Cabernet Sauvignon, that is. This grape, at times considered “the king of grapes”, has never really been out of fashion, but its very dominance has invited drinkers to look, from time to time, to other varietals, just to find something different to enjoy.
Still, from its home in Bordeaux to California, to Australia and pretty well every other corner of the wine-making world, Cabernet Sauvignon continues to lead the pack.
Currently, it is the number one red varietal at our liquor stores, and its market share is growing. Recognizing that, the LCBO is continuing to add to the selection of Cab Sauvs particularly in styles and at price levels with broad appeal.
Cabernet Sauvignon is itself a natural cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that occurred in the 1600’s. The flavour associations include black fruit such as blackberry, black currant (or cassis) and black cherry. Other elements can include black pepper, tobacco, cedar, graphite, licorice, and vanilla, among others. If you detect bell pepper, it may be a signal that some of the grapes were under-ripe.
It is quite common to age Cabernet in oak before bottling. The age of the barrels, the kind of wood, and decisions regarding fining or filtering will all affect the flavour. Newer barrels will impart oakiness, toast, and vanilla, while older barrels will be more neutral. American oak is looser grained that French oak, resulting in a more accessible wine at first.
At Fetzer in California, I was able to taste from barrel the same vintage of wine aged under exactly identical conditions, but in two different barrels, one American oak, and one French. It was a clear indication of the impact that the type of oak can have on a wine.
It was at “The Judgement in Paris” in 1976 that California Cabernet Sauvignon, specifically from the Napa Valley, came into its own. While, statistically, it was relatively “neck and neck”, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon came first out of 10 wines which included some of France’s top growths.
On the 30th anniversary of that tasting, the American wines- albeit they were now over 30 years old – did it again, with 5 wines finishing ahead of the four French wines in the tasting. What does it all mean? Basically, American Cabernet Sauvignon can hold its own with the best.
As a result, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Napa Valley sold on average for over $6,000 a ton for the 2015 harvest – in comparison, the price for Merlot was about half that.
No surprise, then, that even an ‘inexpensive’ Cab from Napa will sell in the $30 range. Move to other areas of the State, and the prices can moderate.
The Louis M. Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $32.95, is described in the Wine Spectator as being “a wholesome expression of earth- and graphite-driven Cabernet, commingling with road tar, roasted herb and dark berry flavors. Crushed rock minerality enlivens the finish." The score: 91. A reputable New York merchant lists it as $40 U.S., so I guess it’s a bargain!
Lander-Jenkins Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $18.95, is sustainably grown, and comes from various vineyards in north central California. It is quite spicy, and verging on off-dry with 12 grams of sugar per litre. Vintages suggests pairing it with steak or “mutton burgers” – which makes some sense, as Cabernet Sauvignon is considered a good accompaniment to fatty foods.
One of the most popular reds at the LCBO is Carnivor, $17.45, from California. It comes about half-way between the two previous wines in sugar content, and carries a Wine Enthusiast “Best Buy” designation – Jim Gordon describes it as deep, dark and rich, combining flavours such as blackberry and chocolate with meat and black pepper.
19 Crimes from Australia, a label which commemorates the 19 crimes for which a “felon” might be transported from England to “the colonies” – from Murder to “Clandestine Marriage” – now has a Cabernet Sauvignon on our shelves, along with its popular Shiraz/Durif. At $18.95, this has significant sweet dark fruit, with some vanilla and chocolate, as well as soft tannins on the finish.
On the September 17 Vintages release, there are also a few Cabs deserving attention. Ironstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $17.95, is from Lodi in the northern part of the Central Valley. Winecurrent.com gives it a solid 4 stars out of 5, calling it “medium-full bodied and smooth…with lingering lip-smacking aftertaste.”
Chile actually has the second highest acreage in production of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world. In awarding Siegel Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $16.95, a Gold Medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards, judges commented on “sweet spice and plums” and “good length and character”.
Australia’s Robert Oatley Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $19.95, is drier in style and firm, with velvety black fruit spice and a gentle earthiness. Butterfly that leg of lamb, marinate it, sear it and finish it in a low oven! (Check out Jacques Pépin’s ‘Lamb Robert’)
Italy normally wouldn’t be the first place that comes to mind for Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Falesco Tellus Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $15.95, new to Vintages, has James Suckling’s approval as a “yummy and balanced Cab”. He identifies “chocolate and currant aromas and flavors [and] attractive currant, rosebush and almond aftertaste” -92.
South America should be your destination on the general list shelves for bargain Cabernet Sauvignon. There are many under $15, and Fuzion Alta Reserve 2014 rings in at just $10.95. Smooth and medium bodied, it displays soft dark cherry notes and light tannins at the end. Very easy drinking, and satisfying.
Other Cabernet Sauvignons which will be highlighted over the next few months include Australia’s Angove Organic 2015 and Lindeman’s Gentleman’s Collection, Argentina’s Dona Paula Estate and Chile’s Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva, along with the Helderberg Winery and Big Bill from South Africa. We will review them when they are featured in the LCBO.
September 17 Vintages Release
Man Family Warrelwind Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $13.95 is a South African bargain, with sleek and refined tropical fruit, green apple, and pepper. 13% Semillon brings depth and structure, smoothing out the mouthfeel. erobertparker.com rates it 90.
Flat Rock Riesling 2014, $16.95, is the wine to drink when you want something off-dry. Wine Align’s David Lawrason says “the palate is full-flavoured and rich-tasting with zesty succulence tightening up the tangy/fruity finish.” 89.
Bonterra Viognier 2014, $19.95, from the region just above Napa and Sonoma in California, is organically grown and will, like all the Bonterra line, give a clear expression to that fruit. The balance is tight-rope perfect, with a texture holding the line between tangy and plush, flavours balancing apple and peach, and the flavours lasting and true.
12 E Mezzo Primitivo 2014, $13.95, from Puglia, bears the Wine Spectator’s seal of approval, described as “fresh and juicy with a silky palate of raspberry coulis, and currant fruit, accented by notes of wild herb, ground white pepper and anise.” 88.
Rio Madre Graciano 2014, $14.95, is a treat, as usually this grape is most often used for blending. It is noted for its intense aromas of flowers and chocolate. vinous.com remarks on the wines’ sweet and expansive palate offering “sappy black and blue fruit flavors”, and suggests that the wine shows “energy and power” on the finish. 90.
Trivento Amado Sur Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah 2013, $16.95, is a re-release which first appeared in January. This is a big wine, so “Breathe, Baby Breathe!” Give it time to open up, and you will enjoy deep layers of dark fruit and spices, and you’ll experience soft smooth tannins at the end. Given the extra six months it has enjoyed in the bottle since the last release, it should be even more ready to drink.
La Terraza Franzisi Wine and Food Experience 6:00 P.M. September 24 – Richards Landing on St. Joseph island.
Call the restaurant on the weekends to reserve at 705-246-1500, or otherwise you can reach Maria on her cell – 705-542-3837. Five delicious courses will be matched with five suitable wines, and cost is $50, plus tax and gratuities. It should be lots of fun.