Santa Barbara County is known more for Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than anything else, but in the Happy Canyon AVA - in the warm, east end of the Santa Ynez Valley - it’s Bordeaux that makes them so happy. This pair of wines utilizing Bordeaux varieties were provided by Cimarone Wines.
The grapes involved in Cimarone’s Le Clos Secret are a varied Bordeaux-style blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot and 5% Malbec from Cimarone’s estate property, Three Creek Vineyard. The alcohol is up at a sun-ripened 14.5% abv and it retails at $40. Ageing took place in French oak for 18 months.
I mentioned on Twitter the notion that this wine is California Bordeaux. I mentioned it in humorous fashion, but was taken to task by one of my followers, Regis Chaigne - @rchbx - who happens to live in Bordeaux. Regis was quick to point out, "Randy, Bordeaux wines are produced in the Bordeaux area. Nowhere else."
Of course, I know that. Maybe the offhanded nature of my remark was lost in translation or shortchanged by the 140-character limit, because Regis continued, "I would like the Bordeaux Wines Council to fight the misuse of "Bordeaux" as hard as [Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne] CIVC does with Champagne."
Regis is right, and I stand duly corrected on my flippant use of "Bordeaux" to describe a California wine. Bordeaux does get misused a lot, although probably not as much as Champagne and Port - to say nothing of the millions of jugs of "Hearty Burgundy" Americans have chugged down.
Le Clos Secret was vinified by Doug Margerum and blended by Andrew Murray, Cimarone’s new winemaker Murray says, “ "I didn't make this wine, I just blended the components, but I think it is really solid!" You’d hardly expect him to say anything less effusive, but he actually undersells it quite a bit.
The wine looks very dark, and it smells the same. Aromas of ripe blackberry weave into cassis, with a sage meets pencil shavings angle that really takes a stand. It is a bouquet which makes me glad I have at least some of my olfactory sense remaining.
The palate, too, is a barnburner. Big, dark fruit flavors are cloaked in a brambly duster of eucalyptus and graphite while a chocolate coffee angle bubbles up from a black cherry floor. It's a show. Extremely nice acidity and a generous tannic structure keep the wine lively even four days after opening. The Bordeaux traits are there, alright, but there's no doubt it's a California wine that knows how to swing it.
The Cimarone Cabernet Sauvignon is the straight-up varietal version of the Cab they use to make their red blends. Such a good outcome they have had with the grapes of Bordeaux that they decided to give the king its due. The 2011 Cimarone Cab is a 100% varietal wine, clocking in at 14.5% abv. It spent 15 months in French oak barrels and has the spicy nose to prove it. The retail price is also $40.
The notes claim the 2011 vintage was a "rather challenging, late-ripening year" on the way to explaining that it is not a fruit-forward wine, but complex and layered. Those who like a fat, plush Cab may be disappointed, but those seeking out a leaner, more nuanced wine will find this bottle to their liking.
The nose displays blackberry fruit which is shrouded in the minerals of the Three Creek Vineyard soil. Oak has its effect, with anise and cinnamon making an appearance, and an herbal note defined by eucalyptus playing a bit part. On the palate, the fruit makes a stronger show but there is still a straight line of minerality running through. There's a tangy acidity and some crunchy tannins leading to a sense of orange peel on the finish. I am going to keep this wine in mind for the holidays.
Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter