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The Cabernet Sauvignon Grape

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About Cabernet Sauvignon

(Synonyms: Bouchet, Bouche, Petit-Bouchet, Petit-Cabernet, Petit-Vidure, Sauvignon Rouge, Vidure)

Background

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes Map showing Bordeaux

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red-wine grape originating in Bordeaux, but now grown globally. It is widely considered one of the two topmost red-wine grapes (the other being Pinot noir). It is the informing grape of the classic Bordeaux blends (known in the U.K. as "claret"), and is the second-most planted wine grape in the world (surpassed only recently by another Bordeaux red, Merlot).

Americans are used to wines that are bottled and marketed by varietal name (which now requires that the wine must be at least 75% of the named type); but in most of Europe, the tradition has been to produce named blends, with laws specifying—usually quite tightly—what percentages of what grapes may be used. The principal Bordeaux grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, though there are others. Cabernet Sauvignon is an assertive grape, and thus an excellent candidate for blending, not only in the traditional Bordeaux blends, but with many other important reds from round the world.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine is hard to describe, chiefly because the grape lends itself to many fairly different styles of vinification. Typically, it has distinct fruit (usually bramble fruits are mentioned, especially black currant) but with overlays variously described as "earthy", "leathery", or "woody", and normally it is relatively heavy on tannins. It is a robust and, as noted, quite "assertive" taste. At times, it can also exhibit bell-pepper or green-olive tastes, sometimes to the extent of those becoming defects (the notorious "vegetal" Cabernets).

Cabernet Sauvignon is widely held to have a strong affinity for oak, and is usually aged in new oak barrels. While oak aging is common for many wines, some winemakers feel the trend has gone too far, with the oak taste overwhelming the actual wine taste (hence August Sebastiani's now-famous remark "If you like the taste of wood, go bite a tree," sometimes also recounted as "go eat some toothpicks"). The extent of oak use in the winemaking is one of the chief factors distinguishing one cab from another.

While Bordeaux red blends remain the most widely respected use of Cabernet Sauvignon, today many other regions are also producing excellent cabs (and blends), from California and Washington to Chile and Australia. It is, in the U.S., most people's "go-to" red, at levels from the famous "Two-Buck Chuck" to three-digit per-bottle prices. Indeed, one criticism of the present world wine market is that a very few immensely popular varieties—notably Cabernet Sauvignon—are causing growers to rip out excellent traditional grape types, some of which are at risk of disappearing altogether, in favor of the highly saleable cab.

Besides the inventiveness of the winemaker, another big influence on Cabernet Sauvignon wines is the climate where the grapes were grown (true of all wines, but more so with cab). One reason blends became so popular in the Old World is that in many grape-growing areas there the weather is variable, and in many seasons the grapes must be picked before their ideal time; thus, other, earlier-ripening types need to be blended in to make wine of the desired quality—to make up the "holes" in the cab. In the new World, where climates are typically much warmer, Cabernet Sauvignon regularly achieves full ripeness, though where the season is long enough but relatively cool, the infamous "bell pepper" quality can dominate the wine (Monterey County in California long had that problem, now resolved by better clonal selection and growing techniques).

Another element that affects all wines but Cabernet seemingly more than most is soil. The type is especially good, if vinified with care, at expressing terroir (a taste clearly representative of its region of growth).

And because Cabernet Sauvignon is naturally high in tannins, it makes wines that famously can improve with bottle aging for decades. Modern styling, however, has tended toward more immediately accessible wines, because few wine drinkers nowadays have the interest in or capability for aging wines for very long periods (or, often, at all—studies show that a very high percentage of wines sold in the U.S. are drunk on the day of purchase).

Factoid: Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively recent (17th century) cross between Cabernet Franc and the white Bordeaux grape Sauvignon Blanc.


Some Descriptions of Cabernet Sauvignon Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "When Cabernet Sauvignon is young, the wines typically exhibit strong fruit flavors of black cherries and plum. The aroma of black currants is one of the most distinctive and characteristic element of Cabernet Sauvignon that is present in virtually every style of the wine across the globe. Styles from various regions and producers may also have aromas of eucalyptus, mint and tobacco. As the wines age they can sometimes develop aromas associated with cedar, cigar boxes and pencil shavings. In general New World examples have more pronounced fruity notes while Old World wines can be more austere with heightened earthy notes."

