Sunday, December 27, 2009

2007 Liberty School Cabernet Paso Robles

Don't doubt a winemaker's advice...

Rating:  Better than expected, but not good enough to go out of your way for...Still, this is one to keep an eye on.


The rest of the story:
Full disclosure: This wine was a gift from Marcie, Winethropology friend and reader.  Thanks, Marcie!

The summer of 2007 was hot in Paso RoblesVery hot.  That July, as the mercury soared well into triple digits, one winemaker told us to skip this vintage.  The heat, he said, was going to result in a mediocre year for Paso.

So, we've taken that advice.  Until this wine came along.

Liberty School is the entry level brand in the Hope Family Wines portfolio.  The Hopes are long-time growers is Paso Robles and at one time supplied Caymus with grapes for their then second label, Liberty School.  Some years ago Caymus sold the brand to the Hopes to focus on their core wines.

Since then, this Cabernet has become the best selling (and highest production) wine in the Hope portfolio yielding 250,000 cases for the 07 vintage.  Grapes come from a network of over 50 family-owned vineyards in Paso Robles.

This Cab is a bit lean and green on opening, but better than the cheap-looking label would have you expect.  Surprising since we expected the hot weather to yield overripe fruit and high alcohol.  Not so.  The alcohol in this wine is a mere 13.5%, baby stuff for California these days.

We thought that perhaps they harvested early to compensate for the heat of the growing season and that that might account for the green vegetable character.  We asked Joel Peterson, Director of Communications for Hope Family Wines, if that was the case.  He replied:

"2007 was hot – you are correct. The good news is that most summers in Paso Robles are hot, so the farmers, the grapes and the winemakers all know how to deal with it! The farmers lower the yields, allowing good flavor extraction in each cluster. The grapes shut down at night, where even in the summer, we get cool temperatures which keeps the acidity up. The winemakers pick only when the grapes are ready, but make sure the sugar (alcohol) levels are in check. It is an style that we strive for, but the vintage is important, as they do vary. The quality has to be in the bottle."

Not sure we taste the flavor extraction in this one, but it's got structure and balance and flavor components (though less pronounced) consistent with garden variety California Cabernet.  We just weren't wowed by it. 

One surprise this wine did give us was how it held up after a few days open.  It's rare that we have leftovers after tastings - when we do it's usually an indicator.  But this was still drinkable - another plus for it.

Given its merits, track record, and the challenges of this vintage, we suggest two things: First, keep an eye out for past/future vintages from these guys.  And, two, don't doubt a winemaker's advice.