There is nothing wrong with your laptop screen…Do not attempt to adjust your resolution…We (meaning me because, like, I write this alone) are controlling transmission…You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind of shopping to…the Outer Limits of Wine Value….
Many or most of you will have never seen “The Outer Limits” and that whole lame-ass intro is wasted on you but…I seldom (okay, never) just come right to The Point, so who cares, amirite?
So, here’s The Point and it is going to land my aging ass in water hot enough to peel the paint offa Iron Man’s party suit:
California Cabernet, with maybe forty notable exceptions, is better and a better value that Cabernet from anywhere else in this hemisphere.
I know…I live in Washington and I’m crapping in my own bed. Well, I said there were exceptions and there are. BUT…and here it is: to buy a Cabernet from Washington that is the equal of the bottle of The Hess Collection ALLOMI/Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 that I received from a PR firm, this past Friday, I’m looking at paying somewhere north of $50. To get the equal from Argentina, I’m spending a minimum of $60. To find a similar one from Canada…well, I don’t think there is one, at least that I’ve tasted. (I’m willing to be wrong) I know of two from Australia (Oookay, it NOT in this hemisphere. So sue me.) that are in the neighborhood – Peter Lehmann Barossa Cabernet and Chateau Tahbilk Nagambie Lakes Cabernet – both in quality and price but neither equals what is in this bottle to your left, sourced from Hess’ own Allomi Vineyard, sprawling across a pretty hillside in the eastern side of Napa Valley, a small sub-region called Pope Valley. This stuff is Bottled Sin, 27 ounces of Sex – and not polite, wedding night sex, either. It’s liquid satin, gorgeously rich, and demands that fine old adjective that makes people think of their grandfather: “Sumptuous”. This wine is Sumptuous. It’s fine-grained and complex and adamantly not one of what we wine weenies have frequently referred to as a “California Fruit Bomb”.
This is full-bodied but not ponderous, deep but not overbearing, fruity but showing lovely terroir notes, as well. The flavor profile is a Bounty: Blueberry, blackberry liqueur, black plums, black currants, cocoa, rosemary, licorice, limestone, figs, pipe tobacco, subtle baking spices, vanilla, and toasty wood on the finish. The composition of this wine is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petite Sirah, 3% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 2% Merlot. It’s a bit reminiscent of a high-ambition Napa or Sonoma blended red but even more graceful and seamless. The texture is insanely velvety and welcoming and there are zero hard edges.
And this Bounty is going to cost you…
About $29.95. And that’s the median price. It’s all over Google Shopping for as low as $21.95.
When the box arrived, I deliberately didn’t check either the Hess website price ($34.95) or any online source. I wanted to taste and guess the price and, after we had each had a glass, I asked my wife for an estimate: “Hmmm,” she said, sniffing the glass, “”Maybe $75. And I’d buy it at that.” I guessed $60, because I usually guess conservatively (the one and only thing about me that is conservative) and then was knocked sideways by the realization that I could actually think of prying my hermetically sealed wallet open and buying a case of this. And that is exactly what I mean to do, and SOON.
From the start of The Pour Fool, first as a blog at seattlepi.com and for the past five years as its own website, I’ve stayed true to one main principle in what I’ll even taste for review: it has to be something the Average Joe can afford, even if it hurts a bit.
Buying this is barely going to raise a welt.
Bottom Line: This is a serious, elegant, balanced, nuanced grown-up bottle of Cabernet that ANY person who appreciates great Cab can enjoy. And it is one of the greatest values in red wine I’ve ever seen. 97 Points
Almost as good and almost as great a value is Hess Select North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, a blend of vineyard lots from Napa, Lake, and Mendocino Counties. It’s a crafty, quirky blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 4% Malbec, 2% Syrah, 2% Merlot, and 2% Zinfandel. Legally, according to California law, it can be called a Cabernet if it contains at least 75% Cab. Aesthetically, it’s all California Cabernet and exceeds – in body, complexity, viscosity, and value – about 95% of every sub-$25 Cabs I’ve ever tasted. It leads with a melange of red and black berries, and currants and segues neatly to a backbone of red raspberry, black cherry, anise, cloves, cedar and a dash of sweet vanilla.
It finishes with a warm spiciness and expansive wood notes and is as madly drinkable a red as most of us will ever find. And it’s gonna run ya about $15. 93 Points
Hess, yeah, is an older winery and it has its fanatical core of loyal customers and is no longer the Flavor of The Month. Hess exists in that continuum of wineries that have not only survived but thrived – quietly, with little fanfare, mostly because they don’t pander to whatever the current trend is. They focus on growing sensational grapes, through an almost monastic stewardship of their gorgeous vineyard properties, constantly refining their wonderful Everyman aesthetic and keeping abreast of all the latest technological improvements, and offering value far in excess of what’s in those bottles.
In fact, I’ve found my self wondering, tasting the Allomi, especially, if they actually make the profit they should expect to make from wines this complete and polished. One current trend is wineries evolving into de facto theme parks, with a couple of restaurants, classes, hayrides for the kiddies, and other side attractions that operate as revenue generators beyond what wines they may sell. Estate wineries also sell off grapes to other wineries more often than you would think. Many sell casks of bulk juice. With land holdings in one of the nation’s prime chunks of real estate, can you really sell a wine like Allomi for under $30? My very next thought is, “Shut up, willya? Just drive down there and buy a couple of cases before they wise up.”
I really don’t know how they manage to charge that little for THAT wine. But I do know this: If you last tasted Hess wines 20 years ago and see them now and think, “Yeah, been there, done that“? Trust me on this…
You do NOT know Hess.