Wine Notes by Brian
Holiday Season Wine
The King of Grapes
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kool Kwanzaa, whatever your celebration is, to all of you LivingWhideyIslanders! Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine I’m recommending for your Delicious Delectable December Do’s.
I hope you enjoyed the Thanksgiving pairings and perhaps tried a couple of the suggestions. I would love to hear how that went for you and your guests. Especially, if you tried something out of the norm. It’s always fun to venture out and try new things.
I’m featuring Cabernet Sauvignon because it is so good with beef and other hearty red meat dishes and I will talk vegetarian, too. Stepping on the podium for a moment, let’s get the pronunciation reasonably correct -- because I think you’ll want to know. (American version: KAB-er-nay SAW-vin-Yawn). Just trust me here: Please…. don’t call it “Cab-Sav” (like a “salve” you’d put on a cut) because you’re telling everyone that knows…. well, you get it. Leaping off the podium now to grab my gigantic glass…
First, a little history: This original French varietal was actually a wonderful accident! In the 1600’s (give or take), in the southwest of France around the Bordeaux region, an accidental cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon (before the “blanc” was added later) occurred and voila! Cabernet Sauvignon was born. It is a small thick-skinned hearty grape that is very good at fighting off disease in the vineyards. As of 2015 it is once again the dominant red varietal grown on planet Earth after a couple decades of being number two behind Merlot.
In the Bordeaux region and with the majority of “Cabernet Sauvignons” made, they are not 100% varietal. In Washington and California, for example, a wine must be a minimum of 75% of the dominant grape varietal to carry the name of that grape. So, a Cabernet Sauvignon can be 82% with16% Merlot and 2% Malbec or other varietal percentages. In Bordeaux, the “Left Bank” of the Gironde River is known as the Cabernet Sauvignon dominant region and the “Right Bank” is the Merlot dominant. On either side, you’ll get these varietals blended with some or all of the other Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Each varietal adds flavor, color and tannin characteristics which result in the winemaker’s chosen blend to represent their terrior (Teahr-Warr) or “place”. There is a sixth varietal called Grande Vidure (known as Carmenere: the French word for Crimson grown in Chile and even, Eastern WA)
In the USA, Cabernet Sauvignon became famous when the Napa Valley’s Stags Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon beat the Icon Bordeaux producers in a blind tasting in France during the 1976 Judgment in Paris. And wham! California’s Napa Valley hit the world stage for superior Cabernet!
Here in Washington State, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were first planted after prohibition in the 1930’s in the Yakima Valley. There are still some grapes coming from a small patch of 60 year old vines in the region. Cabernet Sauvignon is also the #1 grape in our state. Globally, Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in all of the major wine producing regions including Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa. Israel, Italy and Canada’s Okanagan Valley are also growing quality Cabernet Sauvignon!
At the old Vino Amore Wine Shop, the two most popular wine events we had included anything from Italy and the Cabernet Sauvignons from “Around the World”.
Flavor: Generally speaking, Cabernet Sauvignon’s original flavor profile is a full-Bodied, tannic, dry red wine that is meant to go with hearty meals. They improve in the cellar with aging, softening the tannin while holding the fruit and flavors of Plum, Black Cherry, Currant, Tobacco, Spice with a hint of Pepper and herbs. Vanilla, Cedar and Toasty Oak flavors get picked up by aging in (mostly) French and American Oak. This varietal will generally age for 18-30 months some in new and some in 2nd year barrels, depending on the year and what the growing season provides along with the winemaker’s decisions.
In Cooler climate regions like Bordeaux and a few others, the wine takes on a bit more “Herbal/Veg” flavor that is natural to the grape. Think asparagus and bell pepper. So, if you’re having a roast with root vegetables and green veggies, the flavor profile works great! Moderate climates kick up the aromatics that I like: minty, black pepper, even a bit of eucalyptus. I like these because they are usually well balanced in fruit (flavor), acid (to cleanse the palate) and Tannin (that wonderful dry grip of the tongue). I love it with Filet Mignon, New York Strip (or that honkin Porterhouse!) as well as Prime Rib and Lamb.
Warmer Climates usually have higher Brix (sugar) showing more fruit and less acid but still with big tannin that smacks your tongue. Washington State averages two more hours per day of sunlight during the growing season than California, as the Columbia Valley is close to the global latitude lines of Bordeaux. Napa and Sonoma are much further south but still have the heat to ripen this slow-ripening grape. Paso Robles, Yakima (Rattlesnake Hills), Red Mountain and Walla Walla all have power packed Cabernets. Just pour it, swirl it, smell it, drink it and enjoy it! With food, sure…that Rib-Eye would be awesome. How about that gourmet burger?
Vegetarians will find that a mushroom-driven dish is a great substitute to red meat. Especially a nice Balsamic & Olive-oil marinated and grilled Portabella over a bed of arugula – and a glass of Cabernet.
With Chocolate - be careful here. Cabernet will go with dark/bitter chocolate but not so much milk Chocolate or white Chocolate
Here are some of our Favorite Cabernets: Price ranges are estimates
WA: Powers, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest Grand Estates, Airfield, Mt. Baker Vineyards
CA: Mondavi, Leese-Fitch, Hahn, Joel Gott, Murphy-Goode, Louis Martini
WA: Amavi, Alexandria Nicole, Holmes Harbor Cellars, Chat.Ste. Michelle Vineyard Designate, Seven Hills, Tamarac, Dunham, L’Ecole #41, Walla Walla Vintners,
CA: Blooms Family Vineyards, Frogs Leap, Sean Minor
WA: Betz Family Winery Pere de Famille, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek, Pepper Bridge, Northstar, Abeja, Spring Valley Vineyards, Columbia Crest Walter Clore Reserve, Mark Ryan, Long Shadows “Feather”
CA: Duckhorn, Cakebread, Stags Leap Cellars, Mondavi, Berringer Reserve, Justin, Chateau Montelena, Heitz, Shaffer, Silver Oak, Joseph Phelps, Pahlmeyer
When looking at International wines, don’t be shy - ask your wine merchant. This is especially true with French Bordeaux’s. Usually, you can’t go wrong with Domaine Rothschild in all price points but, European wines really depend heavily on the growing conditions of the vintage year. It’s worth it to ask or check your app!