I want to start by referring to the Block 512 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir review from the day before as an introduction to this review. The 512 was the first example I tasted of these generic district wines bottled under the title, or name, Vineyard Block Estates. The concept behind these wines is simple: purchase excess barreled juice from prominent, but anonymous, wineries whose supplies are in surplus. The wine is then bottled and sold exclusively through a handful of outlets at reduced prices. Each vintage is unique, each district is acclaimed, and each block stands only until the last bottle is sold—mostly likely never to be repeated again.
I know a lot of diehard California Cabernet lovers. I am one of them—but not on a full-time basis. I don’t have the money to always be drinking the good stuff. The reality is, when you have less to spend, the searches for quality and value become synonymous, and this often steers you away from Cabernet Sauvignon, and out of Napa Valley.
This is one reason I got so excited about these wines. It’s easy to get a non-specific Napa Cabernet for $20—but a district-specific Rutherford or Howell Mountain Cabernet for that price? Almost impossible.
We pulled both corks at the same time and poured tasting portions into a row of glasses. Both wines were very similar in color, with the Rutherford showing slightly darker and rustier than the deep ruby and garnet Howell Mountain. We started by tasting the Howell, which smelled brighter and riper with a seemingly more approachable nose than Rutherford. Hints of brown sugar, caramel, mixed berries and maple on the nose was followed in the mouth by an acidic juicy nip that settled high in the back of the throat.
Age could easily pull the Howell Mountain Cabernet into equilibrium. It was clear from the start that this wine was showing the essential components of a great mountain Cabernet: leather and tobacco, mixed dark berries (sweet, tart and lush simultaneously confused), cedar and baked goods, spice and dried flowers. Each sip was delicious and unique, confident but still immature.
The Block 345, produced from grapes grown in the Rutherford bench, was exceptional. A little more burly than the Howell Mountain, the Rutherford was deeper, sophisticated, and operating with better control—lumbering earth and leather sweetened by black cherry and mocha at the pinnacle. The tannins were strong, but reigned-in—rounded slightly, demonstrating form over function. Deep fruit, pepper, and cured meat—the flavor profile was not overreaching. I was inclined just to sip, rather than scribble.
Florida residents can purchase the Block wines at the 150 ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores or online. Unfortunately ABC cannot ship out of state. The only option for the rest of us is Specs Liquor, the original Block merchant. Sometimes their site works, sometimes not.
I was just informed from the folks at Bottle King in New Jersey that they, along with Applejack Wine & Spirits in Colorado, can also be added to the list of Block wine sellers, bringing the total up to 4 states carrying these wines. If you has access, go pick up one of each block, work through them, choose your favorite(s) and purchase more!
Florida (ABC Fine Wine & Spirits—no out of state shipping), Texas (Specs Liquors—check shipping policy), New Jersey (Bottle King—ships to most states), and Colorado (AppleJack Wine & Spirits—ships to most states).