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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon Column

It's always hard to write an informative wine column in only 450 words (give or take), but this time was almost impossible. Cabernet sauvignon is just too good and too interesting. Difficulty notwithstanding, here's the latest column:

Despite our recently professed love for syrah, cabernet sauvignon continues to deserve its long-held title as the “king of grapes.” At its best, it surpasses all other grapes in taste, texture, and balance, yielding a wine of such stunning depth and impossible smoothness that to drink it is quite simply to experience bliss. At such moments, one feels as if the glass contains pure liquid satin infused with hypnotic currant, plum, earth, leather, and spice notes. Few gastronomic experiences even approach comparison.

Like most wines, cabernet sauvignon is often categorized as “New World” or “Old World.” New world examples tend to be very ripe, full-bodied wines with sweet fruit balanced by herbal and spice notes. While Chile and Australia produce excellent ones, the dominant source of outstanding New World cabernet is California, which produces a dizzying number of world class cabs and has done so for decades. But we’re also extremely excited about Washington state, which now produces several bottlings that are, by most accounts, as good as or even better than California’s most revered legends. In fact, many experts predict that Washington will someday replace California as the United States’ premiere region for cabernet sauvignon.

By far the most famous, and most would say the best, source of Old World cabernet sauvignon is the Bordeaux region of France, where many of the wines are blends consisting of 75% or more cabernet sauvignon. While often winemakers do not list the grapes that make up their wines, a few minutes on the internet will usually reveal the blend. (Incidentally, many U.S. cabernet sauvignons are blends as well; U.S. law requires that a wine labeled with a specific grape name consist of at least 75% of that varietal, leaving room for wines made from other grapes to be added for balance and complexity.) But brilliant examples can also be found in southern France as well as in Italy, where many “Super Tuscans” are composed of a majority of cabernet sauvignon. In contrast to their New World counterparts, these European cabernets tend to favor elegance over brawn, with subdued fruit and more prominent earth and leather notes.

As you might expect, however, perfection comes with a price. High end cabernets often retail for $125 or more. And, unlike syrah, good cabernet sauvignon rarely costs less than $20. But, as we see it, the Holiday season—with its requisite procession of succulent roasted meats and rich cheeses—marks the perfect occasion for splurging on a special bottle. If you do decide to splurge, though, get help. There’s nothing worse (in the context of wine-drinking) than an astringent, overly-tannic cabernet that you just blew $40 on. But, then again, there’s nothing better than a good one.

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