All hail the king!
King cabernet sauvignon, that is. This bodacious grape rules the roost of red wine all around the planet. Name a wine-making region and chances are pretty good you’ll find a batch of cab vineyards waiting to burst forth with glorious fruit to make glorious wines.
It’s the signature grape of the historic Left Bank wineries of Bordeaux (merlot is the boss on the Right Bank). In the New World what would California, primarily Napa Valley, be without the multitude of stellar cabs that have established the Golden State as a world-class producer?
You will find palate-pleasing cabs from the state of Washington, Chile, Napa’s neighbor Sonoma County, Australia and elsewhere. There even are Cabernets in boxes that are good values — and pretty good wines, too.
Climate change does not bode well for grape growing — not just in California, but throughout the world. Temperatures are up and winery folks are taking notice. I’ve paraphrased one gallows-humor writer previously for saying that in a few decades Napa Valley — at least its present climate — will actually be in Mendocino County, about 100 miles to the north.
So before we run out of time, I’m going to introduce you to a quintet of fine California cabernet sauvignons, four of which claim Napa Valley as home. This is not a gathering of “value wines,” i.e. good wines for 20 bucks. These will nick your wallet from $30 to $72. All are perfect food wines and all will age well for at least another five years.
These, my friends, are what splendid red wine is all about.
Oak Farm Cabernet Sauvignon 2016: This is the bargain of the bunch. Why? The label does not say Napa Valley. This wine comes from the Lodi region, which in the last two decades has emerged as a respected vineyard area. Lodi is just south of Sacramento and southeast of Napa Valley. This offering is a tad lighter than the others, but still shows off classic cab character of earth and dark fruit. Want to become familiar with why cabernet is such a great wine, but don’t want to take out a home loan to do so? I recommend Oak Farm. Price: about $30.
Mi Sueno Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: This is a Napa Valley beauty, and the most expensive of this collection. The name means “my dream” in Spanish, and this wine represents the culmination of the dreams of owner Rolando Herrera. Born in Mexico, he started his career as a dishwasher in Napa Valley, then worked his way up the “cellar rat” ladder, working with some legendary winemakers. This is a big wine, with firm tannins, lots of “chew” factor and easy-to-love fruit. I regret having had to open this one, as I know it will be more mature in five years. Price: about $72.
Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon 2016: Charles Krug is one of Napa Valley’s oldest and most regarded wineries. It’s where Robert Mondavi got his start. It truly is a legacy winery. I aerated all of these cabs, but this one really needs that treatment; it’s a tad stiff on the first sip, but softens in 10-15 minutes. You’ll find a bunch of black cherry floating around, surrounded by full-bore tannins. This one has a finish that reminds you many minutes after it’s gone just how good and well-balanced it is. Price: about $40.
Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2014: Here’s another Napa Valley gem. The folks at Long Meadow Ranch not only produce extremely good wines, but they are kind to the earth at the same time, using organic and sustainable methods in production. This wine is meatier, perhaps because it is the oldest of the group. It, too, is a bit chewy and cries out for a large, juicy sizzling New York strip steak. This is the darkest hued of the five, but everything is in balance here. Price: about $55.
Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2016: I have been a great booster of Martini wines, from before the family sold the winery in 2002 to E. & J. Gallo and since. It was a marriage that was a winner for both parties. Martini began producing wine at the end of Prohibition, making it one of the oldest Napa Valley wineries. Their red wines always have been highly regarded. This cab is good enough to make me forget that marvelous barbera that Martini made for years. In addition to the vanilla aroma from the oak aging I notice a whiff of cedar chest. It is full-bodied, but gentle. Iron fist in a velvet glove. It is ready to drink now. Price: about $42.
Wine of the Month
Backsberg Pinotage Rose 2018
The wine: Crisp, dry rose wine
The grapes: 100% pinotage
The source: Paarl region of South Africa
The verdict: The pinotage grape is to South Africa what the Zinfandel grape is to this country. It’s versatile, can be used to create full-bodied dry table wines, sweet dessert wines and a whole lot in between. This is one of those in-between wines. And I’m impressed. Backsberg walks the walk when it comes to being earth-friendly. It is one of the few wineries in the world that is carbon-neutral. This wine has a sparkle to it — not bubbles, just a bright sheen that makes you want to taste it. It tastes terrific! It is quite dry, but a soupcon of strawberry and mango gives it a boost. It’s a wonderful food wine and a great sipper. I sampled it on one of those early September afternoons when the temperature was “blast furnace.” It cooled me down and cheered me up.
The price: About $15