Friday, November 20, 2009

Cabernet Sauvignon for the holidays

Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine for the holiday season, working well with a variety of full rich foods that are served at this time of the year. Cabs area also dependable candidates for aging, more often developing into truly great wines than wines from any other single varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon wines have a distinctive black currant aroma and over time, can also develop bouquet nuances of cedar, violets, leather, and cigar box while the wine’s tannic edge typically softens considerably.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted and significant grape among the five dominant varieties in France's Bordeaux region, as well as the most successful red wine grape produced in California.

Genetic studies at U.C. Davis have determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the hybrid offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small and spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. This toughness makes the grapes fairly resistant to disease and spoilage and able to withstand autumn rains with little damage. It is also a mid- to late- season ripener. These hearty growing characteristics, along with its flavor appeal, have made Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular varietals worldwide.

The best growing sites for Cabernet Sauvignon are moderately warm, semi-arid regions with well-drained, not-too-fertile soils that have a long growing season. Napa Valley is the most famous area in California for growing this varietal along with Sonoma and Paso Robles. Washington State also produces some very fine “Cabs.”

Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or weediness, varying in intensity based on climatic conditions, viticultural practices, and vinification techniques.

Tannins contribute color, flavor and structure to Cabernet Sauvignon wines. They come from several sources, including the grape skins, seeds, stems and the oak from the barrels used in the aging process. It can take several years for these tannins to “soften,” another good reason for aging these types of wines.

Pey-Marin Vineyards 2007 “Textbook” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is a complex wine with a mix of dark fruit, spice, plum and mineral qualities. The tannins have a dry astringency with a palate full of blackberries, black cherries, plum, cranberry and currants with a touch of clove and vanilla. Only 620 cases were made of this fine wine. As a 2007 it is still a little tight, so be sure to open it a couple hours before pouring. This wine should age well over the next 4-6 years.

Downing Family Vineyards, another Napa Valley winery from the Rutherford area, has the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon that is a wonderful, diverse, rich wine with an intense bouquet of dark fruit and spices. The palate has loads of black cherry, black currant, plum, cranberry and clove. The classic earthy Rutherford dust notes also shine through. The complex tannins give it firm structure and a long desired finish. Only 420 cases were made. The wine was aged for 24 months in both French and American oak and then bottle aged for 10 more months before release.

Satori Cellars 2006 “Hallelujah” Cabernet Sauvignon has rich ruby-plum color with scents of black currant, dark cherry, cassis and cedar. On the palate, these same aromas appear along with chocolate and a bit of toasty oak. This wine is smooth with balanced acids and tannins that continues to deliver all the way through to a fine finish. Satori Cellars is in Gilroy, but the grapes for this Cab come from Walla Walla, Washington. They produced 590 cases.

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