In defense of the fruitbomb

Okay, I admit it: I love big, complex California Cabernets. I know that style of Cabernet Sauvignon has fallen out of fashion lately, in favor of more-austere, lower-alcohol Cabernets of Northern California’s yesteryear (pre-1990s).

I like the more-restrained Cabs as well, but in my mind the rich, fruit-laden offerings of Napa Valley will always have their place. They do, after all, accurately express Napa’s hot, sunny climate, just as many Cab-dominant Bordeaux reds reflect the comparatively cooler weather of that growing region.

Some critics may define fruitbombs as those Cabs that are not complex; what makes them objectionable is the one-note blast of excess alcohol and lack of multi-dimensional fruit on the palate.

Yes, such wines are produced and often sell for eye-popping tariffs.

But I’m defending the big Cabs that exude their terroir and the summer sun that nourished their grapes. Many such wines are made in relatively small quantities by non-marquee producers, and it’s fun to discover ones that are new (to me).

34 - B for Branham 2

Such as Branham Estate Wines’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

I found it last December, at Kahn’s Fine Wines in Indianapolis. The bin of Branham 2009 Napa Cab was displayed with a laudatory description and, although the $39.99 price was a bit more than I was planning to spend for a bottle to keep in our hotel room, it was Christmas, after all, so why not a small gift for ourselves?

Checking out at the register, we asked the store’s proprietor about this producer. Branham was unfamiliar to him as well, until winery reps had visited the store, let him try a bottle and won him over. (Kahn’s was also offering Branham’s 2010 Russian River Chardonnay, a bottle of which we added to our order, for around $23, and consumed with pleasure.)

I subsequently learned that winemaker Gary Branham, who established the business in 1994, grows—in Sonoma and Napa Counties—95% of the grapes he uses to make his wines, which also include Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Pinot Noir. But his Napa Valley Cabernet is his first-born (and perhaps favorite?), with the first vintage produced in 1999. I couldn’t find production number for 2009, but Branham made 300 cases of the 2011 Napa Valley Cab.

34 - Branham bottle w cork

I purchased another bottle of the 2009 Branham last week, again at Kahn’s while in Indianapolis. It was alongside bins for the 2008 and 2010 vintages (the latter bin was empty), although Kahn’s website no longer shows those vintages to be available.

It was as delicious as I remembered it. The dark ruby color in the glass and cherry on the nose portend the deep, full experience on the palate: some tobacco and dirt upon opening, with a lingering flavor of tart cherries as you drink through a glass. That’s a fruitbomb I can love.

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