Rusty Sly: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting

Usually, when I mention that the varietal will be Cabernet Sauvignon everyone comes out of the wood work. Our Grape of the Night meeting at Valencia Wine Company for this varietal had only six people in attendance, Jeff Prange, Allan and Katja Auer, Victor Herstein, Tracy and myself. This was very unusual.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often referred to as the “King of Red Wine Grapes,” originally from Bordeaux, California also has a large production of this varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon has the privilege of being the world’s most sought after red wine in the world. If you were to ask 10 people what their favorite wine is, I will bet you that the majority will say that it is Cabernet Sauvignon. To prove this point, next time you are in a wine shop, look at how many Cabernet Sauvignon wines they have compared to other varietals.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes tend to do best in warmer climates and are often ideal wines for aging, with 5-10 years being optimal for the maturation process to peak. Since Cabs take longer to reach maturation and mellow out, many are blended with small percentages grapes such as Merlot. Adding grapes like Merlot soften the harsh edges of the Cabernet Sauvignon and add fruit aromas and flavors, without sacrificing innate bold character that is sought by consumers. Wines by law in California can only be called by that varietal if it contains at least 75% of the varietal grape.

During my research on Cabernet Sauvignon, I found a comical commentary on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in Appellation I would like to use this as an outline for discussion on the grape. It said,

“All hail the King! But a king doth not a gentleman make. A temperamental prince in youth, you’re a thick-skinned brat with a bitter chip on your shoulder. The air of nobility only develops after a decade or more banished to a dark cellar. Your Bordeaux caretakers warned others of your tannic nature, but the image makers of California left you to your own devices. They spent decades of constant frustration trying to calm your aggressive nature. Finally heeding the advice of the Bordelaise, your New World guardians now employ the services of your perfumy cousin Cabernet Franc to teach you grace, and the sultry French consort Merlot, to teach you maturity. At last, your time has come. In a royal manner, you now rule over North America in a court known as ‘Meritage’.”

Though comical, it states a lot of facts about the characteristics and expectations of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the king and one of the most highly sought after and used grapes in the world. It is grown and used in wines from Canada, Australia, Italy, Chile, France, etc. This success and diversification is based on the fact that it is very hardy with a thick protective outer skin which helps it to endure rot, most grape diseases (Eutypella scoparia and excoriose being exceptions) and powdery mildew. It also adapts well to different climates compared to other grapes.

“A temperamental prince in youth, you’re a thick-skinned brat with a bitter chip on your shoulder.” This single sentence defines the Cabs perfectly. We already mentioned that it is thick skinned and the advantages it provides. The skins are also the source of tannins or tannic acid in wine. Tannins are an excellent antioxidant and natural preservative and also helps give Cabernet Sauvignon wine structure and texture. Tannins add an important dimension of flavor to the wine. During the processing of Cabernet Sauvignon or red wines in general, grape skin contact as well as the crushing of the grapes and barrel aging result in stronger tannins in the wine. When you take a drink of wines with a high tannin content, you will detect a pucker sensation in the mouth and back of the throat. This is sometimes accompanied by a bitter aftertaste. The sediment you see at the bottom of the bottle are tannins.

Red wines with little tannin should be consumed young and cannot be cellared for a long period of time. However, a red wine that can age and show improvements over three or more years require a lot of tannins. As the wine ages, the tannins soften and becomes less noticeable.

This brings us to the end of the comical definition of Cabernet Sauvignon by Appellation America. If you have a wine that has high tannins and is a little rough around the edges, a vintner can add a little Syrah or Merlot wine to soften the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in the wine. To be called a true Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it must contain at least 75% of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, or it is referred to as a blend. Next time you are strolling through the Cab section of your local Wine shop, read the labels and see how many Cabernet Sauvignons are truly 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grape. You will find very few. And if it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, tip your hat to the vintner. He has done an excellent job of picking, processing and bottling the wine to provide such a work of art for us to enjoy.

Here is a List that will provide the key characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon. This table is only a guide to common Cabernet Sauvignon aromas and bouquets.

