Fans of cabernet sauvignon call it “the king of wines, the wine of kings.” For good reason. It makes some of the finest, richest, most powerful, age-worthy wines in the world.
It’s the most popular grape, with 741,000 acres of vines in 44 countries – which, if put together, would create a vineyard the size of Rhode Island.
The two most expensive bottles of wine on the planet – a 6-liter bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle auctioned for $500,000 and a 12-liter bottle of Chateau Margaux on sale for $195,000 – were based on cabernet sauvignon.
By itself, a good cab is potent and full-bodied, hearty and rich, with concentrated flavors of black cherries, cassis and licorice, hints of espresso or mocha, often-muscular tannins and acids. It can easily age for 20 years, or be drinkable in six or seven.
Cabernet is a complete enough grape that wonderful wines can be made with it alone. Still, winemakers are tinkerers. They often blend in other grapes to get softer, more complex flavors.
In the tasting notes below, you’ll see that the amount of cabernet sauvignon in various blends varies greatly – from 100 percent to as little as 4 percent.
Four percent may not seem like much, but I’ve seen it demonstrated that just that little dollop of, say, malbec, can make a wine darker and fruitier.
• 2011 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast (94 percent cabernet sauvignon 6 percent malbec): deep purple, bold and hearty, full-bodied, aromas and flavors of black cherries and espresso; $30.
• 2010 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville District, Napa Valley (88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent cabernet franc, 4 percent merlot, 1 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries, crisp acids, firm tannins; $45.
• 2011 Clos Beauregard, Pomerol AOP (93 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent cabernet franc): deep purple color, aromas and flavors of black cherries, dark chocolate and herbs, rich and hearty; $50.
• 2010 Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon, “Branding Iron” Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley (100 percent cabernet sauvignon): deep dark color, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and chocolate, subtle, ripe tannins, long finish; $100.
• 2009 Franciscan Estate “Magnificat” Meritage Red Wine, Napa Valley (64 percent cabernet sauvignon, 26 percent merlot, 5 percent petite verdot, 3 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, fine, ripe tannins; $50.
• 2012 Alamos Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina (100 percent cabernet sauvignon): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums, herbs, soft and rich; $13.
• 2010 William Hill Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (92 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent petit verdot, 2 percent petite sirah, 1 percent merlot): hint of oak, flavors of mulberries and vanilla; $40.
• 2010 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley (90 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petite sirah): hint of smoky oak, aromas and flavor of blueberries and anise, full and rich; $30.