Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tasting Report: New World Cabernet Sauvignon

I don’t drink a lot of cabernet these days, and I’m not exactly sure why. I think I’ve gotten into the habit of defaulting to pinot noir, syrah and red Rhone blends. If I get cabernet in my diet, it usually comes in the form of Bordeaux, a red blend from Sonoma or a Napa cabernet with a few years behind it. But cabernet is grown everywhere and made into every conceivable style. It’s a versatile grape that winemakers love to mix with other red Bordeaux varieties to achieve unique flavors and textures. No matter what you styles you like to drink, there are cabernets out there with your name on them.

In cooperation with my friends at, I tasted through a bunch of cabernet sauvignons from all across the New World, although most hail from the domestic Mecca of cab, Napa Valley. All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind. I didn’t know anything about the wines except that they were New World cabs.

I was under the assumption I was tasting somewhat young cabernets, so I tried to give each wine several hours of air time and swirling before finalizing my notes and unveiling the wines. This paid off, as many of the wines that smelled and tasted hesitant upon uncorking really opened up and became much more expressive. Cabernet, being such an age-worthy grape, can be tight and harsh when its young, and most of these wines need three-to-five years to show their best stuff.

Here are my notes in alphabetical order by region…

2008 Graffigna Cabernet Sauvignon Centenario Reserve - Argentina, San Juan
$11. On the nose, I get a whole lot of vanilla, along with reduced plums and some mulling spices. On the palate, this wine tastes of tart cherries and under-ripe strawberries. The combination of sour red fruit, bitter tannins and an overdose of oak make this a strange beast. The oak tears up any other flavors. No specific faults, just a poorly-made wine. I came back to the wine several times over the course of a couple of hours, and it never got better. I ended up pouring it down the drain. (74 points)

2010 Pyren Cabernet Sauvignon Broken Quartz - Australia, Victoria, Western Victoria, Pyrenees
$22. Big candied nose of red licorice, purple laffy taffy and vanilla. On the palate, medium-grain tannins, quite low acid on the acid. The red cherry and plum fruit tastes roasted and jammy. The oak on this wine is really intense, making any nuance or subtlety impossible to detect. A candied, raisined, oak-bomb style. The ringer here is the alcohol: 12%?! Strange that a wine so dark and fruity can have such low alcohol, although the oak and jammy fruit make this wine feel as full-bodied as a 15% Aussie shiraz. (85 points)

2010 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River - Australia, Western Australia, Margaret River
$17. Aromas of bright raspberries, red currants and red licorice, backed up with some chocolaty oak. Medium-grain tannins and moderate acid. Roasted plums and sweet raspberry flavors abound, as well as rich chocolate-covered cherries and toasty oak. But the cigar smoke and crushed rock flavors make this more than just a fruit bomb. Solid finish.
This wine has a rich style, but it’s well-structured and complex. (88 points)

2010 Apaltagua Cabernet Sauvignon Signature - Chile, Maipo Valley
$27. Black currant, cedar, piles of wet leaves, a hint of alcohol on the end of the nose. Firm tannins, medium concentration, perhaps a bit harsh around the edges, but the cherry cola, blackberry fruit and creamy oak add a velvety texture. Dark chocolate and campfire smoke linger onto the finish. Not the most complex cab, but enjoyable. (86 points)

2010 Bartinney Helshoogte Cabernet Sauvignon - South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
$ Unknown. This wine seriously smells like potting soil. Lots of rich, loamy, earthy notes to highlight the roasted plum and smoky blackberry aromas. Fine tannins, medium acid on the palate. Interesting mix of cranberry and black cherry fruit, laced with campfire smoke, loam and cracked pepper. This cabernet has a very rustic approach,
one that screams South Africa. (87 points)

The Cali cab reviews are below the fold...

2009 Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon Artisan Series - USA, California, Napa Valley
$46. Deep aromas of blackberry, blueberry, milk chocolate and cedar. Starts off with a great blend of freshness and bright fruit, followed up my very fine tannins. Flavors of tangy cherry accent the bold blackberry and blueberry fruit. The vanilla and oak is well-integrated. Notes of dried tobacco, cedar and chestnut last onto the finish. Plump and fleshy, but surprisingly smooth and sleek. There’s 4% merlot and 3% petite verdot blended in with this cab, which was aged 18 months in 45% new French oak. (88 points)

2010 Melka Cabernet Sauvignon CJ - USA, California, Napa Valley
$57. Rich and dense on the nose, with plum, black currant, charcoal and graphite. On the palate, we’re talking about the freshest blackberry and currant fruit, backed up with vanilla bean, cream oak and roasted coffee. Rich and layered, with lots of earth and mineral. A wine I’d love to revisit in eight-to-ten years. A blend of 83% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 5% cabernet franc and 2% petit verdot aged 20 months in 45% new French oak. (92 points)

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - USA, California, Napa Valley
$28. What an alluring and complex nose of blueberry cheesecake topping, rich milk chocolate and a spicy (paprika? red pepper?) note. Medium-grain tannins provide a wealth of structure for the blackberry and blueberry fruit. The medium acid keeps the wine balanced. The caramel, toffee and sweet oak flavors are delicious, but there’s also some serious scorched earth, tree bark and pepper flavors that I love. Bold, and it could age for a few years easily, but undeniable delicious to drink now. A blend of 83% cabernet sauvignon, 12% merlot, 4% cabernet franc and 1% syrah, aged 18 months in 15% new French oak. (90 points)