  • Jancis Robinson

    "Cabernet's noblest hallmarks: exceptionally deep colour that is bluish purple when young (thanks to the grapes' thick skins); in young wines a particularly high level of tannins, the preservative that dries out the insides of our cheeks (due to the same phenomenon) and therefore an almost unequalled capacity to age in bottle; and a special affinity for oak, the vibrant signature cassis/blackcurrant fruit melding particularly well with the cedarwood and cigarbox aromas of new, top-quality French oak."

  • French Scout

    "Typical taste in varietal wine: full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young. With age, polyphenols polymerize: the grip fades away. The rich currant qualities of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine change to that of pencil box. Bell pepper notes remain. . . . Vanilla notes if present come not from the fruit but from the oak treatment. They increase review ratings but may overwhelm the varietal taste. "

  • DrinkWine.com

    "[Yields] dark, intensely flavored, tannic, long-lived wines that often require years of aging to soften and become drinkable. Like chardonnay, the grape can be grown in a multitude of different growing regions and conditions (although it prefers warmer climates) and yet reliably impart characteristic varietal aromas and flavors, which most often are compared to black currant, cherry, bell pepper and green olive."

  • The Wine Spectator

    "Cabernet Sauvignon has a bit more backbone and tannic strength than Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon is admired for its intensity and classic flavors of currant, plum and spice, and it can also have distinguishing herb, olive, tobacco, cedar and anise notes, among others."

  • Wine Folly

    "Since Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in a wide range of climates and regions throughout the world it has varied flavors. Fundamentally speaking, Cab is a full-bodied red wine with dark fruit flavors and savory tastes from black pepper to bell pepper."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or weediness, varying in intensity with climatic conditions, viticulture practices, and vinification techniques. Climates and vintages that are either too cool or too warm, rich soils, too little sun exposure, premature harvesting, and extended maceration are factors that may lead to more vegetative, less fruity character in the resulting wine. In the mouth, Cabernet can have liveliness and even a degree of richness, yet usually finishes with firm astringency."

  • Wine Kick

    "[F]lavor profile: blackcurrant, blackberry, black pepper, cedar, green bell pepper (cool climate), and vanilla from oak. Full body with high tannins."


Some Cabernet Sauvignons to Try

(About this list.)

It seems risible to try to corral a mere handful of modestly priced wines to represent a wine so hugely available in so many styles from so many places. Nonetheless, we have grabbed the bull by the horns, and this is what resulted. Obviously, it can only be a tiny scratch on the skin of a huge animal, but it's a place to start.

Of New World wines especially, we had to omit quite a number of candidates rated about as well as those included, and in honesty we did so more or less arbitrarily; the market in very good cabs from South America is truly remarkable—consider just Tilia, Oberon, Layer Cake, Cousiño-Macul, and Kaiken. Then there are the California and Washington wines, things like Louis Martini's old standby cab, or Columbia Crest's "Grand Estates" and "H3". It's a treasure house of bargains for cab fans willing to do some digging.

Of Old World wines, all Bordeaux blends (the only way Bordeaux comes), it was hard to find any plausibly priced ones where Cabernet Sauvignon dominates (most are Merlot-heavy). Between price and Cab content, the options we found were few.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.

Old World Wines

  • Vieux Château Landon, "CS-dominant", $15 - $18.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Ruby, right in the middle for depth. Initially opened, this one is slightly reductive. All it needs is a splashy decanting from jug to jug a couple of times. It then opens to a slightly leafy cassis-rich wine, clearly reflecting its high cabernet cepage. Palate is the same, quite rich cassisy and aromatic berry, clean oak, nicely balanced as a lighter claret. Will cellar for 5 - 10 years.

    This is a great example of a basic Medoc, and a good value at $20/bottle. The wine is earthy and complex with black fruit and mushrooms that don't particularly linger, but are very pleasant. 2005 was a great vintage in Bordeaux and I'm surprised that this wine is not more dense, but it is a great wine to drink now. There aren't many good Bordeaux on the market at this price, and I am glad to find this one.

