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Lancaster Sophia's Hillside Cuvee 2006
Located at the southern tip of the Alexander Valley, Lancaster Estate rests in the foothills of the western Mayacamas Mountains at the confluence of the Chalk Hill and Knights Valley appellations. Within the rolling hills of this “golden triangle,” an ideal climate of warm days and cool nights combines with the region's myriad soil types to produce red wines of uncommon grace and style.
Nearly a northern extension of Napa Valley, Alexander Valley starts just north of the small, Knights Valley, and is just a few minutes drive from the Napa town of Calistoga. It is Sonoma County’s hottest AVA. But the Russian River, which runs through the valley, creates cooler pockets and its soft, alluvial soil is ideal for grape growing, especially Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, some believe that Alexander Valley Cabernets truly rival the best from Napa Valley and many of the heavy-hitter producers have largely invested here.
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, which makes up over 50% of plantings, Merlot and old vine Zinfandel thrive here. Ample, fleshy Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate white wine production. Some old-vine plantings of Grenache have also been discovered and more recent experiments with Sangiovese and Barbera show great promise.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux lean towards a highly structured and earthy style whereas New World areas (as in the ones named above) tend to produce bold and fruit-forward blends. Either way, Bordeaux red blends generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.