For some reason, vitis vinfera grapes are also referred to as the “noble” grapes. If that is true, then Cabernet Sauvignon may be the noblest of them all. The main grape in Left Bank Bordeaux wines, this is also the source of some of the most highly prized cult wines in California as well.
Cab Sauvignon is a cross between the rather more austere Cabernet Franc, and the highly acidic, fruity Sauvignon Blanc. The result is a grape that produces wines that are highly distinct, featuring a classic profile of black fruit, cassis, cedar, green pepper, and mint/eucalyptus. Since the wines most usually see oak treatment, vanilla and butterscotch can also be profiled. The wines are typically dry, tannic, and often long lived (up to 20 years for some high end Bordeaux – Chateaux Margaux, Latour and Lafite, to name a few).
In California, Cab Sauvignon is the most planted grape, at more than 76,000 acres. It is one of the heartiest grapes to grow, but it ripens late – needing a long growing season in order to show its best. When not fully ripened, the “green” notes will show – green pepper, herbs. But I’ve not yet encountered a Cab that was too green to enjoy. In places where there is lots of heat, Cabs can be all fruit and little finesse – but again, there are plenty of fans of the big jammy New World fruit bombs that are out there.
As far as California goes, since I haven’t yet been able to afford to try the cult legends such as Stag’s Leap, Screaming Eagle, or Harlan Estate yet, I have a few favourites, and I’m not embarassed to say that my regular go-to California Cab is J. Lohr Estates Seven Oaks. It KILLS me that this wine retails for about fifteen bucks at the source. Here in BC, it’s more akin to $25 a pop. Sigh…
Fair Access Strategies
One of the instructors I used to work with lived in California, and she would come up here to teach one term a year, travelling in a motorhome with her husband. Turns out they had a false bottom floor in the vehicle, and they would bring enough cheap wine across the border to last them their three month gig. I am dying to try this!
Another strategy that I am thinking of is to befriend someone who has recently moved to Canada from the US. They are allowed one trip home within the first year to gather their “estate effects” and bring them back north – tax free. I think I could rapidly assemble an “estate cellar’s” worth of California wines to haul home. Heck, I’d pay the shipping. I might even share them with the owner!