Monday, June 29, 2009

Forest Glen Sonoma County Reserve -- Fred Franzia wins again

It arrived in time for Christmas: a bottle of Forest Glen Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, along with appropriate greetings to wine writers from Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Co.

Bronco, the 4th largest US wine producer, makes only cheap wines: Charles Shaw ("Two Buck Chuck"), Crane Lake, Forestville, Hacienda, Harlow Ridge and dozens of other brands.

Franzia told me himself once that "No bottle of wine is worth more than $10, in my opinion."

But the Forest Glen Sonoma County Reserve Cab has a suggested retail price of $20 -- way more than the second-most expensive Bronco wine I'd ever seen (some Napa Ridge wines are $12). The bottle is heavy enough to make a great murder weapon -- a sign of ostentation from a company able to turn a profit on a $1.99 wine. Bronco made only a few hundred cases, apparently to prove to wine writers that the company can make great wine if it wants to, though fortunately for you readers a few cases made it into the marketplace.

I wish I had opened it right away, but one thing led to another and it sat in my cellar awhile. I did ask around at a few wine writer gatherings what others thought of it, and everybody I talked to who had gotten a bottle had given it away unopened. Why drink $20 Bronco wine when people send you $75 Napa Cabs on a regular basis?

This week I finally got around to opening it. And it's excellent -- a lot of wine writers must have made their landlord or barber very happy. This is the best $20 Cab I've had from California in a while, and it would do very well in a tasting of California Cabs $50 and under. I can say this confidently because I just tasted top wines in this category this week.

Tasting notes:

Forest Glen Sonoma County Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003: Nice aroma -- ripe blackberries, cherries, plenty of fruit, a little vanilla. Hints of pomegranate and dark chocolate. Just the beginning of an aged wine aroma -- dried persimmons, leather. On the palate, nice forward fruit, ripe cherry and blackberry. Excellent balance with good acidity. The tannins haven't been rendered toothless; they leave a trail down the middle of the tongue, like a train track. Maybe not the most complex of Cabs but great fruit and balance. Just 13.3% alcohol. Great value at $20. 91

The postscript is that I had a glass of it, then headed out to dinner with two highly regarded, more expensive wines -- both of which disappointed. The Forest Glen Reserve was better. I put it in the fridge and pulled it out again last night when I opened a $55 single-vineyard Napa Merlot that got good scores. And once again, the Forest Glen Reserve was better.

Fred Franzia wins again.

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