Thu 30 Aug 2012
As I said a few days ago, it’s not as if cabernet sauvignon languishes without fans, it’s not as if cab sav doesn’t have advocates all over the place, but here it is, World Cabernet Day, and what the hell, what else do we have to do to fill our empty lives but give days and months and whole seasons to the celebration of grape varieties. I offer two examples of cabernet sauvignon today, a selection that doesn’t even begin to scratch the top layer of veneer on the massive oak cabinet that metaphorically could stand for the monumental presence that the cabernet sauvignon grape exerts in the living room, as it were, of wine producers, wine drinkers and wine collectors; I mean to say, it dwarfs every other red grape that might attend the party. Cab sav is planted in most of the world’s wine regions, whether suited to them or not, but where does it perform best? The short list: The left bank of the region of Bordeaux (remember, the Right Bank is dominated by cabernet franc and merlot); a few spots in California, principally Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley and Paso Robles; Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia; Hawkes Bay in New Zealand; a narrow range of southwestern Tuscany, by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Other vineyard areas, such as Maipo and Aconcagua in Chile and Salta in Argentina are showing improvement.
This post, however, offers two fairly directly appealing inexpensive cabernet sauvignon wines that reveal marks of individuality as well as adherence to the character of the grape. These were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, though if I didn’t, would they slap me in chains and drop me in the hoosegow?
The photograph, taken by me, is of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Fay Vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, August 6, 2012.
BenMarco is a label from Susana Balbo who with all respect could be called the mistress of wine in Argentina. The BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, contains 6 percent merlot and 4 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged a conservative 11 months in 60 percent new French oak barrels, 40 percent in second-use American oak. (The implication of “second-use” barrels is that their influence will be milder and more mellow, less spicy and woody than new oak.) The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet offers a heady amalgam of macerated and lightly roasted black currants and cherries, with an undertow of plum, bolstered by black olive, thyme and sage and a touch of lavender. In the mouth, BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is intense and concentrated, a mouthful of boldly framed, slightly grainy tannins, supple oak, vibrant acidity and ripe but slightly dusty black and blue fruit flavors. The finish is packed with spice and underbrushy earthly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $18, though around the country you find prices from $15 to $20.
I also tried the Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and — another Balbo label — the Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, both from Mendoza, and found them oddly stiff with oak and unpalatable.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
The Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, spent 18 months in French oak hogshead barrels, and while “hogshead” is a rather amorphous measurement of liquid volume I’m sure you get the point that it’s a large barrel, the point being that such a barrel will not have the intensity of influence exercised by the standard 59-gallaon barrel or barrique. This wine has its eccentricities, and they’re lively and attractive ones. The color, first, is dark ruby with a slightly lighter violet rim; aromas of mint, eucalyptus, celery seed and black olives burst from the glass, with notes of cocoa powder, licorice and potpourri, oh yes, and scents of crushed black currants, raspberries and mulberries. I have seen a few reviews of this wine that scored it down because of the herbaceous bouquet, but I think that aspect is part of the wine’s charm and individuality. Flavors of black currants and plums are cushioned by a texture that’s paradoxically a bit lush and velvety while being invigorated by taut acidity and moderately dense, slightly leathery tannins. The finish is rift with sandalwood and cloves and a hint of iodine-and-iron minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Distinct Bargain.
Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.