Saturday, November 3, 2012

Familiarity and Expectation

What do they say about familiarity?  It breeds contempt, right?  Or perhaps more accurately in the wine business, complacency.  Last night at our weekly tasting we had four Cabernets priced from $12.99 to $24.99.  All were good wines and three of the four were brands I have sold for thirty years, so going into the event I assumed that the new highly recommended one would outshow the old standbys.  That was my expectation but you know what they say about assumptions.  That wine turned out to be the least of the four and of the other three, the little $12.99 Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, overperformed its station by far.  Maybe it's not a $30 value, but if you want to taste textbook Cabernet, try this one.

When I think of Cabernet, I think of structure first.  I want a wine with shoulders that tastes like it has intention and demeanor.  This one had fourteen months in oak, imparting both the boldness (shoulders) and earthiness (spice, tobacco) that goes a long way toward conveying the kind of attitude I'm talking about.  Also when talking about Cabernet, complex fruit flavors are prerequisite and this one was brimming with cherries, berries, and plums, and I mean more than one type of each.  This one's fruity nature makes it a nice cocktail for cab lovers but its structure and balance makes it more than just another fruit bomb.  Needless to say, as a red meat accompaniment, it'll do just fine.

Wente, by the way, is the oldest California winery by most acceptable measurements.  Charles Wetmore planted his Bordeaux cuttings in Livermore Valley a hundred thirty years ago.  Today UC Davis calls those cuttings Cabernet Clones #7 and #8 and those berries seem quite content residing in the four hundred acre Wente Cabernet vineyard in Livermore.  Five generations of Wentes have farmed their still family-owned estate elevating it to top thirty American wine company status.  Not bad for a family-owned enterprise.

Familiarity in cheese appreciation can be problematic too.  For the past month we have been selling Austrian Moosbacher Swiss, which when first cut into seemed to be just another Swiss, so lacking in distinction it could even be domestic.  Because the cost was reasonable and the flavors moderate, we served it repeatedly at tastings and I gradually took a liking to the cheese.  When I finally realized that the annoying familiarity I felt with Moosbacher had to do with mediocre Baby Swiss, I was able to get past the bias and give the cheese a real chance.  It doesn't hurt that our cheeses tend to sit out on the cutting table for elongated periods warming to just the right temperature. 

Moosbacher seems to be a combination of Emmentaler and Gouda and to a lesser extent, Appenzeller, and Gruyere.  As a Swiss it is smooth, semi-firm, nutty, sweet and fruity, and creamy in the mouth.  Moosbacher comes in an eighteen pound burlap wrapped wheel.  It is a cow's milk cheese and as I'm writing this, I'm wondering if it may have improved in the deli over the past month.  Stranger things have happened in this strange wine and cheese business and familiarity has a role to play in all of it.  In this case though, my expectations were limited and  it was the cheese that improved on me!

As always Friday is tasting night here at the store so join us on the 9th when we will taste a French Pinot Noir, Italian Montepulciano, more California Cabernets, and I don't know what else but it'll be fun.  Nouveau Beaujolais day is the 15th so get those orders in as well as the holiday gift basket orders and do you want to know who introduced the Chardonnay grape to California?  Wente, naturally.

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