2009 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - USA, California, Napa Valley
$62. Deep and saucy on the nose, with gushing blueberries and blackberries, backed up by tobacco leaf and sage. After an hour, the aromas come into full force, showing mocha and clove. Gritty, almost chewy tannins combine with gobs of blackberry and blueberry fruit. Fresh acid keeps this wine going while the waves of secondary flavors come in: baker’s chocolate, cedar, clove, peppermint. Long finish laced with all sorts of fruit and earth flavors. While I loved drinking this now, I’m sure I’d enjoy this more in two or three years. 95% cabernet and 5% merlot, this wine is sourced from the Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain as well as vineyards in Oak Knoll, Oakville and Carneros. (91 points)

2009 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain - USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain
$70. Aromas of milk chocolate, fresh blackberries, blueberry jam and some rich earth. On the palate, this cabernet shows pure plum and blackberry fruit, along with fine tannins and refreshing acid. I love the dark blueberry, blackberry, earth and mineral flavors. Dense, but the acid makes is such a pleasure to drink. Tasted blind, I guessed both Cornerstone wines as Washington State cabernets because they both have that purity and richness I associate with Washington. This wine is more evidence of why Howell Mountain is an amazing place for cabernet. A solid wine that will evolve for a decade-plus. 95% cabernet and 5% merlot from the Ink Grade Vineyard at 1,800 feet. (91 points)

2007 Smith Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled - USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
$42. Dark and brooding on the nose, with blackberries, cassis, toasted oak and hints of sweet mocha. Dry, tight tannins on the palate. The heavily toasted oak bursts onto the scene early and stands its ground until the finish. (When I poured a glass for my girlfriend, her first response was: “Did they age this in whiskey barrels?”) Luckily there’s a good dose of blackberries and plums fruit, which is powerful enough to tame the oak just a bit. Violet, soil and tobacco leaf flavors (almost undetectable upon uncorking) become vibrant with just 15 minutes of air, and more and more so over the course of a few hours. That sweet mocha flavor lingers long onto the finish. Good stuff, but you must be a fan of the toast. Aged 22 months in new American white oak, this cab contains 2% cab franc and 1% merlot. (88 points)

2009 Lawer Family Cabernet Sauvignon Three Coins - USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
$42. The nose is compact right now, but this cab clearly has some incredible aromas buried deep down there. After two hours open, the aromas really opened up: raspberry and red currant fruit, dust and earth, even a hint of black tea. The palate is a wave of the freshest raspberry, blueberry and red plum fruit, just beautiful. The medium acid and fine tannins keep this wine balanced and focused. Pretty secondary flavors of dusty wood, loam and graphite. Clearly a wine that could spend some time in the cellar, but undeniably delicious now. (91 points)

2008 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
$52. Really candied on the nose, with sweet plums, those Haribo raspberry candies and creme brulee. Medium acid, fine tannins, very bright in its approach. Lots of plummy, raspberry fruit along with toasty oak and caramel. Yummy, but lacking serious depth and complexity. (87 points)

2007 Kachina Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
$42. It’s not often I come across a California cabernet that so closely resembles Bordeaux. The aromas stand out because they play with both old and new world themes: red currants, raspberry jam, piles of wet leaves, fresh-cut cedar, smashed rocks, pickling spice, notes of dried flowers. On the palate, this wine shows fine tannins; combine that with tangy acid and waves of bright red fruit (again with the raspberry and red currant). Notes of cedar, bay leaf and red clay add complexity. It has elegance and earthiness and is showing some of its secondary characteristics. I think this could be cellared for at least five years, especially if you like those aged Bordeaux flavors. A wine for new and old world lovers alike. Equal parts intellectual stimulation and hedonistic satisfaction. (92 points)

2008 Passalacqua Winery Cabernet Sauvignon TR Passalacqua Vineyard Block 18 & 19 - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
$65. Interesting mix of aromas: red plums and raspberries are followed up by walnut shell and an aroma that reminds me of a dusty bookshelf. Medium bodied with significant acid and medium tannins. Some nice red cherry and plum flavors, along with flavors of cedar shavings and more walnut shell. Hints of earth, mocha and green coffee linger onto the finish. Initially I thought this wasn’t the deepest cabernet, but after an hour or two it started getting more serious. Perhaps more time is needed to best judge this wine. (87 points)

2009 Fritz Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
$35. Hugely aromatic right out of the bottle, with loads of blueberry, blackberry and black cherry fruit. Notes of cinnamon, mocha and clove round out the nose and gain depth with time. A firm tannic backbone combines with fresh acid on the palate. The blackberry and black currant fruit tastes plush and tangy, not overripe. I love the secondary flavors of rocky soil, leather, iron and sweet pipe tobacco, but this wine clearly needs time to unwind and show its best. The toasty-mocha and Nutella spread flavors last long onto the finish. A serious, granite-structured cabernet that will reward the patient. Considering the quality, this is a screaming value. (93 points)

2009 Long Shadows Wineries Cabernet Sauvignon Feather - USA, Washington, Columbia Valley $52.
This cabernet has the guts to show some complex aromas, but right now it’s really tight, just like paint on the nose, with some black currant, black tea and toast. A few hours of air can do wonders for this wine, bringing out more earthy, roast coffee and pepper aromas. This wine has a bold, grippy and tannin-packed approach. For this young of a wine, the acid gives it a tug toward balance. The currant and blackberry fruit tastes pure, velvety, downright sexy. I like the tobacco leaf and spiced coffee flavors, and when I tasted blind this blind I guessed it to have some cabernet franc. But this 100% cabernet is beautiful, and it has the potential for a decade of cellaring. Here’s my attempt at objectifying this wine with a number: (92 points)

That’s my report. The takeaway? I need to buy more domestic cabernets and squirrel them away in my cellar. While many of these wines were delicious, the best deserve some time sideways.

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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