How to Choose the Right Cabernet

 


Cabernet Sauvignon is a shape-shifter. This is true for nearly every grape, but most especially Cab. Perhaps because it is grown in so many places, we are aware of the many different shapes it can take. Climate, terroir, vintage year, winemaking and more make a huge difference. But what IS it about Cabernet Sauvignon? The Gironde native has captured our imagination for centuries. It is a fan favorite across the globe.

Maybe it’s the color. Cab juice is almost always a distinctive red-purple hue, thanks to the grape’s polyphenol-rich skins. And nobody can deny the grape’s natural balance – most Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a double-power-punch of rich red fruit and singeing acidity. Its capacity for complexity and development is clear.

Cab is grown in a lot of places, but we tend to stick with the old reliable favorites. The fruit fanfares of Napa and the restrained waltzes of Bordeaux are not featured here. The selections I’ve decided to highlight aren’t unheard of, but deserve some extra attention.
Cab’s strong varietal character stands out no matter where it’s grown. While we can make generalizations about how a grape expresses itself in a region, so much comes down to the bottle you drink. What’s more painful to comprehend is that every individual bottle is different. It’s so hard to generalize wine, but we do our best.

That said, you can count on Cab to bring notes of black cherry and currant. Violet flowers are known to emerge. Sometimes olive. The supporting nuances – chocolate, cedar box, pencil shavings – can vary. The oak program is also a matter of importance: Where is the oak from? How old is the oak?  Was the oak toasted? How long was the wine sitting in the oak? The variations are endless.

With this in mind, get tasting.
 
Sassicaia

Sassicaia is made by a single estate – Tenuta San Guido. The winery received its own DOC (Bolgheri-Sassicaia) for the wine, which must contain eighty percent Cab. The rest is Cab Franc. Sassicaia is loosely defined as “stony” because of the stones in the Cab vineyards. The goal was to create the next great left bank Bordeaux blend with grapes grown in Tuscany. Clearly, it was a success. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015 received 97 points from Wine Spectator and was named 2018 wine of the year. This is an investment wine not necessarily intended for every day drinking.

However, you can find reasonably priced Tenuta San Guido wines made with grapes from the young vines that will one day produce the prized Sassicaia – after they grow up of course.

Seek: Tenuta San Guido La Difense 2015

There are still some of these swirling around retail shops, priced from $30 to $50.


Guadalupe Valley, Mexico

This region is an up-and-comer on the Baja, California wine trail. There are over one hundred wineries here, and I suspect more will come. The wines can be hard to find, and expensive (due to high taxation rates). If those barriers are removed, I think we’d see a lot more talk about these wines. In the meantime, plan a visit.

Seek: Lomita Tinto de la Hacienda Cabernet 2015.

Drink during your stay.


Horse Heaven Hills, Washington

There’s a lot of wine being made in Horse Heaven Hills, and cooler-climate Cab has so much to offer. The vineyards on the bluffs above the Columbia River are stunning, and the region’s location insulates it from the worst weather extremes.

Seek: Westport Winery Garden Resort Charterboat Chick Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2016

Drink during your stay at the resort.
 

Coonawarra, Australia

When you hear Australian Cab, it’s probably from Coonawarra. Six out of ten vines in the region are Cab.  Here, Cab manifests some truly unique flavors. Menthol, eucalyptus, and mint are often found hiding under subtler fruits. You can find these at fantastic values across the United States.

Seek: Penley Estate Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra 2016



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