quite expensive (in the $50-$60 range).  In both cases, it's really mainly conspicuous consumption, drinking either.  Heck, my tasting pours cost $7 each.  Is it worth it?  For the Cakebread, definitely no -- if I wanted Chardonnay with all oak and no fruit, I'd drink some Simi Alexander Valley.  For the Far Niente... perhaps.  There's a lot of good Chardonnay out there, but this one is quite good, and their reputation for consistency is excellent.  That being said... it's twice the price of one of my favorites (more on that wine later).  But if I were trying to impress, both with the label and the wine?  Yep.

No comments:

Post a Comment