Editor’s note: “Through the Grapevine” is a bi-weekly wine review where I discuss all things on the topic of different affordable wines.
“Bold. Sophisticated. With a hint of Gnarly.”
This in of itself could be a review of Gnarly Head’s delicious 2013 cabernet sauvignon, but I could go on for pages about how much I adore this wine. I’ll spare you the extended play, however.
Purchasing this wine prior to Halloween, I figured I would go for a red. And after my recent fiasco with Villa Pozzi’s pinot grigio almost turned me off from wine indefinitely, I needed to treat myself. You know what they say.
And treat myself I did.
I was told by a good friend to sample Gnarly Head’s merlot, but when the wine aisle was courteous enough to list that the brand’s 2012 cabernet sauvignon received a score of 91 in the 2014 Ultimate Wine Challenge — earning a high recommendation among some of the world’s finest red wines — I couldn’t not invest $7.99 to find out for myself if it were worthy of such praise.
And, like a true friend, the wine aisle didn’t steer me wrong. Simply put, this wine is a winner.
Upon opening the bottle, my “Thirsty Thursday” turned into a “Throwback Thursday” when strong aromas of black cherry, raisins and soft spice brought me back to my day of luxury touring California’s Napa Valley wineries in March. There, I sampled cabernet sauvignon from some of the best wineries in Napa’s Stag’s Leap District. I distinctly remember the inviting aroma of the wine when the slightly intoxicated tasting expert poured cabernet sauvignon into my glass — rich, spicy and fruit-forward. Gnarly Head’s cab offers the same, warm aroma, minus the drunk sommelier.
But enough about the aroma. The real question is: How does it taste?
The answer is good. Very, very good.
Immediately, a burst of fresh berries hits the palate in an explosion of flavor. A subtle, buttery quality coats the throat. Once the berries pass, a wash of spices, smoke and understated tannins prepare the drinker for another sip.
The wine’s label lists the tasting notes as those of black currants, dried cranberries, soft pepper, clove and toasted oak.
I did pick up on the spice, but didn’t notice pepper. Instead, a rich nuttiness cut through the fruit, reminiscent of nutmeg, and just enough to lend a little curiosity to my experience. After reading the bottle’s description, cranberry makes sense — slightly sour but with a resounding sweetness — and the black currants are attributable to my initial notice of raisin. According to the company’s website, once the grapes for this wine are fermented, a portion of the wine is aged in American and French oakwood, while the rest ages in stainless steel. Aging in stainless preserves the fruity essence while oak lends spicy qualities.
Most notable about this wine (and my only critique) is that it’s smoother than many other cabernets I’ve tried. Most cabernets offer a brash tannin, something I actually came to appreciate in my time in California. The “solid tannins,” as they are described by the winemaker, are not as solid as I expected. I mentioned before that I sampled cabernet in Napa. This wine’s namesake grape is grown in Lodi, Calif., in the Sacramento Valley. I’m not the best authority on soils — I write a wine column for a newspaper, after all — but it’s entirely likely soil composition is the reason. This aside, although this wine is incredibly smooth, it leaves just enough of a bite to remind you that, no, it’s not grape juice and you should probably slow down.
Or don’t. A wine this good deserves to be consumed, and with the weather becoming colder by the day, this wine is perfect for late autumn and early winter. I imagine drinking it mulled with oranges and winter spices, sitting by my family’s electric “fireplace” and plastic Christmas “tree,” watching the cats fight each other and my mother fall asleep in her chair.
In every regard, this wine just reminds me of home. There’s no place like home.
Gnarly Head suggests you pair its cabernet sauvignon with marinated tri-tip, slow-cooked pot roast, strong cheeses or meat lasagna; I can’t eat cheese or gluten, so I say pair it with a large, empty glass.
Gnarly Head cabernet sauvignon can be found at most supermarkets including Hannaford in Old Town, at $7.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle. If you haven’t purchased it yet, it is recommended you do.