A tale of two valleys

I know I’m not the first to use the phrase, but tonight’s wine was really about a tale of two valleys. In the middle, the Mayacamas mountains. To the East, prestigious Napa Valley – home to the first wine grapes in Northern California, though that has been disputed for as long as there have been grapes here. To the West, Sonoma Valley. Not quite as prestigious, but a valley that can produce some wines that will rival the best in Napa Valley (at usually a lower cost). Which is better? We shall see.

The wines….

On the left – 2003 Spring Mountain Estate Cabernet. A blend of 76% Cabernet, 20% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. All Bordeaux grape varietals and they come together quite nice.

On the right – Arrowood Winery‘s 2003 Cabernet from Monte Rosso Vineyard. 100% Cabernet from a west-facing hillside in Sonoma Valley.

Okay. Two wines. Both Cabernet. Both from very good producers. What’s the difference?

Vineyard: For starters, Sonoma is known for a slightly cooler climate than Napa, generally giving the grapes a longer hang time. However, in this case, Spring Mountain is an East facing site in Napa meaning that the intense afternoon sun is not directly on their vineyards. This also allows for a longer growing season. So, both vineyards will have good hang time. Soils are different for sure, but that’s part of what makes a wine unique.

Oak: The Spring Mountain received 50% new oak barrels with the rest falling between 2-year-old and 4-year-old French oak barrels. The Arrowood received 80% French oak (about 30% new) and 20% American oak (mostly two and three years old. Will there be a difference? Sure. American oak (rougher grained) is known for imparting more oakey characteristics like toast, vanilla, licorice and chocolate. French oak (tighter grained) tends to be more subtle in imparting flavors. Although, a large percentage of new oak, no matter where it’s from, will impart lots of oak tones. My opinion on these wines is that the oak is very well-integrated into the fruit profile lending to more nuance than overwhelming flavors.

Age: How old the wine is will definitely effect it’s aromas and flavors. Both of these are 2003 vintage. So it is an equal comparison. 2003 was known for its elegance and softness, even for “big” wines like Cabernet.

Blend: The blending in of Merlot (to soften) and Petit Verdot (for color mostly) changes the presence and flavor of the Spring Mountain wine. The 100% Cabernet of the Arrowood wine lends itself to having a bolder presence, both on the nose and in the mouth for sure.

But do all these things make a wine better?

As usual, for me, it depends what’s on the plate in front of me….

Tonight’s cuisine: Pesto pasta with grated parmesan, Pale Ale and Orange marinated (and grilled) flank steak topped with marinated (same one as the steak) carmelized onions and fresh salad greens with heirloom tomatoes and an orange balsamic dressing. Yum!

So, which wine worked the best? I really liked the Spring Mountain with dinner. It just had a nice combination of fruit and spice that paired very well with the meal. The Arrowood Cab was a little too powerful for this particular meal. However, when sitting in my leather chair after the meal (that would be right now), the Arrowood really shines. Maybe it just pairs well with a glass!

The final verdict? I like them both. Go figure. It comes down to palate preference, I’m sure, but both wines were stunning. They had great smells and flavors, mouth coating textures and long finishes. They were different, for sure, but different does not equal better (or worse). I think you should have your own comparison and see what you come up with.


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