Sips: From Argentina, Susana Balbo’s 2010 “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon

These days, Argentina is best known for malbec, the country’s most important  red variety, which thrives in the hot, dry climate. But beyond malbec, Argentina has long produced some excellent cabernet sauvignons, including one I enjoyed the other night. Susana Balbo, one of the country’s best-known winemakers, produces a range of wines, and her 2010 “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza deserves consideration for those looking for interesting, moderately priced cabernets that can be enjoyed now. The wine is 90 percent cab and 10 percent malbec and seemed made for a piece of prime London broil that I seared in a cast-iron skillet. This is classic, New World cabernet sauvignon, more California than Bordeaux, with sweet blackberry fruit and cassis tastes, cedar and a touch of black licorice. The bottle puts alcohol at 14.5 percent, but it didn’t seem that high, probably because of the wine’s balance. In any event, this is a first-rate cab for current drinking and well worth the $25 suggested price. There were 500 cases produced. Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, California. Received as a press sample.


Sips: At $20, a top red blend from California’s Beckmen Vineyards

Photo: Edward Deitch/Vint-ed.com
One of the better California reds I have tasted this year sells for a modest $20 and really over-delivers on value and interest. Beckmen Vineyards, a gorgeous, rolling property in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, produces a range of red and white wines, mainly from Rhone varieties. While Beckmen’s single-varietal reds made from grenache and syrah come into their own after some bottle aging, its newly released red blend, the 2010 Cuvee Le Bec, is already drinking beautifully. This estate wine is made from 44 percent syrah, 34 percent grenache, 13 percent counoise, mourvedre and 9 percent counoise. It’s grapey and concentrated with sweet blackberry, blackcurrant and boysenberry fruit and secondary notes of cinnamon and unsweetened cocoa. Oak is nicely integrated and the wine is moderately tannic. Alcohol is listed as 14 percent. All and all it’s a pleasure to drink. Consider it for leg of lamb, pulled pork and and even burgers on the grill. Received as a press sample.


Sips: A top pinot noir from Oregon’s Chehalem Winery

I taste a fair amount of pinot noir from California and Oregon, much of it in what I’ll call a big American fruit style, often with high alcohol levels that, to my palate at least, make some of these wines ponderous and cumbersome. One that falls pleasantly on the other side of the spectrum is Chehalem’s 2010 Stoller Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This is one of the most exciting American pinots I’ve tasted this year, notable for its generous fruit but also for its beautiful balance. One is struck first by its light ruby color, suggestive more of Burgundy than American pinot noir, which is often much darker. Alcohol is listed at just 13.1 percent, which is almost unheard of today and is reminiscent of levels not typically seen in West Coast pinots in decades. This is part of what makes the wine so fresh and lively.

On the palate, red fruits dominate, especially cherry and raspberry. Then there’s some orange and cinnamon stick followed by a touch of cookie dough and some blueberry on the finish. Oak integration is seamless. This would be a wonderful accompaniment to roast herbed chicken, grilled salmon and other dishes that won’t overpower this lovely wine, which, for me, should serve as a role model for the region. The suggested price is $48. Production was 368 cases. Received as a press sample.