Friday, June 17, 2011

The Crusher

Another “Many thanks to Mike Wangbickler at Balzac” column. You might remember him last from my last attempt at sharing my thoughts about wines at a “Twitter tasting” in March. Mike invited me to participate again with wines from Don Sebastiani & Sons’ “The Crusher” series of wines. Hardly one to turn down the opportunity, I accepted samples of five Crushers. Unfortunately, my Intertoobz were clogged for some reason and I wasn’t able to fully participate in the virtual gang-tasting. But since I’m not one to let samples go unreviewed…
“The Crusher” is a midpriced line of wines – all have a suggested retail of $18. These wines (with the exception of the Rosé) are from the Clarksburg appellation in California. Clarksburg is about 20 miles south of Sacramento (although it’s described as the “Bay Area Delta”). Since it’s a good ways inland, this is a hot, dry area for grape growing. Hotter growing areas usually lead to fuller, fruitier, sometimes less complex wines. What did we find?

The Crusher 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – The pairing notes on this one states that it “commands steak!” so I took the bottle along to a cookout we had recently with the Sweet Partner in Crime’s family. I was grilling up strips and filets, along with some similarly charred asparagus and the SPinC’s magical Dijon-and-tarragon potato salad. The meal’s quality was guaranteed. We cracked the wine, let it breathe for a bit, and let the family sample. “It’s kinda fruity,” said Postal Donnie, the SPinC’s brother-in-law, “Tastes kind of like a merlot.” I concurred. It was a very fruity, very soft cabernet sauvignon. The tannins were almost too light. There was plenty of fruit on the body and there was a nice blackberry and currant on the nose. The finish, though, just trailed off into fruit and a little tannin. It was OK with the steak, but the smoky grilled flavor beat up on the wine a bit. It did alright with the other sides. The wine was decent, but I can find a better $18 cabernet.

The Crusher 2009 Chardonnay – One thing that immediately jumped to mind when I cracked this bottle was, “Hey, I just don’t drink a lot of California Chardonnay anymore.” I was curious as to how this reintroduction would go to Cali Chard. I was initially dubious. The nose is quite ample – apple, smoke, and licorice. The first thing we noticed about this wine’s flavor was the oak. “I would have loved this wine eight years ago when all I drank was Meridian!” exclaimed the SPinC. It is quite oaky, especially on the finish. There’s butterscotch and more apple on the palate. It didn’t agree with me – until dinner. I tried my hand at veal saltimbocca, which I’d never made before. Why not, right? The result – very pleasant! The meat and sage tamed the oakiness, leaving a smooth, buttery flavor that complemented the light meats quite nicely. We had a throw-together salad of artichokes and tomatoes on the side. Artichokes are a wine killer, but it handled them satisfactorily. If you like oaky chardonnay or need a white for light meats with richer sauces, this is certainly a winner.

The Crusher 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir – Summer started slamming us, so I was very happy to see pink amidst the samples. As the name suggests, this is mostly Pinot Noir, with some Viognier thrown in for good measure. The appellation listed for this wine is simply “California,” so I assume that it’s a blend from vineyards across the state. It’s a deep salmon color out of the bottle and is a very “full” rosé – light enough to be refreshing, but with enough body to be interesting and complex. Strawberries and cranberries were my thought at tasting. A little creaminess to the body and a nice acidic zing at the end. “This is a really pretty rosé,” said the SPinC. I tried it next to a tomato and fennel based seafood stew. Quite nice. The solid backbone allowed it to stand up next to a varied set of flavors. It’s a pairing I’d certainly have no qualms about pulling out again. On a hot day, this would be a great wine to pour for friends who are exclusively red drinkers. There’s enough going on to keep them satisfied. A very nice example of what California rosé can be.

The Crusher 2009 Pinot Noir – I’m a big fan of cool weather pinots, so I was particularly interested to see how this one spun out. At first pour (after 30 minutes of decanting), I thought this was a particularly “sharp” pinot noir. It makes me think of what pinot noir would taste like if it were grown in a hotter climate than it was used to. The basic cherry profile is there, but there’s a strong coffee taste – as if you’d made chocolate covered cherries, but covered the fruit in crushed cappuccino beans instead. Powerful, strong wine – reminding me more of a merlot than a traditional pinot. However, it worked with our dinner: grilled lamb burgers with Indian spices topped with cucumber raita (or tzadziki…same diff…) alongside some grilled corn kernels tossed with artichokes. It was a big ‘n bad enough wine to handle those kinds of strong flavors. For a grilling evening, dinnertime pinot – it was certainly serviceable, although you could probably find a less expensive pinot noir to fill that bill.

The Crusher 2009 Petit Sirah – As I was getting ready to write this column, I got an email announcing that this wine had won gold at the California State Fair wine competition. I was looking forward to trying it. The tasting notes indicate that it’s an “an exceptional barbeque wine” since it goes well with brown sugar barbecue sauce. I didn’t want that much heavy meat, but I make a killer spicy mu shu, so I cobbled that together, figuring that sweet, spicy, and meat could work. On its own, it’s certainly a serviceable wine. The very fragrant nose is full of blueberries and plums. The flavor is quite jammy, as I expected from a petit sirah. The jamminess makes it a bit heavy on the palate with straight fruit, but the finish gets a little more interesting with some pepper and firm tannin. With the mu shu, however, this wine shone. A little spice and a little sweetness really brought out fruity complexity, while letting the Asian flavor stand up. It’s a wine that can certainly handle a splash of Sriracha, which you don’t see often outside of Rieslings. I don’t know that I’d recommend it on its own, but alongside meat with a zing, it works.


  1. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon proved to be very good.

  2. Thanks, Jon. And a nice site you've got there yourself. Linked it up...

  3. Thanks, Mike. Much appreciated and was pleased to do the same. Cheers!