In a nice piece of kismet, this past weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy two very different wines who both happened to have the word "cake" in their name. As a oenophile who doesn't necessarily have a photographic memory for labels and winery names, I'll take my mnemonic devices where I can find them.
The worst segment of California took the zinfandel grape and bastardized it into that sweet pink training wheels wine of the late '80's, Sutter Home white zin. But other more enlightened Californians have developed some really spectacular spicy, peppery wines that go great with traditional American fare of steaks, burgers and bbq.
Layer Cake is imported by Vintage Point with the motivation of adding some original Old World sensibilities to the current Californian zin offerings. Jayson Woodbridge, the vintner of this offering describes his intent thusly: "My old grandfather told me the soils in which the vines lived were a layer cake. If properly made, the wine from these vines was like a delicious cake layered with fruit, mocha and chocolate, with hints of spice and spice--and rich, always rich.'Never pass up a good Layer Cake,' he would say. I have always loved those words."
The result of his enterprise is definitely worth the effort. California zins can tend to be real fruit bombs, jammy and redolent of Bing cherries. Not that there's anything wrong with that necessarily, as there are plenty of bottles of old vine zins in my meager wine locker. But Layer Cake aims for a slightly different aroma and taste profile. It is certainly fruit forward, and cherry is one of the noticeable flavors on the nose. However the undertones of cocoa and peppery spice are delightfully complex for a $16.99 bottle of wine.
Layer Cake paired wonderfully with the oregano and garlic salt rubbed grilled ribeye we paired it with, but it would also hang in there with an abuelito brownie if the bottle had lasted until dessert. (Un)fortunately, we couldn't wait that long at our dinner table. One caveat would have to be that with its intensely dark purple color from the long exposure of the grape skins to the fermenting process, Layer Cake might not be a good choice for your everyday wine unless you have a frequent flyer plan with your local strip mall teeth whitening kiosk.
An even less likely day in/day out wine was our second bottle of the weekend, the 2007 Cakebread Chardonnay. At almost $50 a bottle, it's more of an indulgence. But what a splurge it is. While we do spend a lot of time searching out bargain $12.00 wines that might taste like a $40.00 bottle, sometimes you need to go ahead and enjoy a more expensive selection that delivers what the price tag promises.
Cakebread is that sort of archetypal Chardonnay. Sourced from grapes grown within staggering distance of the Napa Valley winery and aged primarily in toasted French oak barrels, this wine isn't afraid to show off its woody character. While some California winemakers have rejected the buttery oakiness that has turned off some consumers in favor of steel cask-aged citrusy chards, Cakebread has embraced the old French methods. Vive la différence!
I've never been much for investing for the long term anyway. I'm still waiting for that big Citibank turnaround so I can buy more Cakebread. I hear their Cabernet is even better than the Chardonnay...