    ♣ Concours General Agricole de Paris (2005?), Silver

    [A] lovely dark, ruby red colour. It has a complex, spicy gamey bouquet Which follows through beautifully on the palate. The flavour is full of lucious ripe fruit, Just the right amount of oak and soft, round tannin.

    A little lean and green, but some decent fruit.

    [A] smooth wine with taste and smell of fruits.


  • Château Aney, CS 65%, $17 - $30.

    Some quotations and facts:

    This traditional Haut Médoc is more like what you might remember of the classic Bordeaux styles of the 1960s and 1970s. This wine is NOT at all cloaked in new wood or over-extracted tannins, Château Aney’s wines have finesse and balance! [Qualities:] SUCCULENT, Black Cherry, Plum, Blackberry, Dusty Black pepper, Tobacco Leaf, Subtle Earthy Finish.

    Chateau Aney Haut Medoc 2009 was reminiscent of a 1982 Bordeaux . . . produced before the over industrialization of the wine industry. The Chateaux Aney was inviting, with heavy florals of peonies, sweet black cherry juice, cool berries, and almost creamy strawberries. The aromas slide down the throat long before you ever taste the wine. It was brilliant across both the nose and the palate. If this is what wines were before industrialization, it is a true shame how rare they have become.

    ♣ Gilbert et Gaillard (2011): Gold Medal

    Color frank red with good intensity. Nose of net red fruits with touch of licorice. Lightly fullbodied, souple, with tannins well coated and a plesant silky texture. This wine shows a good balance.

    Translucent ruby-garnet and fading at the rim a little to a pinkish color so showing maturity at this early stage of the game, but that's a good thing tonight. An interesting wine especially in the context of 2005. Open for business. Nice nose with red currants. Some milk chocolate and more red currants on the palate. Fine tannins and balanced acidity with a good finish. Light to medium bodied. Says 12.5% alch on the label. Good complexity for a $14 bottle of wine. Very flavorful. Dry and stylish. A nice surprise.

    Classic finesse of Bordeaux that consists of balance and well rounded fruit which makes this wine approachable and easy to drink.

    Blackberry and mature plum fruit with deep aromas of decomposed wood and soil, plus accents of cardamom, bay, cedar and orange zest. Medium bodied, smooth texture and medium-light on the palate with present tannins. A touch of acidity brightens the finish. Reasonably complex and very entertaining. She’s a charmer, and while perhaps not the first on the invite list, she’s the one who made the affair — sustaining joy long after the posers and pretenders have deflated. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. A good wine, nearly very good.


  • Château La Tour de By, 60% CS (varies with vintage), $17 - $60. (There are many, many "Chateau La Tour" wines--only Wine Searcher can find the "de By" properly.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Very dark purple. Super-fragrant, scented wine with medium weight. Glossy nose with no hint of excess sweetness or alcohol. Sweet palate entry and then very well managed tannins and the exotic black fruits richness of 2009 insinuates itself even on this bastion of Médoc restraint! A bit of a kick on the end but not jagged or drying. Good harmony. Good mouthful of intense fruit. Needs a little time for the tannins to melt. Cooler and drier than most. Fresh finish. Could be VG.

    A straightforward cru bourgeois with decent fruit, a touch of herbaceousness and a short finish, the 2012 La Tour de By should keep for 5-6 years.

    Inky core. Lifted inviting dark fruit aroma. Smells cool and fresh. Tastes that way too. Tannins are dryish but ripe enough, sandy and yet gently fluid. Sustained.

    60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. 25% New oak barrels. Mid purple hue. Charming red and black fruit nose, slightly toasty. Good mouth feel with loads of cassis, loganberries, blackberries with a juicy acidity balance. Mid weight palate with a charming texture that flows onto a pure, blackcurrant finish.

    Shy, purple fruit shows on the nose. The palate is rich, open and purple. Rates two stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for potential with time.

    Also a favourite, for some time our everyday claret, is Château La Tour de By.

    Tart and lean in this difficult vintage [2012], the wine is best enjoyed in its youth. 83-86 Pts

    [2010] The potential seems better on the nose, than on the palate with its black raspberry and earthy, tobacco filled aromatics. Tannic with some rusticity and dryness in the finsh. . . [2009] Forward, fun value priced Bordeaux wine with licorice, black cherry and earth with an open, round styled personality. Form a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. . . [2008] More red than black fruit with a touch of earth in the nose. This medium bodied, soft, wine should be enjoyed young. I do not think it will improve much with age.

