Your Gift Giving Guide to Great Cabernet
Not only is Cabernet Sauvignon the most popular red wine, it’s also one that is best suited to gift giving. It’s a wine that everyone knows and understands. Big, rich and bold, it’s the archetype of red wines that is perfect for the cooler months that lie ahead. While Cabernet does get a bit of a bad rap as being ubiquitous, that doesn’t mean that that all Cabernet is the same.
There are fascinating differences between producers in the same region, and of course between regions. While much of the world has adopted a certain style for their cabernet, favoring richness of fruit and tenderness of tannin over something a bit more rustic and complex that doesn’t leave us without ample choices this holiday season. If you are looking for a cabernet this gift giving season might I suggest looking beyond the obvious and searching out producers who continue to produce wines that show hints of herbaceousness. Wines that capture the beauty of Cabernet’s power without surrendering to the lack of detail that power can bring to the table. There are many regions for you to choose from; from Napa Valley, to South Africa great things are happening with today’s Cabernet.
Nothing says Cabernet like Napa says Cabernet. It has been home to some of the most successful wineries in the US for decades, and has been the source of some terrific wines over the years, so its reputation is duly deserved. Though it has also been the poster child for both over the top wines of excess and pricing that has but a fleeting association with reality. None the less, if you’re giving a gift, putting a bottle of Napa’s finest Cabernets on the table does carry a significant impact and to be truthful, those overwrought wines that don’t do much for me do have a huge audience. Still, I will always seek out wines that harken back to the great Napa Cabs of the past, if only in spirit. Here are five worth tracking down.
2009 Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve $18-$22
Martin Ray is a famous name from the past better known for his wines from Santa Cruz fruit. Today’s incarnation offers a broad array of wines and this little number carries the Napa tag along with a reserve designation so it looks particularly prestigious, even if it doesn’t break the bank. It’s a lovely wine, clean and sleek while marrying gentle sweet oak to fresh blackberry and black currant fruit.
2010 Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon $30-$40
Elizabeth Spencer may not be a terribly familiar name to the Cabernet drinker, though her Sauvignon Blanc has been a perennial favorite of mine. That same style that makes her Sauvy so attractive works wonders when applied to Napa Valley Cabernet. Here’s a wine that unites fruit from throughout the valley and the result is one slightly lean, finely focused red fruited wonder that is supple but not soft and just invites one to keep drinking the bottle.
2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon $35-$40
While my tastes run a bit outside the mainstream when it comes to Napa Cabernet there is no denying the appeal of the softer, lush, explosively fruity style that is the current paradigm for success. Usually this is accompanied by a mighty price tag but that's not the case with valley veteran Freemark Abbey who’ve bottled a fabulous offering in 2010. Rich and creamy, and ready to be consumed now and over the next several years, this is one little powerhouse of a wine that never loses focus in the mouth.
2007 Smith Madrone $36-$50
Smith Madrone make, for my money, one of the few collectable Cabernets from Napa worth the tariff. It’s a bit of a throwback wine, rustic some might call it. It doesn’t hide it’s slight herbaceousness, nor does it come with pre -softened tannins. What it does deliver is a lively, earthy, focused mouthful of Cabernet fruit that needs a few years to round out into form but then evolves in classic form for two decades. It is the golden age of Napa Cabernet in a bottle.
2007 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $65-$85
As much as I love Smith Madrone, Dunn has them beat, though for a price. Dunn’s wines are for me the top of the heap. Have an aged example of either the Napa bottling or the more massively constructed and somewhat more expensive Howell Mountain and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Both are tight wines, though the Napa is in no way a second wine to the Howell Mtn. It’s a little softer, particularly in a ripe vintage like 2007 which you might begin enjoying before it’s tenth birthday; lightspeed when it comes to these wines. Just big, rich, complex and yet fresh Napa Cabernet that should be in every wine lover’s cellar.
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