Wayne on Wine:

Cabernet sauvignon: King of grapes

By Wayne Crawford

Cabernet sauvignon is the most widely planted wine grape in the world – King Cab.

This well-concentrated, tannic, full-bodied wine, designed for long aging, has its birthplace in Gironde in southwest France. This is the common name for the Gironde estuary, where the mouths of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers merge; the Bordeaux wine region is in the Gironde. King Cab is a cross of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. France is the dominant grower for this red grape, followed by Chile, USA, Australia, Spain, China, Argentina, Italy and South Africa. In Georgia, cabernet sauvignon often is grown in the mountains.Not all Cabernet Sauvignon will taste the same. Much depends on the soil and climate conditions. In general, a young Cab will carry aromas and flavors of black cherry and plum. In cooler climates, the dominant flavors are red and black currant and, in warmer cli- mates, black cherry and blackberry.

When harvested at lower ripeness levels, the grapes often radiate vegetal and green bell pepper aromas. In more mature Cabs, cedar, pencil lead, mint and cocoa exude. Less expensive Cabs are often more fruit-forward. Added flavors of vanilla and spice emerge when the wine is aged in oak; French, American or Hungarian are often the first choice for barrel wood. The winemaker has the flexibility to select new barrels with varying degrees of toasting inside the barrel or use a mix of old and new barrels to lessen the impact of new oak on the wine.

In France, cabernet sauvignon is blended more often with other grapes and barrel-aged. In Bordeaux, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, malbec and carmenere are in the blend. In America, cabernet is more often the primary grape or 100 percent of the grape in the bottle, though the Meritage alliance embrace the blending found in Bordeaux.

King Cab is the most popular red wine sold in the USA, with wide acceptance as a solid, full-bodied wine available in all price ranges. Napa’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar 1973 Cabernet, famous for winning the Judgement of Paris in 1976 in a blind-tasting against similar French wines, helped put Napa on the wine map.

Cult collector wines often include exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, for example: Harlan Estate 1991 at $745, if you can find a bottle; or Screaming Eagle 1992 to 2012, all 20 bottles at $56,950 at www.cultwine.com. I can safely say I have not had either wine. Wine Spectator just released its top 100 wines for 2015. At No. 1 is Peter Michael Oakville Au Paradis 2012 at $195 and, at No. 2, Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley at $140 – both Cabernet Sauvignons.

The great news for the everyday buyer looking for wines to enjoy with a meal or a special evening with friends is there is a vast selection from which to draw. In November, the Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasted the wines listed below as “Wines drinking well now.” Our first choice was a Raymond 2006 Reserve, aged in oak. I have added addition- al wines to consider in the $15 to $30 price range.

Wine without food is like a fish out of water – all alone and at risk. The wine pairs exceptionally well with braised, grilled or rack of lamb, roasted and grilled beef or steak and red meats, particularly wild game including duck, venison, rabbit stew, kidney pie and rabbit livers. Add mushrooms, rosemary and thyme to enhance flavors. With cheese, consider aged blue, brie, Camembert and Gorgonzola.

‘Wines drinking well now’

Raymond 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $35: A blend of 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent merlot and 4 percent cabernet franc, this wine offers ruby-red colors with aromas of cherry, blackberry, raspberry, black currant and hints of spice, cedar and cocoa. On the palate, it is a full-bodied red with boysenberry, raspberry, red cherry, currant, black pepper and vanilla flavors, in a long, smooth finish.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2002 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $50: Dark- red color with black cherry, plums, spice, tea and hints of truffle, in the mouth this wine balances tannins and acidity with raspberry, red currant, cocoa and ginger. It has a long finish, with cherry and vanilla overtones.

Louis Martini, Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2010, $18: Dark ruby-red colors with plum, blackberry jam aromas, on the palate this wine’s dark berry flavors dominate with hints of caramelized and toasted oak in a long finish complemented by fruit flavors.

Other Cabernet Sauvignons to consider: Chateau Ste. Michelle 2013 Columbia Valley, $15; Chateau St. Jean 2012 Alexander Valley, $30; Vina Koyle 2012 Colchagua Valley, $26; Vina Carmen 2012 Maipo Valley Gran Reserva, $15; and Columbia Crest 2013 Horse Haven Hills H3, $19.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus is on Argentina red wines – think Malbec, Pinot Noir, Syrah and, perhaps, another Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wayne Crawford isa certified specialistof Wine CSW and a member of the Societyof Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society.


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