feel free to post what you're brining
I intend to bring two wines. I have not decided on the second (for which my goal is to bring something I think is interesting), but the first is primarily educational for those who do not have long experience tasting California Cabernet Sauvignon: a Wente Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, 2005. Note, that 2005 is an excellent year in California, and as the better 2005 Cabs and Zins are released, you should lay them down for long aging if you like aged wine and can afford it.
This is not an expensive wine (I think I paid about $12, but I don't pay full retail), but it will repay tasting. First, you need to know that Wente is one of two long-time Livermore Valley wineries still in existence (the other is Concannon), and is primarily known for its white wines. It was the first commercial producer of Pinot Chardonnay (as it was then labeled) in California (1962 IIRC. It was a very fresh wine, lovely, not in the big 'Burgundian' style now so popular in Napanoma, that was pioneered by now almost forgotten (but still around) Hanzell). They have not generally been known for their reds, which used to be available primarily at the winery.
But, I digress. The 2005 Wente Cabernet is interesting as wine for (at least) three reasons:
1. In this era of wines that are vinted and bottled by or made and bottled by or cellared and bottled by some well-known winery -- which means that you really don't know who actually made the wine, and the that the name on the label is just the winery that assembled the blend from bought in wines (a skill in itself, I don't mean to disparage it), the Wente Cab is grown, produced and bottled by Wente. Not only that, all of the grapes come from the Livermore Valley, an area historically important before prohibition for both reds and whites. Unless you try this or the Concannon, you won't taste wine from grapes from this terroir. I think most people would overlook this wine in a store.
2. In this era of high alcohol reds, it comes in at only 13.5% alcohol. It's not hot and that means it is designed to go with food. Ideal with lamb or good cuts of beef, it could also stand up to duck or goose.
3. In this era of fruit bombs and forward wines (thank you Robert Parker [ /sarcasm]), this is a very traditionally structured wine. When I opened a bottle the other day, it was closed up as tight as a drum (a little early for that, but more on that below) and took 45 minutes to 1 hour to open up. Once opened up, it has a very characteristic Cabernet nose, but running more to currants and spice than the very pronounced berry fruits you usually see today (though there is some of it there). It has a good entry. The middle palate is flavorful, but a little more acetic than I would like to see there for decades of aging. The finish is tannic (as to be expected in a 2 year old Cabernet) and of moderate length. I think it might have benefited from further barrel aging and some bottle aging before release - I wonder whether the timing of the release was a winemaker's 'readiness' decision or a decision driven by the need to move the product. No one would mistake this for a Merlot, though perhaps one might think Cabernet Franc.
So, for these reasons, I think the wine is worth your attention. It is not, in my view, a great wine that will age for 30-40 years like the 1974 Ridge Montebello I mentioned on another thread. Nor, even at it's peak, will it ever be one of the best Cabernet's you've ever had. Why not? Well, the balance is good, but not ideal -- at this stage there is more acidity and a little less tannin than I would like to see, and while the fruit is concentrated, I'm not convinced on my first tasting that it's enough to go very long. I think it may have an accelerated traditional 'life cycle: because it is closed tight at two years old, rather than the 5-6 year 'nap time' for top Cabs in a great year, I think it may come into its maturity sooner, perhaps at 8 or 10, rather than just beginning to open at 10 and peaking between 15-30. But, at its peak, I think it will be very good and very, very far above its price point. In short, an excellent value.
I don't think I'd buy very much of it in other than a good year. . But, based on my experience, at the age of 10 or so (perhaps as soon as 8), this will be an absolutely lovely and mature, balanced wine to drink with an excellent meal. I put some away and may buy a little more for mid-term drinking as I wait for top wines that need more aging.