By The Glass


Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Quality from on high

A few weeks ago, I visited some mountain vineyards in the Napa and Alexander valleys. Walking a few miles, row by row, I tasted Cabernet and Merlot grapes off the vines a week before harvest. It gave me a new perspective on the concept of "mountain grown."

Of all California grapes, 85 percent are grown on flat land and 15 percent on bench land, or mountain vineyards.

Understanding mountain-grown fruit is simple: Grapes grow there at very low yields, as they are more exposed to Mother Nature. The rocky soil does not hold water, making the vines struggle. This produces sharp, brighter fruit, imparting more minerals and earthiness to the resulting wine.

The vineyard that intrigued me most is located on Mount Veeder in southern Napa Valley. Walking the vineyard with Charles Thomas, the winemaker for Cardinale, the aromas were overwhelming. The area surrounding the vineyards supports a bush that has a Chinese five-spice character, and in between each row grows a weed that smells like spearmint. It is these subtle nuances that I find in wine from this vineyard.

Food for the mountain-grown wine: I suggest a big, hearty burger, grilled over kiawe wood and topped with a thin layer of blue cheese, vine-ripened tomato from Hauula, some grilled Ewa sweet onions and a side of Nalo greens.

The rustic combination is a perfect complement to a big Cabernet, Merlot or Meritage from the mountains.

Values on the vine: These wines are rarely inexpensive, but one moderately priced option is the 1997 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), with 66 percent mountain fruit. It offers soft cedar notes with hints of blueberry and black cherry. A good everyday red for an everyday burger would be a Camelot Cabernet Sauvingnon, blended of grapes from throughout California ($10.99). Medium-bodied with forward fruit, it's nice and easy-drinking.

Jason Panui is Hawaii territory
manager for Corterra Wines.

This column is a weekly lesson in wine
pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
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