Tasting Notes: Josh Cellars Family Reserve Cabernet

It may be 2018, but I am still working through Total Wine's Top 20 of 2017, slowly but surely. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am always intrigued to try Cabernets at a more value price. Cabernet is such a popular (the most popular?) wine varietal, so I like to have a tasty, but affordable, option available for guests, and now readers!

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The Facts

  • Producer: Josh Cellars by Joseph Carr
  • Region: North Coast, California
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $16.99

First, let me share with you what the bottle description says. I always love reading these because they're usually ridiculous marketing ploys, but I also like to see if I pick up on the same notes they identify.

Wine bursts with plum and blackberry flavors, layered with vanilla, roasted hazelnuts, and a long finish supported by tannin.

I absolutely got the blackberry notes in this wine. It smelled like really dark fruits, and perhaps, a little jammy. I am usually turned off by "jammy" wines because I think it's a sign that an inexpensive wine is trying to be "bold" with over-oaking, but there's nothing to balance it. This wine, however, was actually not that way. It was easy to drink, more medium-bodied than full-bodied with balanced tannin and a nice vanilla touch to it. Not a vanilla bomb! It went very well with our pot roast, but was also nice to drink on its own. I think this may be the relatively inexpensive Cab winner for the moment! If you're headed out to a dinner party and want a more affordable wine to bring, I think this Josh Family Reserve is a great option!


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Tasting Notes: Carson Ridge Cabernet

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that my heart has been very heavy for those affected by the fires in the Sonoma and Napa areas in California. The fires have been absolutely devastating and my heart breaks for everyone there. Kevin and I got engaged in Napa, so this region holds a very special place in our hearts. If you'd like to help those who have lost everything, please consider donating to Rebuild Wine Country, fiscally sponsored by Habitat for Humanity where 100% of the donations will go toward rebuilding homes, or the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund. Please continue to keep them all in your thoughts and prayers as the fires are starting to be contained and the rebuilding process begins.

Every year, Total Wine releases their Top 20. As a disclaimer, I have no earthly idea how they decide what to base the Top 20 on. Is it sales? Is it reviews? Is it politicking by the distributors? Who knows, but I do like to give them a whirl because they are almost always affordable and good values. In this year's Top 20, I think the most expensive bottle is Champagne at about $35 a bottle. That's certianly more than my every day budget, but it's also not a bad price for Champagne!

Anyway, I picked out about five or six bottles to try for this first go around. Also, sidenote: I've given Olema Chardonnay a try before. Different vintage this year, of course, but you can read my review of the 2013 Olema here. First up was the Carson Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Facts

  • Producer: Carson Ridge
  • Region: Paso Robles, California
  • Vintage: 2016
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $11.99
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My first thought was, "DANG. This is pretty good for $11.99 (or less if you've got a coupon)!" I'd say it's more medium body, likely thinner than people expect for a Cab and the dark ruby red color. Dark fruit and fruit pie come across on the palate, but there's a zing of acid. I've come to expect that jammy or stewed fruit flavor from low dollar Cabs, but this one is by no means a vanilla bomb which makes me happy. Not very tannic. Overall, I'd say there's a decent balance and complexity for the price. 

The wine went well with our hearty short ribs, mashed potatoes, and green beans dinner. I actually found I liked it less after dinner, which was unexpected. It's utlimately why I bumped it from three bunches to two. Overall, good value, but doesn't necessarily blow my socks off. I think I can find better, but if I don't, I'll come back and change the rating because... well, $11.99.


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Tasting Notes: Palmaz Cabernet

Happy Favorite Friday! I don't think I will ever NOT be amazed at how quickly a month goes by. August's Favorite Friday is particularly special to me and I can't wait to share why with you!

First, Palmaz is a splurge. No way around it. I started Favorite Fridays as a way to showcase my go to bargains, but also some wines that are on the pricier end for special occasions. This is definitely one of the latter. Palmaz has a lot of sentimental value because it's where Kevin and I got engaged in August 2014. Well, it actually was the winery we visited right before we got engaged, but semantics. 

