Thu 18 Feb 2010
I mentioned in a previous post that I bought three bottles of wine at a fundraiser silent auction, thinking I was merely helping to boost the bidding for a worthy cause, but ended up buying the wines. Lucky me.
Well, it turns out that at least with the first wine we opened, we were lucky.
A few nights ago, we took the Cakebread Cellars Merlot 2002, Napa Valley, to Bari, one of our favorite restaurants in town, where we had, as usual, a simple and wonderful Italian meal. While we had glasses of the Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna with the first courses — sauteed calamari with tomatoes, garlic and black olives; grilled octopus with grapefruit and red onion — the Cakebread Merlot ’02 stood sentinel-like on the table, waiting silently to perform; I mean, I wish I possessed an iota or two of this wine’s confidence and aplomb. LL ordered pork osso buco for the main course and I elected to have the spaghetti carbonara.
The wine was made by Julianne Laks, who had been assistant winemaker under Bruce Cakebread until he became the winery’s president in 2002, succeeding his father Jack Cakebread, who retired that year, so ’02 was the first vintage Laks had complete control over. Cakebread Merlot ’02 includes 7 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes are 42 percent Carneros and 58 percent “mid-valley,” which one assumes means Rutherford, where the winery is located. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 45 percent new. The alcohol level is 14.9 percent.
The Cakebread Merlot 2002 sports a dark, radiant ruby-purple color, a bit inky at the center. The bouquet is a beguiling, almost delirious weaving of cassis, black cherry, dusty lavender, dried thyme and crushed gravel, with a hint of black olive. At a few months more than seven years old, the wine is poised on the cusp of youthful, brooding intensity and wildness — there’s something almost feral about it — and serene equilibrium and elegance. Black fruit flavors are rich, ripe and intense, though tempered by polished oak, subtle and supple, and dense, pervasive tannins. Here’s a merlot that gives the lie to every bland, generic merlot you’re had from California; the Cakebread ’02 embodies wonderful presence, tone and character, and if you have any in your cellar or closet or that box under your bed, you’re a lucky duck. A great experience. Best from 2011 or ’12 through 2015 or ’16. Remember, I bid on this at a silent auction for a nonprofit organization, so I think I paid a generous $75. Not bad, actually, considering the prices of Cakebread wines nowadays.