So there I was, living by some strange pre-millennial twist of fate in the Connecticut suburbs. What else was there to do, really, but try to meet Paul Newman, who just happened to live in the same town? No, "try to meet" is not a polite euphemism for "stalk"; I just thought it would be interesting to lay eyes on the man, who had a reputation in the town for being a real guy. (This was in sharp contrast to the town's second-most-famous resident, Martha Stewart, who had a reputation for being spectacularly unreal.) My apartment was conveniently located across the street from a swanky restaurant where Newman reportedly took a drink from time to time, and it soon became my favorite place to meet my sister for martinis. How perfectly appropriate — given all that's been said about Newman's genuineness and humility since he died late last month — that when I finally did see him, it was not shoulder to shoulder at a mahogany bar, drinking high-priced cocktails. It was in line at the hardware store. Buying nails.
So, this week we take a break from crying in our beers over his passing to raise a glass — two glasses, actually — of Newman's Own 2006 Chardonnay ($11) and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($11.99). Releasing its first vintage earlier this year, the Newman's Own brand continues the practice of giving all profits and royalties after taxes to charity. The wine is vinted and bottled by St. Helena's Rebel Wine Co., meaning the winery handled the bottling but not necessarily the winemaking. This is bulk wine, made with grapes from Napa, Sonoma, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo.
A character reminiscent of butter and wild yeast came to the mind of our Token Winemaker as he sipped the Newman's Own Chardonnay; he added that the aroma would be pleasing to the many fans of this particular style of Chard, and that the wine was nicely balanced. A Chard person I am not, but I liked the aroma here, which I found more lemony than buttery or yeasty. It had a fullness I appreciated and a nice finish.
I found Newman's Own Cabernet Sauvignon to be decidedly un-Cab-like — perhaps in part because of its 13.5 percent alcohol, which is low relative to the many California Cabs creeping toward 15 and 16 percent. To me the aroma was quite muted on this wine, but a taste provided a rich mouthful of fruit. "Too much toasted oak," was our Token Winemakers' main complaint; he also found the body a bit thin for a Cab (faux Pinot, is what I kept thinking), but we both felt it was redeemed overall by the fruit.
On a scale stretching from hardware store to martini bar, these well-balanced, simple, and satisfying wines fall closer to bandsaws and router bits then tufted couches and stuffed queens. These days, that's just fine with us.
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