Posts Tagged ‘Louis M. Martini’

American Pleasures #6: A Tale of Two Cabs

January 4, 2022 2 comments

Wine should give you pleasure – there is no point in drinking the wine if it does not. Lately, I had a number of samples of American wines, that were the delicious standouts – one after another, making me even wonder if someone cursed my palate. I enjoyed all of those wines so much that I decided to designate a new series to them – the American Pleasures. 

California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Magical words for any wine connoisseur. Out of more than 100 grape varieties used in wine production in California, I would safely bet that Cabernet Sauvignon clout exceeds that of Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, and even including Pinot Noir in this list is a stretch. Cabernet Sauvignon is The One of California wines (if you are willing to disprove this with actual numbers, I will be happy to publish a correction, but until someone will step forward, this stands as unquestionable truth).

While we can agree that California Cabernet Sauvignon is an object of craving for uncounted many, it also should be recognized as an object of controversy. How do I mean it? Easy. There are probably 50 or so producers whose wines are impossible to get, due to both availability and pricing – you have to be on the mailing list with a waiting list stretching for 20 years or so, and once you get there you should be willing to pay $500++ per bottle of wine you will need to wait for another 10-15 years to enjoy. Alternatively, you need to be prepared to pay an upward of $500 per bottle and scour the internet daily looking for those special bottles.

On the flip side, you can join most of us walking into the wine store asking (begging?) for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $20, trying not to notice the poorly hidden smirk on the face of the salesperson, who knows that we are on the quest for the impossible. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon and not buying those wines from your expense account, I’m sure you can relate to the experience firsthand. Even $50 per bottle doesn’t come with any guarantees. But – that number gives us hope. Yes, folks, it is possible to find a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50. Let’s talk about it.

Lots of my wine learning and discoveries are linked to unimitable wine educator Kevin Zraly and his Windows on the World Wine School. I remember one of the lessons where we were talking about California Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the wines was particularly good, and I remember Kevin remarking that the wine was produced by Louis M Martini, who doesn’t charge nearly enough for the quality of the wines they produce. That reference got engraved in my memory literally forever, and Louis M Martini became somewhat of the safe bet when looking for reasonably priced and consistent California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Louis M Martiny winery was founded in 1922 when Prohibition was already in full swing. It was actually known as L.M. Martini Grape Products Company and was focused on the production of sacramental wines and concentrate for home winemaking. In 1933, expecting that Prohibition will end, the new winery building was constructed north of the town of Napa. This was the actual beginning of the Louis M Martini winery and pioneering role of the Martini family in the Californian wine industry, helping to establish Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943, being one of the first to use wind machines to prevent frost in the vineyards, and being one of the first to bottle varietal Merlot in 1970.

Louis M Martini offers a substantial range of wines today, going way beyond standard Sonoma and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the best regions in Napa Valley such as Stagecoach Vineyard and Howell Mountain, as well as a number of Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel wines – unfortunately, most of those are priced well beyond the $50 we are talking about today. Sill, there is Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which can be found at around $15, and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon around $35. The Napa Valley bottling I tasted was simply outstanding with or without any regard to the price:

2016 Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (15.1% ABV, $40)
Cassis, eucalyptus, baking spices
Roll of your tongue smooth, velvety, fresh cassis, perfectly ripe fruit but over, firm structure, long finish.
8+/9-, excellent, classic California Cabernet Sauvignon

If Louis M Martini can be called an iconic winery, then our next winery can be only referred to as the most iconic winery in Napa Valley. Charles Krug winery, established in 1861 in Napa Valley by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug was the very first winery in Napa Valley, the 540 acres estate which Charles Krug received via marriage. In 1943, an immigrant family from Italy, Mondavi, purchased the Charles Krug estate which had been run by the family now in 4th generation.

Charles Krug winery also offers a good number of wines, including Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Zinfandel, and others, with Cabernet Sauvignon still being a flagship offering, including clonal selections (one of the Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon wines is called X Clone as it is produced as a blend of 10 Cabernet Sauvignon clones). I always wanted to try the Charles Krug wines, and finally, I was able to do so:

2017 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (14.1% ABV, $39, 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Petite Sirah)
Dark garnet
Blueberry, blueberry jam, dark chocolate, pipe tobacco
A touch of nutmeg and cloves, much crispier on the second day, firm tannins, firm structure, good acidity.
8-/8, definite improvement on the second day.

Comparing these two Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Louis M Martini was a perfect pop and pour example, which is ultra rare among California Cabernet Sauvignon, where Charles Krug bottling definitely needed time.

Here you are, my friends. If you are looking for a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon under $50, there is still hope!

Devotion – The Blog Post I Can Not Write

February 16, 2014 33 comments

MWWC_logoAs soon as I saw the new theme for the Monthly Wine Writing Competition #7, Devotion, my very first thought was “hmmmm, this will be hard, or more precisely, extremely hard”. The problem is that when I hear the word “devotion”, the immediate mental picture is of a giant cross at the very best, or no picture at all – but I can assure you it ain’t the picture of a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ever since the theme was announced I was struggling to find the connection of “devotion” to the wine world. I’m sure the examples of the true devotion are abundant in the wine world. May be even more than in many other trades, the success requires a lot of sweat, blood and sacrifice. Not been a wine historian, but rather only a very appreciative and dedicated consumer, I don’t have those stories of sweat and blood handy, and searching the Internet and rewriting someone else’s stories is not something I usually do, thus search for the connection between wine and devotion became literally a daily routine. To no avail.

