Reuniting with an old friend is always enjoyable, and doubly so when it’s with Richard Arrowood and a glass of his 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Richard Arrowood began his winemaking career in the mid-1960s. In 1974, he became the winemaker and the first employee of the Sonoma County’s Chateau St. Jean. For the next decade, Arrowood created some of America’s most outstanding white wines by focusing on the innovative idea of single-vineyards like Robert Young, Belle Terre, Frank Johnson, Hunter Ranch and many more. During that period, it seemed that if the wine was white and had a Sonoma appellation, either it was made by Dick Arrowood or it wasn’t very good.
But white wine wasn’t his only act. At Chateau St. Jean, and after founding Arrowood Vineyards & Winery in 1986, he made equally compelling cabernet sauvignons.
Sometime around 1977, I made my first visit to Chateau St. Jean and had my first tasting with Arrowood. Additional visits and tastings occurred with him at Chateau St. Jean and Arrowood during the 1980s and early 1990s.
Each one confirmed why I always had a place for his wines on my restaurant wine lists and in my private collection. In fact, I still have two bottles of 1980 Chateau St. Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay; they’re not drinkable, but they are memorable. It was with this history that I looked forward to our dinner and tasting his latest wines.
Today, Arrowood winery is one of many wineries owned by Jesse Jackson; but Dick Arrowood remains the winemaker with full control of the winemaking. We tasted the 2007 Sonoma County chardonnay and 2008 viognier and the 2008 Cote de Lune Blanc, a blend of Rhone white grapes. Each has Arrowood’s restrained use of oak and excellent fruit flavors and balance. None of these vintages are in our market yet, but keep an eye posted for them. Next came three red wines: 2005 syrah and cabernet sauvignon; and from his own boutique winery, 2006 Amapola Creek Winery Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel. While I liked all three, the cabernet sauvignon was particularly delightful.
The 2005 Arrowood cabernet sauvignon carries a Sonoma County appellation. The grapes come from a mix of vineyards: Some are certified organic, others organically-farmed and grown on hillsides and flatlands. Arrowood blended a little malbec and petit verdot into the nearly 95 percent cabernet sauvignon and than aged it for two years in French and American oak barrels before the final bottling without fining or filtration.
If all this strikes you as wine alchemy than you are beginning to understand Arrowood’s approach to winemaking. It’s akin to Picasso and Cubism. And the results are just as good.
Arrowood’s techniques yielded an eye-pleasing black cherry color with enticing black raisin and black fruit aromas. Although the wine was aged for two years in oak, it has none of the burnt creme brulee or dark chocolate aromas and flavors that many winemakers infused into California wines from extensive barrel aging. Instead, the palate receives ripe blackberry, blueberry, and cherry flavors that are supported with firm and integrated tannins giving a long, lingering finish.
I anticipated a hot sensation in the back of my mouth from the 15.6 percent alcohol and was delighted not to get it. I know of few winemakers who make a wine with that level of alcohol and yet not let it dominate. Than again, Dick Arrowood has shown for forty years that he is not like most winemakers.
The 2005 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County retails for approximately $45.