Selections for August 2016

A Rare Trip South

2013 SEXTANT ‘Kamal’ CABERNET SAUVIGNON – El Pomar AVA, Paso Robles

Like all wines this one started with vines, but Sextant is an elaboration on that reality.  Cal Poly graduate and Sextant proprietor Craig Stoller is also the CEO of Sunridge Nurseries, providing quality grapevines to vineyards throughout the state.  Sunridge was founded by Craig’s father Glen long before the idea of starting a winery was hatched.  I think that’s pretty cool:  There’s something enabling and appropriate about first knowing how to handle a wine’s source, the vine, before tackling the final product.

Ten years ago we might not have shown your club a Paso Robles Cabernet.  With rare exceptions (Justin, sometimes) most reds from there showed little restraint or framework.  Blatant, often raisiny fruit betrayed the high alcohols inherent in the wines from this warmer region.  Now, though, Paso has moved beyond its awkward puberty via the arrival of better-trained winemakers plus funding from a new wave of savvy proprietors appreciating the potential of better vineyards and facilities.  Add to these positive trends Sextant’s more unique viticultural know-how and you have a high likelihood of a much-improved Paso Robles product.  Yes, it’s still hot down there.  Yes, this wine sports a place-honest 15.2% alcohol reading.  What’s different and new is a sense of structure justifying the ample fruit, and the prevention of the pruney flavors of Paso’s wine past.  A fitting indication of this place’s improved winegrowing/winemaking perspective is the United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s 2014 approval of no fewer than 11 sub-appellations of the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (El Pomar is one).  Paso Robles, it seems, gives a damn these days.  

Here is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec, 7% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc – all the significant Bordeaux varieties – combining to provide fruitful significance.  A fresh chocolate earthiness greets the nose, joined by plummy fruit.  The mouth is rich and opulent AND (here’s the New Paso Robles Difference) tannins also participate.  That quality of “resistance” keeps your mouth happily restless, and you can soothe this anxiety by incorporating protein.  Aged cheeses such as our excellent Saenkanter Gouda will happily help, when ribeye steak is not on hand!

Simple, at first glance


Here is 94.5% Cabernet Sauvignon darkened up with a 5.5% dab of Petit Verdot.  

It’s too easy to be satisfied with that simple description but we should know more, appreciate a grower/producer’s obsession with the details.  For instance, within that generalization of “Cabernet Sauvignon,” three different clones are employed here, each with a different tweak on the varietal voice.  Seven different vineyard blocks contribute:  While the Stuhlmuller estate is one contiguous site, there are significant variations in the dirt and topography.  Soil types ranging from alluvial gravel to hillside rock and clay are at play.  Even the “Alexander Valley” appellation deserves elaboration, as Stuhlmuller is situated at its cooler, southern edge converging on both Chalk Hill and the Russian River Valley.

It’s important to care about all this, because each feature has a hand in the success and complexity of this wine.  It’s also useful to compare this Stuhlmuller with another 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet recently brought to your club:  Stonestreet.  That wine was tinted a bit darker; grumbling with more brooding scents and growling with a more dense and chewy palate attack.  This wine sports more lift and zest in the nose, where lively black raspberries are joined by an airy camphor-like perfume.  The mouth is more lithe than Stonestreet’s, where cherry vividity and licorice intrigue lead to a snappy grip in the finish.  How can two “Alexander Valley” Cabernets vary so?  One, the Stonestreet, hails from the mountains high above the valley, while Stuhlmuller Vineyard lies mainly on the valley floor.

Attention to detail and the appreciation of DIFFERENCE is the fortunate wine lover’s prerogative! 

Drink now with a rare steak, later (up to eight years?) with more “developed” (braised or roasted) meats.