Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of Grapes. Oops that sounds too sexist. Cabernet Sauvignon is the Reigning Monarch of grapes! Better?
It’s the Reigning Monarch not only because it is the most widely planted grape for quality wine in the world but because it is a commanding presence. The vine is well traveled and hearty and it plays a major role in the winemaking history, culture and economics, particularly of France, the USA, Chile, Australia, and to some extent, Italy, and it influences the tastes of the world. What makes it so commanding?
Let’s start with Taste. Cabernet from the US, Chile and Australia tend to be bold and muscular. Full bodied and full flavored, they usually lead with vibrant dark fruit flavors, which can be rather intensely focused in higher quality young wines. The “Old World” Cabs and blends of Bordeaux are also lushly flavorful but the fruitiness is not as dominant. Instead there is often a counterbalance that is more a taste of the terroir which may remind you of mushroom or cedar.
Black currant, blueberry and blackberry are the fruit flavors that are typically most pronounced yet you will also find some wines whose taste might bring to mind black cherries. But it’s not all about the fruit. Cabernet also may have characteristic flavors of green olives, bell pepper, graphite, cedar, mint and eucalyptus, even coffee or tobacco. It is one of the beautiful things about Cabernet that the taste is layered and complex.
Then there is the impact of the barrel aging and the winemaker’s philosophy. The use of French oak barrels can often add a note of vanilla, while American oak brings forth more woody, toasty flavors. And the balance of new versus old barrels and the amount time the wine is aged in them is all part of the winemakers art. Sure, there are some simple Cabs on the shelves, but you don’t have to spend a lot to enjoy the complexity and nuance of this wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is tannic and can even be a bit harsh if very young. That’s one of the reasons that most of the Cabernet you’ll buy has spent some aging time in barrel and bottle before release. It’s also the reason why other wine varieties are frequently blended in with it… to soften those tannins in addition to also adding complexity. The great wines of the Medoc in Bordeaux are not 100% Cabernet, usually containing some Cab Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and/or Malbec. Even in the US, it only has to have 75% Cabernet in the bottle to be labeled Cabernet Sauvignon. (see my post on Reading the Wine Label).
But it is that tannin that helps make Cabernet the wine that is so sought after and prized around the world because tannin lets it evolve and change over time. It is that ability which gives Cab its undisputed place in the wine world. While a youthful California Cabernet may have fruit that leaps out at the first sip, after a few years that power becomes wrapped in a velvet glove, giving way to suppleness and elegance. While a pricey Bordeaux may seem a bit lean and tight when its released, some time spent aging will bring out the richness and depth – and best of the best can drink well for years.
Cabernet is a conundrum – big, bold and powerful as well as elegant, refined and beautiful. A pretty interesting balance of characteristics for the Reigning Monarch of the world of wine.
2013 BR Cohn Silver Label $20
Cassis and cherry cola. Have a sip and listen to the Doobie Bros.
2013 Errazuriz Cabernet Sauvignon Max Riserva $15
Valle de Aconcagua, Chile. Black currant and spice. Drink it.
2013 J Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Seven Oaks Paso Robles $15
Always there when you want it. Ripe and drinkable
2013 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $25
A go-to Cab that always pleases. Ready to drink.
2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $45
Soft and very well structured so you can drink it now or later. And it’s from organically farmed grapes.
2012 Chateau Talbot Saint Julien $55
I haven’t had this vintage but here’s what Parker had to say:
“A juicy style of wine, Talbot’s 2012 has a dense ruby/purple color, plenty of black and red currant fruit, a touch of plum, soft tannin and a spicy, medium-bodied mouthfeel. It is excellent, with no hollowness or astringency. This is a very successful wine in this vintage and should drink well for 15-20 years.” – Robert M. Parker, Jr., eRobertParker.com #218, Apr 2015
Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $60
Larkmead Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 $100
I get this on allocation but you may find it on an auction site. Fabulous Cabernet. Big and bold fruit with amazing layers of flavor. Needs a few years to do it full justice.