    This wine was a great disappointment. I was expecting something more since Michael Broadbent has pronounced this as his everyday claret. It was lacking in fruit and over-cedar'ed. . . Colour: Dark red, brown hints. Aroma: Blackcurrant, oak, coffee, smoky. Taste: Coffee, oak, cedar, little blackcurrant and plum, drying tannins on finish and overwhelming cedar.

    A surprise was the Médoc's Chateau La tour de By. This is an obscure small estate whose inexpensive wine was first-rate.

    Open and expressive. Oak rather dominant in the nose, but not of the tarty-vanilla-fat-new-oak kind, but the slightly more modest classy stuff. In the mouth smooth, with plenty of body but not heavy. Some bay leaves. Sappy dark, black cabernet fruit. Masculine, hearty finish. 8/10


  • Chateau La Fleur Peyrabon, 67% CS, $18 - $55.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Clear aromas of cedar, autumn forest, licorice, plum and soft tobacco. On the palate leather, ripe plum, cherry, licorice, clay, great acidity and solid tannins towards the very fine finish. Wow! This Peyrabon tastes young and fresh [2000 in 2012]. Probably stayed in the cold cellars of Millésima for a long time, because I've read reports on the decline of this wine on Cellartracker. Back to this bottle... The wine lacks some complexity, but this is compensated by the balance, the length and elegance, without being weak. Comes across as a 'poor men's St. Julien' and that is good news. [On] point and will stay as such for several years to come. Bravo! 90 points

    This is a nicely refined, classic Claret. Dark coloured, it has an attractive nose of sweet dark fruit with some chocolatey richness and subtly tarry, roasted, gravelly definition. It smells fresh. T he palate is supple and midweight with an earthy, gravelly edge to the bright, sweet dark fruits. There's really good balance here. Fresh and supple; very digestible. Very good/excellent.

    A big, extracted wine, with hard tannins that are very firm and tough. 88-90

    Deep colour, quite attractive cassis fruit quality, nice concentration and richness, good balance of firmish but juicy ripe tannins, some palate-cloaking chocolatey richness and vivacious acidity; another serious claret for the short to medium-term. 87 - 89

    Great spicy, cedar, lifted aromas concentration of black fruit, spicy cigar box, grapefruits tannins, fine & ripe tannin, composed.

    The wine shows the lighter side of Pauillac: seductive and full of cherry flavour. An inexpensive introduction to Pauillac fruit quality without the need for ageing.


New World Wines

  • Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Series, $8 - $11. (Montes also makes an "Alpha" Cabernet Sauvignon, which is slightly more expensive)
         ($13.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    At this price, it's almost impossible to find a better Cabernet. It features a deep ruby red color with layers of caramel, cinnamon, and hints of mint. The Montes Classic Series has a prevalence of fruit over oak. This Cab is blended with 15 percent Merlot, offering a simple yet enjoyable black currant, vanilla, and violet bouquet. A wonderful earthy, spicy Cabernet at a great value.

    The 2011 Montes Classic Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 15% Merlot and offers a simple black currant, vanilla and violet bouquet that is joyful and well defined. The palate is medium-bodied with succulent tannin, crisp raspberry and dark cherry fruit, zesty acidity and lovely focus on the finish. At this price, it would be hard to find a better Cabernet.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2012), 90

    Montes Cab is a deep ruby-red color with an opaque core going out into a blood-red rim definition with medium viscosity. The wine has classic crushed black currants, creme de cassis, marionberry jam and light smokiness with underlying phenolic compound, vanilla from the new American oak and a touch of earthy herbs. It is palate-pleasing from the get-go with rounded black fruits, influenced strongly by the black currant juice element and some crushed sloe and bramble fruits in another layer. The midpalate starts a little "hot," but then shows good delineation of black fruit with supple tannins and a juicy core going into the finish, which lingers with yet more cassis, some smoke and a hint of tobacco.

    Montes is a drier but much spicier Cabernet than most fruitier California versions. That’s not to say there is no fruit flavor in the Montes. There is. It comes across as a berry rhubarb taste and a wee bit tannic. This bottling definitely can be tried now, but it also offers a few years of shelf life.

