I went to two parties in a row held by other parents at my son’s school—a gauntlet of Pinot Grigio. I would gladly have rather settled for a beer, but none was forthcoming. By the time I got home, I was in a state, I needed a red wine desperately. Also, I had a duck breast ready, marinated in a hoisin-ginger-garlic sauce all day; grilled, it would char a bit. No wimpy wine here, for sure, but not too dry either, certainly not oaky.
Rummaging around, I found a Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon “Cinq Cepages” 2001, labelled as from SonomaCounty. So, the five classic grapes of Bordeaux, from different vineyards around the county. Fine. Ten years old, I thought, just right. And indeed it was, classic California Cabernet flavors predominating, classic Sonoma too, slightly less austere than most of Napa, cassis, all the right markers. It was a perfect partner for the duck too, matching it step for step all the way through, vibrant, never flagging.
It’s where California can have the edge, if they’ll lay off the hang time and oak and extended maceration. Not only for the quality of the fruit, the way the ripeness shines through, but also the degree of fruitiness that will always be different from Bordeaux’s, and that will always be superior with most food—certainly there, but not too much, a touch that illuminates the wine. It’s become harder to find, but it’s a joy when you do.