Tastings: Latest 'Chairman' picks combine price, quality
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Two legendary Californian Cabernet Sauvignons are among a wide range of bargains headed for state Liquor Control Board store shelves around Pittsburgh this month. The latest shipment arrives under the Chairman's Selection program, now in its eighth year.
The PLCB takes advantage of its impressive buying power to offer prices that are typically 40 percent below the nationally quoted prices. These wines are available in limited quantities while supplies last.
Those top-rated West Coast Cabs are the 2000 Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard ($34.99) and the 2007 Etude Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99), which are described at the end of this story.
When the program began, the wines were selected by then-Chairman Jonathan Newman and a committee of wine buyers from Harrisburg. When Mr. Newman left the agency, Liza Gallia took over the buying duties.
Since 2009, Steve Pollack, a 25-year veteran of the liquor control agency, has selected these wines. He said he developed a passion for wine while managing a store in Lackawanna County where he educated himself at the public library. He is now the sole buyer for the Chairman's Selection program.
His January purchase of 150,000 cases of 123 labels is arriving in stores here this month. Last week I attended a tasting of 40 of them and below are the ones I found most appealing. The wines arrive in different stores at different times so all of them might not be on the shelves in your particular store but they are en route. Your store manager can check his computer to tell you when to expect them.
• Roc de Chateauvieux Muscadet, 2009, Loire Valley, France -- PLCB No. 2470, $7.99
Don't be put off by the age on this Muscadet. It is perfectly fresh and lively. and is the favorite wine to accompany shellfish. Expect light body, juicy citrus flavors with mineral undertones.
• Percheron Chenin Blanc/Viognier, 2011, South Africa -- PLCB No. 32475, $7.99
Although this wine did not arrive in time for the tasting I am including it because I am a big fan of South African Chenin Blanc and will definitely be buying some. I will expect a crisp, lemony flavor with a creamy texture and long finish.
• Kamiak Windust White, 2010, Columbia Valley, Wash. -- PLCB No. 32498, $7.99
A blend of chardonnay (55 percent), Sauvignon Blanc (44 percent) and Gewurztraminer (1 percent), this bottle is another good house wine choice for warm weather. It is toasty and round and has substantial body. You will find ripe apple and pineapple aromas and a lingering finish.
• Monti Giodo del Carmine Pecorino, 2010, Abruzzo, Italy -- PLCB No. 32469, $12.99
I include this wine as an ABC (anything but chardonnay) opportunity. The Pecorino grape variety was thought to be extinct until recently and for the viticulturally curious is worth a taste. Light in body, with good acidity and no oak, it smells of tropical fruits and spices.
• Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Robert Young Vineyard, 2009, Alexander Valley, Calif. -- PLCB No. 24124, $14.99
Neither overly oaked nor buttery, this is a beautifully balanced chardonnay with aromas of honeyed apple and pear layered over a base of citrus.
• Vina Eguia Reserva, 2007, Rioja, Spain -- PLCB No. 32479, $9.99
Aged in French and American oak barrels for 24 months and in the bottle another 24 months, this finely balanced, 100 percent Tempranillo is an impressive blend of mature red fruit, spice and herbs with undertones of leather and earth. It is well structured and ready to drink.
• The Lucky Country Shiraz, 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia -- PLCB No. 39106, $9.99
A full and well-rounded wine with lush aromas of blackberries, licorice, black pepper and chocolate.
• Henry's Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz, 2008, Australia -- PLCB No. 32481, $14.99
You have to love the Australian humor in some wine names! Funny name or not, this is an impressive bottle of Shiraz with intense plum, dark berry and chocolate aromas. The palate offers some leathery notes blended with the usual Shiraz spiciness. It is rich and chewy while at the same time elegant and lengthy. It was aged 15 months in oak.
• Percheron Old Vine Cinsault, 2011, South Africa -- PLCB No. 32474, $9.99
Like the Percheron Chenin Blanc/Viognier, this bottle did not arrive in time for the tasting. I include it here because I think it merits a try for its uniqueness. Don't miss the chance to taste 65-year-old vine Cinsault.
• Jean Leon Reserva Cabernet, 2003, Penedes, Spain -- PLCB No. 32465, $12.99
A blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon and 15 percent cabernet franc, this wine is aged in oak casks for two years and then two more in bottle before release. It is well structured and balanced with toasty, smoky fruit and nut aromas backed by herbal notes.
• Torres Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 Penedes, Spain -- PLCB No. 32466, $11.99
This is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet and 15 percent Tempranillo aged for 12 months in oak. It has produced a wine with bright fruit aromas and soft tannins which is drinkable now and can be cellared for another five years.
2007 was a memorable vintage for California Cabernet Sauvignon and there are several of them in the new Chairman's release but my favorite, and in fact, in my opinion, the best wine we tasted that day was:
• Etude Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, Napa, Calif. -- PLCB No. 36737, $49.99
Yes, it's pricey but if you ever splurge on a bottle, this should be it. Dense and round, complex and elegant, this is California Cab at its best. Aged for 24 months in French oak barrels, there were only 2,656 cases made. Buy a bottle now and save it for a special occasion.
• Adeline Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, Howell Mountain, Calif. -- PLCB No. 32508, $19.99
A more affordable but very appealing 2007 Cabernet is this bottle from Howell Mountain 1,500 feet above the Napa Valley. This Cabernet was aged for 20 months in French oak. It smells of ripe figs and rich earth and has a lovely, velvety mouthfeel.
• Heitz Cellar Trailside Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, Napa Valley, Calif. -- PLCB No. 32456, $34.99
2000 was not a great vintage year in Napa. Marketing was difficult even at the wineries, which came through that year with good results. That is no doubt why the Chairman's Selection program is able to offer this legendary bottle, with more than a decade of bottle age, for less than half the original price. This is an opportunity to taste a well-made California Cabernet at its peak. Heitz is America's equivalent of a grand cru wine.
First Published April 19, 2012 12:00 am