“ 1997, Mid plum colour with vibrant black tints. Sweet oak and spice on the nose with soft, cedary and mouth-filling fruit. Easy-drinking. „
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I recently thought I would carry out a small series of reviews of wines which have impressed me over the years. In my time I have tried all manner of wines - red, white, French, New World, vintage, non vintage - and a few have left a lasting impression; an impression strong enough to tempt me to try again. Even fewer have lingered long enough to persuade me to buy a few bottles to keep in my store. Those that have form the basis of these reviews. These wines do share a common theme. They are medium priced, reasonably easily available, can be found gracing the wine list of a range of restaurants, red and are dependable across time and space. The bottom line is that when I order a bottle when out for a meal or when choosing an accompaniment for the Sunday roast there is a very good chance I will not be disappointed with my wine. THE WINE We are off to the New World today - America in fact. California now produces 90% of the wine output of the United States. There are many fine wineries (some boasting produce that will compete with the best in the world - both in terms of quality and price) in the state, ranged along its Pacific coast. The Fetzer vineyard is to be found in Mendocino County, the most northerly part of this wine producing region. Protected from the coastal fogs by a range of hills, the McDowell valley tends to be warm and dry. Huge acres of vines are planted along the banks of the Russian River. Many varieties of wine grape are grown in California. 'Valley Oaks' is a single varietal. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a small late-ripening dark blue/black berry with a thick skin. It is the fundamental ingredient of the French Bordeaux but its temperamental nature often requires it to be blended with other varieties such as the Merlot. When ripe its juice has an intense colour and flavour with rich tannins - all of which favour long periods of aging in wooden barrels. THE VINTNER The Fetzer vine
yards developed out of the Sundial Ranch in the town of Hopland, Mendocino. Originally a major producer of livestock, poultry and pears these gave way to grapes in the early 1980s. Expansion saw the purchase of the adjacent Valley Oaks ranch which came with an organic garden. This prompted the spread of organic growths and production methods (they do not use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers) throughout the vineyards. This Cabernet wine is named in honour of that ranch. The company was bought out by the Brown-Forman Corporation in 1992. This conglomerate also owns Jack Daniels Bourbon, Southern Comfort, Lenox china and Hartmann luggage as well as a number of wineries. (The title of this review is taken from an article in the Business section of the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky which describes the Company's development plans though to 2010) THE LABEL The wine is housed in a dark green bottle. It is closed with a cork bearing vine leaves and the Fetzer name along its edge. The free edge of the cork is then sealed with a layer of hard wax (rather than the usual metal capsule). The neck bears a label announcing the Fetzer name in gold lettering on a maroon background. The main label is a two part die-cut affair which declares the contents as 'Valley Oaks' Cabernet Sauvignon, Fetzer Vineyards, California along with its vintage. The top outline of the lower half suggests a hillside. There is a small graphic of an old oak tree. The rear label notes that it has been aged in barrels of American or French oak, made on site in their own cooperage. It is produced to a 13% ABV. The vintage under scrutiny is 1998. I have also tasted samples from 1996 and 1999. THE DRINK The usual advice is to store red wines in their bottles horizontally if they are to be kept for any length of time. This keeps the cork moist and expanded reduces the possibility of air entry. It is also recommended
that red wine should be opened and poured gently into a decanter an hour or two prior to serving. This allows the wine to "breathe" and develop its flavour. It also allows the separation of any sediment from the bottom of the bottle. 'Valley Oaks' has a gentle, pleasing aroma. It is vinous with plenty of black fruit (cherries, blackberries and blackcurrant) and plummy jam. It also has a distinct hint of the taste of the black Rowntree fruit gum. There is only a very subtle hint of oak in this bottle. The wine poured a dark ruby red (deep claret) which was clear when examined against a strong light. There was a small amount of thin sediment left behind in the bottle. I left it for couple of hours in a decanter to reach room temperature and then poured it into a large glass goblet. 'Valley Oaks' is a full flavoured, full bodied red wine. The first taste is relatively dry (but not toe-curlingly so). It is generously fruity and is smooth and well balanced. There is a very mild oak cast with quite a lot of tannin (but not tongue-shrivellingly harsh). Its flavours linger pleasantly on the palate after swallowing. Tightly corked or kept cool in a stoppered decanter this wine will be just as delicious the next day. The vintner suggests serving 'Valley Oaks' with grilled meat, chicken or pasta. I can vouch for this advice. I served it with a home made "lasagne" (which substituted slices of grilled aubergine in place of the pasta) which was strongly flavoured with fresh herbs. It stayed the course very happily. Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon is a label that I have enjoyed over the years and have marvelled at its reliability and unvarying taste from year to year. This is a full bodied, quite dry red that I can readily recommend. AVAILABILITY: Fetzer 'Valley Oaks' Cabernet Sauvignon vintage 1998 750ml bottle Sainsbury supermarkets: £ 7.03 Internet orders: L
athwaites or Oddbins (they often have offers of up to £1.50 a bottle discount when bought in multiples or by the case. The 2001 vintage is appearing on the shelves now) I have also bought bottles at branches of Publix on vacation in Naples, Florida. I have been served this wine (by the bottle and by the glass) at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Tampa.
1997, Mid plum colour with vibrant black tints. Sweet oak and spice on the nose with soft, cedary and mouth-filling fruit. Easy-drinking.