I thought that I will start my post with the analysis of the word “devotion” – yes, the linguistic analysis. Oliver did it it perfectly in his post for the #MWWC7, as he was struggling with the theme in pretty much the same way as I did. Oliver took the Latin route for the meaning of “devotion”, so I can still refer to the English meaning of the word. Here is a nice representation of the Google search for the definition of “devotion”:


Yes, love and loyalty (or dedication for that matter) sound like the right way to go here – but if that is the direction, I would simply use the word love, and not devotion. Nope. It doesn’t connect.

So as today is a pretty much the last day to submit the entry, I still don’t have it.

But let me give you somewhat of an interesting twist here. Let’s put the word “devotion” aside for a minute, and let’s go back to the wine. Think about two sides of the wine world (not exclusively two – but let’s simplify here). On one side, winemaker should be willing to make an honest wine, the wine he or she will be willing (and proud) to offer (sell) to any consumer. On another side of the spectrum is the consumer who should be willing to buy the wine. Let’s make this statement even more precise – the consumer who should be willing (and eager) to drink the wine. Do you think we can find devotion on both sides here? Does it take devotion to make the best possible wine? Yes this is an easy case, I would say (and it was perfectly presented by Jeff at FoodWineClick in his photo essay about devotion of the winegrower). And how do we get to the devotion of the wine consumer? While this might not sound all too fitting for the term, but one should be devoted enough to the wine world to be willing to open the bottle – any bottle, a cult (DRC, Petrus, Screaming Eagle), or the most obscure, of unknown grape and producer; the wine which costs thousands, and the wine which costs $1.99. Open and give that wine a chance, step over the preconceived notions (“ahh, I don’t drink California Chardonnay”) and make an effort to understand the wine for what it is. Is that a behavior of the wine-devoted consumer, an oenophile? We are not talking here about people who buy the wine as an investment, with the sole purpose of selling the wine once its price will increase – those people are devoted to money, not to the wine. But for the oenophile, the wine is approached with an open mind – that doesn’t mean that the one should equally love all the different styles and tastes – but that one has equal respect to them all.

And let me tell about devotion of the winemaker through the eyes, nose and palate of the devoted oenophile (yep, myself in this case).

I brought the bottle of 1966 Louis M. Martini California Mountain Pinot Noir from Chicago about a month ago. I was in the store, shopping for the older vintage wines, and I couldn’t resist to buy such an old wine for $25 – yes,this is how much this wine was.

I didn’t want to hold it for too long, so Valentine’s Day seemed like a perfect opportunity to open a special bottle of wine (yes, I should’ve wait for the Open That Bottle Night, but we are always traveling over the actual OTBN day, as it generally falls on the kids’ school vacation).

When I told my friend Zak (who owns the wine store) that I will be opening the 1966 California Pinot Noir for the Valentine’s Day, his reaction was “why? You understand that the wine will not be any good, just keep the bottle as is for the decoration”. My thought was “I can always keep the empty bottle as a decoration. I have to give this wine a try”.


I honestly didn’t know what to expect. 1966 Pinot Noir from California? Not made by the star winemaker at the state of the art modern winery? The only thing I knew about the wine that it was made at Louis M. Martini winery. And Louis M. Martini doesn’t even make Pinot Noir wines today! Okay, let me come clean here – I had an additional reinforcement of my hope. I remember my wine class on Californian wines at the Windows on the World wine school, where after we tasted the line of California Cabernets, Kevin Zraly said “this wine is made by the Louis M. Martini. They make make excellent wines, and they could charge a lot more for them, but they chose not to”.

Louis M. Martini was an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1899. After working in the wine trade for a while, he opened Louis M. Martini winery in Napa Valley in 1933, as Prohibition was ending. Last year, the winery celebrated its 80th anniversary. You can read the history on the Louis M. Martini winery web site, but I want to mention that Louis P. Martini, the son of Louis M. Martini, went on to become one of the pioneers of California Pinot Noir and Merlot, and he was inducted to California Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008.

Let’s get back to the wine. It was the time to open that 1966 bottle, so I armed myself with the waiter’s corkscrew and the two-prong cork pull. I even had a thought of using Port Tongues, but that sounded a bit too fancy. Foil was cut, and I was presented with pristine looking cork top. Considering that appearance, I used the the regular waiter’s corkscrew, only moving it very slowly. The cork struggled only a tiny bit, and came out as a whole – and just look at this cork! I had 5 years old wines, where cork was in the terrible condition, never mind 48 years old wine!

DSC_0914So I poured the wine into the glass – beautiful red brick color, with an orange hue, reminiscent of signature Barolo color. I was really concerned about the first smell – hoping not to find a sauerkraut or vinegar there – and the nose was perfect! Yes, the herbal flavors were prevailing over the fruit, but nevertheless, it was a very pleasant nose without anything disturbing. The first sip – wow. This wine is beautiful! Yes, lots of herbs – sage, eucalyptus, may be even lavender, but also with the nice plum component, and most importantly, balancing acidity. An extremely complex and thought provoking wine – but in the perfect elegance of all the components. The wine opened up a bit more, showing a bit more sweet fruit notes – and then it was gone – we finished it all. Truly spectacular and almost unbelievable – but it was real. I would love to compare this wine to the old Burgundy – I guess this is what it will taste like, if I’m lucky.

And you are looking for connection to the today’s theme, devotion? To me, it is simple. To make the wine which will last for so long and stay in such a perfect condition (go back and look at that cork again) requires a dedication, it requires the full devotion of the winemaker, it requires the unconditional love to what you do. And this wine had it all.

Raise your glasses, my friends, for the true devotion of the winemakers and oenophiles. Cheers!

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