Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s a red blend or has a name like Gravel Bed Red: the 2013 vintage got 97 points from Robert Parker. That’s an astounding score for a wine with its release price of $40. This vintage boasts a smaller, yet still impressive 93 points from the Wine Advocate. And you can get it for $22.
The Featured Wine of Episode 87: Pairs With Gravel Bed Red and Am I The A**hole? Part 1 (with Guest Co-Host Carrie Flaspohler)
93 Points, Robert Parker – 91 Points, Wine & Spirits
Gravel Bed Red is a blend of primarily Cabernet, Merlot, and Malbec, with Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Zinfandel spicing things up. Much of which sourced from the renowned Cherryblock Vineyard in Sonoma. Medium-bodied, but packing all manner of red fruit: dried plums, perfectly ripe strawberries, raspberry, and cherry, balanced with a drop of vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco. And we’re talking ripe, sweet fruit: there’s a reason Parker loves this one. This is not a deeply intellectual wine. It’s more like a “crush this with a cheeseburger” kind of wine. And then feel really good about it afterward.
The Magic of Sonoma Vineyards
Gravelly soils and the magic of Sonoma Vineyards are responsible for some of the world’s greatest wines. With their superior draining properties and lack of nutrients, they encourage better-balanced vines, less sprawl, smaller berries, and more intense wines. Gravel Bed Red, as the name suggests, is a proprietary blend showcasing some of the best gravelly sites in Sonoma County. The 2016 bottling features Cabernet from two superb, rocky/volcanic sites in Sonoma Valley: Cherryblock and Lyon. The Cabernet Sauvignon from the Cherryblock Vineyard is a blend of young and old vines. The Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Zinfandel comes from other sites.
2016 was a prime vintage producing high-quality fruit. Overall the season was earlier than average with temperate weather allowing for even ripening and balanced flavors. The summer months were moderately warm with few heat spikes. Overall, the mild season gave us wines of ample ripeness and great complexity. The grapes were harvested from mid-September though late October at optimum ripeness.
We cold soaked many of the lots to increase color and flavor extraction. All of the grapes were fermented warm and only a small portion of press wine was included for aromatics and structure. After fermentation, all of the individual lots were racked off the lees and put into a combination of French and Hungarian oak barrels. Bottling took place in April 2018 following 18 months of barrel aging.
2016 Gravel Bed Red Production Notes
WINEMAKER: Mark Lyon
VARIETALS: 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 10% Malbec, 9% Petit Verdot, 3% Syrah, 1% Zinfandel
APPELLATION: Sonoma County
VINEYARDS: Cherryblock & Lyon Vineyards
TOTAL ACIDITY: 5.7 g/L
HARVEST DATES: September 14 – October 21, 2016
BOTTLING: April 18, 2018
AGING: 18 months
BARRELS: 20% new French and Hungarian oak
And The Critics Go Wild
93 Points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
“The medium to deep ruby colored 2016 Gravel Bed has a mineral driven nose. With time, it opens to pure red and black cherries, cassis, loamy earth and exotic spice notes with a spark of menthol. It’s medium to full-bodied in the mouth, intense and grainy, with great freshness to lift the long, minerally finish. Drink 2021-2033.”
91 Points – Wine & Spirits
“This is a brisk Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Its cool tannins carry a dark, resinous herb character, providing a zesty counterpoint to the lush fruit sweetness. The texture is full and mellow, enlivened by fresh mineral acidity that provides a sandstone like abrasion to the finish. Pour it with pork rillettes or other charcuterie.”
Sebastiani: A Sonoma Legacy
Sebastiani, founded in 1904, ranks amongst the oldest wineries in California today. A prominent historic landmark for Sonoma, they give Napa a run for the money, with a reputation for overdelivering. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate wrote “If you haven’t noticed the qualitative efforts by winemaker Mark Lyon and the Sebastiani team over the last decade or more, it’s time to take notice. Not only are the wines realistically priced, but the quality is very impressive, and some great values can be found.”
Since Bill Foley purchased Sebastiani in 2008, the winemaking team has taken a number of steps to produce world-class wines that showcase the great terroir and versatility of Sonoma County. One of the first things done under Foley’s direction was to decrease production, allowing for focused winemaking efforts on exceptional vineyard sites.
The estate vineyards were recently replanted to carefully match clones and rootstocks. In the same manner, the farming protocols match geography, topography, and climate. Yields are limited at all properties and each site is farmed on a vine-by-vine basis. As for contract vineyards, they work exclusively with growers who not only farm for quality, but who are situated in the sub-appellations of Sonoma County best-suited for each grape variety.
The cellar now handles a huge number of small-lot wines. The winemaking team is able to experiment with techniques such as employing a more natural approach to Chardonnay by fermenting with indigenous yeasts found on the grape skins versus inoculating with commercial yeast strains, for example.
As a result, Sebastiani is making more concentrated, complex wines across all tiers – from the Sonoma County Selection to the Proprietor’s Selection.