Because we felt it played an important role in our engagement story, we also had it featured in our wedding. The Palmaz family was generous enough to send me corks for placecard holders, and we also borrowed some wine boxes from the local wine shop in Highlands.

Finally, Palmaz is just a cool place. I will tell anyone and everyone going to Napa that they MUST do a tour here. Nice people, awesome wines, and a winery unlike any other I've visited because there's so much science behind it. You can read a little bit about it in this WIRED article. Anyway, long story short, we love this winery and its wine. For this tasting, I actually used my Coravin so we could save the bottle for our actual anniversary!

The Facts

  • Producer: Palmaz Vineyards
  • Region: Napa Valley, California
  • Vintage: 2010
  • Variety: 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
  • Where I purchased: Palmaz. You can find it at small wine shops, too.
  • Price: $100+

I'm not going to do my traditional tasting notes setup because, to be honest, I was enjoying my small pour too much to focus on taking extensive notes. The wine is definitely what you'd expect for a Napa Valley Cab color-wise. It's a deep reddish purple color and much more opaque than what we've been drinking lately! The primary aroma was raspberry, and that came through in the first sip too. It's velvety with very smooth tannins. Kevin mentioned it was less spicy or had less pepper flavor than other Cabs we've had from there, and I'd agree. I think this wine is so well balanced with the alcohol, tannin, flavor, and body all being in proper proportion to each other. I would say it's less bold than what some might expect from a Napa Cab, but I think that also adds to its charm. I highly recommend as a splurge, and DEFINITELY check out the winery if you're ever in Napa!


Coravin Test: 3 Inexpensive Cabs

Confession: I caved and bought a Coravin. 

For those of you who aren't familiar with a Coravin, it is a nifty gadget that allows you to try wine without uncorking the bottle. How does it work? In short, the contraption uses a needle and gas to extract the wine, and since cork is self healing, the cork repairs itself keeping the wine inside away from harm. This sounds awesome, right? It is, but the downfall is it's a little pricey. Ultimately, I decided to get one in order to do things just like this post: taste multiple wines without having to pull 3+ corks and have all that extra wine sitting in my fridge degenerating quickly. Plus I got a good deal through my friends at Mountaintop Wine Shoppe, so I couldn't pass it up. 


So what was my first test? I wanted to try the three "grocery store" Cabernet Sauvignons I had on hand to see which was the best. Here was the lineup:

  1. Carnivor - California, 2013. Purchased at Fresh Market but I've definitely seen it at a ton of other grocery stores. It's also at Total Wine for $10.99. I wanted to give this one a whirl because it was on a list of highly rated wines under $20 (90 points by Wine Enthusiast). 
  2. Liberty School - Paso Robles, 2013. This historically has been a go-to grocery store purchase for me. We haven't had it in a while since we've been trying new things, so I wanted to give it a go when compared to other wines. I'd say it averages around $14 in grocery stores, but can be found at its cheapest at Total Wine for $10.97.
  3. Motto Backbone - California, 2013. I've actually done a tasting notes on this wine already. You can find it here. While I purchased it at a restaurant, you can find Motto in grocery stores and Total Wine as well. It runs from about $8 to $10.

I used my Coravin to pour about 3 oz. of each and did a mini-tasting to see which I liked best. When you only have one wine at a time, it's difficult to say which wine you like best, so using the Coravin was the perfect way to find a "favorite". Here are some details about each wine:

1. Carnivor

Carnivor was an extremely deep purple color and completely opaque. It even stained the glass when you swirled it around. Based on this, I knew there had to be some other grape blended in, and sure enough, they add some Petite Syrah to the mix. I immediately smelled vanilla and dark, ripe fruit like blackberry jam and even some blueberry. I also got a hint of something herbal or almost minty. The vanilla also came through on the pallet, and in my opinion, it was a total vanilla/oak bomb. Sure, you also got some of that blackberry or cassis flavor, but it seems like they let the wine sit in oak until there was nothing but vanilla to taste. It was smooth and full-bodied, but too heavy and creamy for me (although Kevin thought it was fine).