    This one will impress you. This long legged wine has a rich, deep ruby coloring. It entices you with dark cherry flavors and hint of vanilla.

    Dark garnet color with restrained cassis, green pepper, and a bit of earthy aromas. On the palate its’ medium-bodied with cassis, vanilla and a bit of mocha flavors Medium finish. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Merlot.

    [It] delivers a respectable serving of dark fruit flavors, alluring spices with chocolate notes that are very appealing and perfect for just about any day or time. . . 3 stars out 4. Restored my faith that there are Cabs costing less than 15 bucks that taste great!

    When you uncork and get your first smell, you can almost smell the blackberries in the garden, it's that much of a knockout aroma right off the bat. There are notes of chocolate, vanilla, and a little bit of coffee also- but the ripe fruits take the stage here and we should all bow in appreciation. . . It's a wonderful wine. The taste is superb. There’s no aftertaste, no strong finish, it's smooth all the way from start to finish.

    [P]acked with juicy black fruit with layers of toasty caramel, spice and hints of eucalyptus. (17/20)


  • Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, $9 - $13.
         ($12.44 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    This Pasa Robles blockbuster has been a fixture in my house for over a decade, and year in and year out, it is almost too good to be true. . . Hope [Family Winery] president Austin Hope has said that his goal with Liberty School is to consistently make the best Cabernet in America for under $20, and he usually succeeds. It’s a sure thing.

    You get a lot of pleasure from this affordable Cab. It's dry, moderate in alcohol (which give it a light mouthfeel), and pleasant in classic flavors of blackberries, currents and herbs, touched with smoky oak. Elegantly constructed, it’s one of the best Cabernets of the vintage at this price.

    This wine is dangerously smooth—it's so smooth it can be passively sipped, but that would give you only a shadow of the experience that’s in this bottle of vino. You’ll have to "chew and swish" to get all the subtleties from it, but you probably already know to do that. Anyhow, this is by far the best Cabernet I've ever had at this price. It lacks the harshness of other Cabs, and while smooth, it's large and luscious.

    ♣ Wine Enthusiast (December 2011), 90, "Editor’s Pick"

    This wine is not only a beautiful California cabernet sauvignon, but also a contradiction of itself. While it does glorify the typical cabernet sauvignon flavor of cranberries and big, dark blackberries, it does so by presenting these flavors in huge amounts. This wine can best be called “jammy” because of its almost obscene display of flavors. There is enough tannin in this wine to assure its continued improvement during the next decade.

    Nose: Currant, black cherry, raspberry, boysenberry, licorice, star anise, peppercorn, cigar wrapper and dark chocolate. Taste: A very tasty blend of dark fruits, spices, tobacco, leather and chocolate with some definite hints of toasted oak. Good mid palate and finish make this a very good buy for the money.

    The wine has abundant fruit which smacks of black currant and black cherries, which flow into a lengthy finish, showcasing sweet and mild tannins, which sail on into the night. . . Some ten months later, the wine shows much more complexity and depth. The black cherry flavor now dominates the taste, and the mild tannins now develop into a more pronounced vanilla oak finish. It is hard to beat time when it comes to bringing out the rich flavors in a hearty red wine. Usually three years of age is just the beginning for a good Cabernet, and most hit their peak at five to seven years old, if we could just wait!

    It opens with aromas of black cherry, plum and violets, followed by subtle flavors of strawberry and allspice on the mid-palate. Firm yet supple tannins finish off this approachable, fruit-driven Cabernet Sauvignon, making it ideal for a variety of food pairings.

    I got some subtle aromas of blackberry and cherry when I was doing my smelling test. I could pick out a little oak and spice but nothing too overwhelming. I had to aerate it because I found some debris in the initial tasting pour, but it was nothing that my strainer couldn't handle. The body was medium with a dark tint that seemed to posses a good amount of red color. I could definitely pick out the cherry. The blackberry (and vanilla?) was a little hard to get at times, because the wine's oak flavor came on a bit strong. The spices were more subtle than most wines and there was a clean finish.

    [It] pours in intense, blackish-plum in the glass. The nose is sweet and attractive with aromas of blackberry, plum, and dark cherry. The palate is full of fruit flavor with tastes of dark berries and plum along with notes of cedar and black pepper. This Cabernet finishes long and dry, providing balance to its initially fruity palate. This is a great effort by Liberty School.


  • Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon, $10 - $27. (Catena Zapata also makes an "Alta" cab that is much more expensive, and a "Nicolas" that is stratospheric in price.)
         ($14.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine was lovely in the glass, clear, deep purplish core with a more ruby-hued color extending to the rim. The nose was clean, medium intensity with blackberry and cassis with just the slightest hint of smoke and cedar. This dry wine is medium bodied with medium to medium (+) acidity, very smooth tannins and juicy fruit (again blackberry and what I got as some black cherry) with a good, medium length finish. All-in-all a nice wine and tough to beat for a solid example of a well priced wine from Argentina.

    Decanter World Wine Awards, 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon: Top 10

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 92

    It has a Bordeaux-like bouquet of blackberry, bilberry, graphite and dry tobacco that is well-defined and classic in style. The palate is medium-bodied with grainy tannins. There is a palpable sense of tension to this Cabernet, which exhibits great precision on the spicy, edgy finish. Full of personality, this comes highly recommended.

    The Catena Cabernet Sauvignon is a very good-tasting and balanced wine from the highly regarded Catena Zapata winery in Mendoza, Argentina. This Cabernet has been blended with 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The wine tastes and feels more like a French Bordeaux than it does a new world Cabernet. I prefer the style of Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California or Washington. Overall the wine is nicely made with good characters of white pepper, cocoa, and black fruit. This wine is ready to drink with tannin and oak in check. Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gives the Catena Cab 92 Points. I think the wine is over-rated by most. For me this wine leaves me looking for a little more, perhaps because of the 92-point rating by Parker. I rate it 88 Pts.

    We purchased a case; six for drinking now and six for cellaring. Didn’t work out; now was just too good for later to win out. Second case on the way. GREAT cabernet for less than $15? Yes!

    A rich cassis and blackberry nose leads to a velvety smooth, ultra-ripe, full-bodied, blackberry palate with an underlying spiciness and supple tannins that keep it smooth all the way through the finish.

    Sweet sausage and sun ripened cassis lead into deep dark perfumed black fruit – ripe, juicy and supple. Anise and dark cocoa with a cloud of light smoke on the finish. Ready to drink, suitable for all.


  • Montes Cabernet Sauvignon Alpha, $13 - $22. (Montes also makes Alpha "Apalta Vineyard" and Alpha "M", which are considerably more expensive.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [T]his one was an excellent wine which stood well on it own. It had a beautiful color and a wonderful full bouquet with a long finish. Deep ruby red color, the expression of cabernet sauvignon is evident providing structure and elegance. Lots of berries fruits and hints of tobacco and vanilla. Promising abundant soft rounded tannins. The structure and balance of this full bodied wine makes it very pleasant and enjoyable. A very sophisticated wine with a delightfully long finish. . . Recommendation: A special wine for a special occasion. At about $16 (for a good buy but seen in the $25 range) it is not inexpensive but carries itself like much more expensive wines. A definite quality wine.

    Plum and bramble aromas leap from the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruits rule the day here and blackberry, black raspberry and more fill out the palate, while little wisps of red fruit do pop through every now and then, adding to the depth. Espresso and black pepper spice are both prominent on the finish, which has good length. Firm tannins and solid acidity lend to the overall well-proportioned nature and structure of this wine. For $25 or less this is very good value in Cabernet Sauvignon.

    ♣ Wine Advocate: 2007, 91; 2008, 90; 2009, 89

    A glass-coating opaque purple, it has an excellent bouquet of toasty oak, tobacco, espresso, and blackcurrant. With good richness, excellent depth, and a firm structure, it will evolve for several years

    The first thing I wrote down when I smelled this wine was "sultry fruit seduction." This wine smells like sex appeal; rose petals, perfume, and chocolate cherries. It doesn't quite have the mouthfeel or the richness that some of the higher end Chilean Cabs bring. But the depth of flavors and balance of this wine make it a veritable hydrogen bomb of sexy, supple fruit. Very smooth texture, tasted to me like a black cherry reduction. Cap it off with a long espresso finish, I was absolutely blown away by this wine. If you're looking for a truly great wine for a dinner party, special guests, or to just treat yourself it’s hard to go wrong with the Montes Alpha, imho. This is truly a serious wine and I think you could even lay down a few, or invest in a case, and watch how this wine changes over time.