2. Liberty School

Since this was my go-to for so long, I had high expectations. The color was a pretty medium-red, garnet and it was semi-translucent. Definitely less full than the Carnivor. It smelled of red fruit like cherry, and there was no vanilla on this one! The wine tasted of the same red fruit and also maybe plum. It was pretty smooth for those who don't like tannin, but it was a little thin in my opinion. No real "oomph" from tannin, acid, or spice. Maybe I needed to let it sit out for longer. It was definitely still good, but not as stellar as I remembered.

Liberty School


3. Motto Backbone

As I mentioned before, I've already done a tasting notes on this wine here. Backbone was actually my favorite out of the bunch, and Kevin thought it smelled the best. To summarize, this wine was a medium-red color and smelled of ripe red fruit. I instantly thought of cherry pie and sweet raspberries. To be clear, this wine is not sweet. Just fruity. There was definitely some tannin in there, although mild. I think this bit of tannin is what pushed it ahead of Liberty School. I found this wine to be easy to drink and tasty!


So what does all of this mean? First, I loved being able to compare, so I'll have to do this with other grape varieties in the future. Second, it also means that you shouldn't always follow ratings (including my own). While they can be useful as a guide, tastes are subjective so it won't always be accurate. Therefore, I'll stick with my tried and true Liberty School or Motto for easy to drink, inexpensive Cabs. I'd say Liberty School is more widely available, so it's good to know that it stands up to others that we enjoy.

I'd love to hear about more inexpensive Cabs, so let me know yours in the comments below!


Tasting Notes: Backbone Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine was not part of the wine challenge, but we have somewhat of a stockpile of bottles, so I figured it was best to work on our inventory for a bit before buying more. I'll try to wrap up the 2015 challenge before the end of 2015 though. 

The Facts

  • Producer: Motto Wines
  • Region: California
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Wine dinner at a local French bistro. It appears that they are sold in our local grocery store, Harris Teeter, as well. They have a "Find Wine" feature on their website to help you locate their distributors. 
  • Price: $15.00 on their website, but we were able to get it for $7.99 from the distributor that was at the dinner. Average price appears to be around $11.
  • Eyes: It is a very pretty red color. It's more of a cherry red color vs a deeper purple-y red that I sometimes find with bolder reds. Definitely not "opaque" like some of the red blends I've had. It makes me anticipate more fruity flavors and a more medium-body for a cabernet. 
  • Nose: Definitely fruit forward. Some deep red fruit like raspberry, but I also smelled a hint of spice. Didn't pick up too much probably because I had been cooking spaghetti sauce before and the garlic smell was overwhelming.  For future reference, I should probably taste my wine prior to cooking.
  • Mouth: I think the spice I was smelling was wishful thinking (I love spice), and I tasted more of a vanilla flavor. The wine was very smooth to drink with little tannin, which I find to be common in less expensive cabs. It was fruit forward, with some raspberry and maybe some cherry in there.
  • Thoughts: Another great choice for every day drinking! I would say it's very "drinkable", meaning it was easy for me to pour more than one glass. For the price, I was very pleasantly surprised with the good flavor in the wine. As I wrote my tasting notes here, I pulled up the wine's fact sheet to see how my notes compared to what the winery said. The first thing I noticed is that this is not 100% cab, which is actually quite normal.

    Fun fact: In the USA, in order to list the wine as one varietal, it must contain at least 80% of that grape.

    Anyway, this wine is actually 80% cabernet sauvignon, 10% petit verdot, 10% petit syrah. I think these other varietals added to the complexity of the flavor well. Their fact sheet also mentioned flavors like plum and caramel. Regardless of these details, I am chalking this up to a success and adding this to my every day list.