    It has a nose full of dark berries and cherries with a hint of vanilla for some sweetness. The initial taste confirms the nose--the berries and black cherries are definitely there as well as the vanilla and a hint of tobacco and pepper. The wine has a nice feel in the mouth, silky. The tannins are very light. The taste, however, did not linger and the wine has no finish. It just ends after the initial excitement of the nose and taste. I was disappointed with the finish and the overall balance of the wine. There is no complexity to support the taste and the flavors. It is an easy drinking wine, but there are a lot of wines like that for much less cost. I was not convinced that this wine would get any better with age. It doesn't have either the tannins or structure to perform in this manner. RECOMMENDATION: At about $18 per bottle, I think there are better wines out there to enjoy. This is a nice, easy drinking wine but it lacked complexity and balance.

    The wine has great character throughout with a great lingering finish. It is elegant and tasty.

    This delight really exhibits on the nose nice aromas of toast, spice box, violets, blackcurrants, anise and blackberries – on the palate it will evidently expose itself an array of black fruits and nice balanced tannins. With a 14.5% in its alcohol contents this wine really needs to be decanted before it’s consumed—after that it will offer a nice fruity and spicy flavors characteristic of this region as well Chilean wines.


  • Caparone Cabernet Sauvignon, $16 from the winery (quantity discounts available).

    We do not normally list wines chiefly or solely available from the winery, but Caparone Winery has earned entries here for each of the half dozen varietals—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico— that they bottle, so ordering a mixed case or half-case is both reasonable and economical. This is one of the most undeservedly little-known wineries in the country, chiefly because Dave Caparone only bottles about 3,000 cases a year and disdains advertising and competitions.

    Some quotations and facts:

    Caparone is a maverick wine maker in Paso Robles (West) who specialize in making old world style wines in the new world . . . They always release their wines after some time and age in wood only, but only use a small percentage of new oak (I believe this saw around 37% new French oak, hence the vanilla and baking spice on the palate). I love this wine because of its funky, complex nose, and yet very soft and elegant fruit-driven palate. It's one of those wines that smells almost completely unlike how it tastes, and for $18 [$16 direct] it's one of the best domestic wines that I've had. I probably would have guessed Chinon and wondered how a producer there could extract so much tannin from cabernet franc! This is a wine for someone looking for the fruit profile of cabernet sauvignon but without the bombastic oak and coconut suntan lotion flavors that one finds in a lot of American-oaked wines. . . Eye: slight haze, garnet with purple and brownish edge indicating some age. Bright with medium intensity. Viscosity was medium. Nose: Medium aromatics/Cranberry, blackberry, red plum/minerals and inorganic earth, smoked pepper, sage, some spice. Palate: medium alcohol, medium high acid, medium high tannin, confirm fruit along with vanilla and baking spice indicating the presence of French oak. Very long finish with notes of cocoa that develop. Acid is the major player here.

    It is a marvelously flavored, rich, powerful, assertive wine, rampant with fruit for obvious long-term aging. There are intense Cabernet flavors up front in this wine. This is the kind of long-lived Cabernet style that was prevalent a [while back], which other vintners now disdain in favor of a softer, more supple mode for earlier drinkability. This wine has 13.4% alcohol in a no-nonsense, somewhat hard forward taste. Aged for two years and four months in American oak and produced from Santa Maria Valley grapes, this is definitely a bottle that needs to be uncorked and allowed to breathe for hours before tasting. My bottle was open for 24 hours and then recorked. Frankly, I am delighted to see the style resurface. Hard-core Cabernet fans fearful that lighter Cabernet styles will dominate the California wine scene can take heart with this bottle. Neophyte wine lovers can buy several bottles, try one at dinner, and if it does not overwhelm, cellar age the others for the kind of complex development certain to come.

    Two words: old school. . . I didn't take notes while tasting at Caparone. My bad. But their style is traditional and age worthy with tons of stuffing, good acidity and lively character. No ultra-smooth new oak here, it's just fermented grapes showing what they got. Caparone may well top my beloved Loire for red wine QPR.

    We are familiar with the French Camp Vineyard; one of our favorite reds – Caparone Cellars – uses the very same fruit for its high end Cab and Merlot.

    The fruit for this release is sourced from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles, located at the eastern edge of the appellation, near the Temblor mountain range. This is full bodied with dark purple color, it is expressive and vibrant with full forward black and blue berry fruits, almost like a big Aussie Shiraz. A layer of spice and hints of mocha and smoky cassis linger on a clinging tannin finish. True to the intent of the producer, this is a big classic Cabernet: rich, dense and well balanced with great structure, fruit and varietal character; oak flavor is minimized and the alcohol level is moderate. . . This provides great QPR and I went and bought a case for enjoyable easy every day drinking. RM 90 points.

    Dave Caparone was pouring the wine. A very honestly brusque person, he merely poured and let his wine speak for themselves. None of his wines are blended. All except the Cabernet Sauvignon (French Camp) and Merlot (Bien Nacido) are estate. All his wines have less than 14% alcohol. All have beautiful acidity and immensely drinkable. All his wines were trusly rustic and had that "Euro-funk" to them that added to their personality. We liked all his wines.

    The snobs would not find what they expect with these wines [based on price] as they all exhibit very nice fruit and balance. These are food wines, and they are all ready to enjoy with a meal now, but will undoubtedly gain even more balance and structure as they age another year or two. These are all very nice wines. . . Something that surprised me about all of the Caparone wines were how big and fruity they are without having the monster alcohol content that I'm seeing in so many other big and fruity wines. I pride myself on guessing alcohol content within a 1/2% or so, and I'd have guessed that most of these wines were over 14%, and a couple of them at least 15%. They all range from 13.2% to 13.6%, so you get the punchy flavor with a very moderate alcohol level.

    First, American wine is astonishingly overpriced, especially when compared to French and Australian offerings. Second, Caparone's estate bottlings at $14 [now $16] make mincemeat of the competition.

    The Cab [is] a beauty to look at, deep ruby red with a circle of caramel at the edges. Wonderful aroma, with hints of cassis, leather, and tobacco. The taste . . . was a bit earthy, smoky, spicy—more like a Shiraz than a California Cab .  . full fruit, round tannins, and smooth finish. . . Caparone's Cab is a "classic cool-climate cabernet - dark, intense, with a slight smokiness." . . On day two, the Cabernet's flavors had deepened.

    Medium-dark color, with earthy black cherry, plum, and darker fruit aromas. A bit bigger mouthfeel than the Merlot, with lively acidity and firm tannins on the finish.

    I'm very impressed... what a bargain. very interesting wine. I don't have lot of experience with Paso Robles, but now I'm very intrigued. This reminded me a 2001 Gruaud Larose I drank a couple months ago. when I closed my eyes, i was envisioning that wine. keep in mind, this was 20% the cost! Color - showed some moderate bricking, which was really concerning upon pouring it. i'm wondering if this wine may have been flawed in a strange way that actually improved it. Nose - earthy and kinda musty, with smoke and leather. Mouth - smoky, with tar and leather, and red fruit. As mentioned above with the GL similarity, it tasted a lot like a 15 year old St. Julien. Drank over several hours and after about 3 hours it starting showing another layer of fruit that was really nice.

    Great value for the price. All wines are unfined and unfiltered. So far in my experience their wines age very well.

    Unfined and Unfiltered. This is a Californian wine which believes it's from France. Don't let the murky color put you off and you will be treated to a lovely earthy funky wine rounded out by full rich fruit. Pair this with red meat, or let it breathe and drink it on its own.


For a Splurge

"I say this with absolute certainty and zero fear of contradiction: Donedei’s Carolyn Lakewold is one of America's two or three best underappreciated winemakers. Every winemaker in Washington knows about her and her stature is such that, when Force Majeure Cellars went looking for their three partner vintners in their brilliant collaboration series, they chose Carolyn Lakewold. This Cab is one of the best values in American red wine that I’ve ever seen. The fact that you can buy this kind of elegant, serious, balanced, impeccable Cabernet for right around $20 makes a mockery of the sudden proliferation of $80 – $100 Cabs we see each year. This is nearly flawless now . . . and getting better with each passing year!"

The Pour Fool, Seattle PI


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