Typical Cabernet Sauvignon Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
Varietal Aromas/Flavors:
Processing Bouquets/Flavors:
Fruit: black currant, blackberry, black cherry
Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood
Herbal: bell pepper, asparagus, green olive
Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar
Spice: ginger, green peppercorn, pimento
Bottle Age: cedar, cigar box, musk, mushroom, earth, leather

Now that we have an understanding of the bold and hedonistic style of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, let’s review the three wines that were poured during our Grape of the Night Meeting.

Wines Poured:
2007 Caymus – Napa Valley
Flavors: Buttery Vanilla (American Oak), Blackberry, Blackberry, Coffee, Black Raspberries, Cedar, Cinnamon

Professional Notes:
Rating: Wine Spectator: 92 pts

Tasting Notes:
· “Ripe and fleshy, with rich plum, wild berry, spice and savory herb notes that are complex, full-bodied and expansive on the palate, ending with firm tannins and a dash of espresso. Drink now through 2016.” (11/09) WS

· Once again Caymus has hit a homerun with the latest release of their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 is an amazing bottling that rivals past great vintages such as 1994, 1997 and 2001. Made in the quintessential California Cabernet Sauvignon style, this wine is big, rich and hedonistic, with flavors of dark berry fruit, mocha and chocolate that seamlessly lead into a smooth, supple finish that is nicely highlighted by rich oak accents. If you’ve been a perennial fan of Caymus, then this newest release will not disappoint! There are no scores as of yet, but experience leads me to believe this promises to merit scores in the low- to mid-90s. (Alex Pross, K&L Wine Merchants)

Winemaker’s notes:
The aromas are layered with pipe tobacco, fermentation pumice, log cabin fire, moist steel, dried Poblano peppers and fine quality oak. Sweet, toasty fresh brown spice leads to the impression of richness and complexity.

We created this wine to be low in tartness yet abundant in tannins, providing impressions of friendly chock richness. The palate enters rich with sweet, ripe tannins, expanding to a greater breadth of refined textures. These harmonious qualities are so well integrated that not one takes the dominant role.

I find a flavor profile of dark chocolate, sweet tobacco, mocha, leather, brown spice, cedar, vanilla and sweet licorice.

The primary goodness of this wine is the presence of balance, with a supply texture, approachable grip and a fruit of the earth essence.
-Chuck Wagner, Winemaker

2003 Broman – Napa Valley
Flavors:Blackberry, Earthy, Sweet Floral bouquet, Cedar, Bakers Chocolate, Spice, Dark cherries
Plum, All Spice, Blackberry

Professional Notes:
Rating:· NA

Tasting Notes:
Wine Spies evaluation is listed below:

Feel – Initially cool, soft, bright and wet, the wine has a gentle roundness at first – then becomes lightly mouth-coating and a little grippy as medium tannins grab the top of your tongue and the roof of the mouth

Taste – Bright and delicious, with fresh fruits of red currant, cranberry, blueberry, raisin, blackberry and oak with a touches of cocoa powder, tomato vine and flinty earth

Winemaker’s notes:
Complex, yet smooth and supple, this wine presents aromas of plum, pomegranate and cranberry fruits with traces of cocoa, leather and cedar. Full and rich in the mouth with fine integrated tannins; our Cabernet has a long, smooth finish. This is a stunning wine that is fruit forward, ripe and intense with superior structure and complexity.

2003 Dutch Henry – Napa Valley
Flavors: Dark plum, Bold Tannins, Saddle leather, Dark plum, Blackberry, Slightly dry finish, White pepper, Light vanilla

Professional Notes:
Winemaker’s notes:

Hide the women and children because the Yeti of Cabs is down from Howell Mtn. Grab some t-bones and fire up the grill. Go heavy on the garlic and black pepper. The Dutch Henry Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a big Cabernet with gripping tannins. This is what the gang drinks ‘round the fire after their latest heist. Makes even a grilled rattlesnake taste good. The grapes for this wine were grown by the Chafen family on a hillside vineyard just south of the winery. This wine opens with notes of plum and cherry with a hint of clove in the bouquet. The wine finishes with black pepper and dried herbs. This is a good candidate for your cellar.

We had some very good examples of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon poured. I want to thank those that attended for a fine evening and wonderful experience, especially Jeff Prange of Valencia Wine Company. He not only took care of all of our needs but provided us with an education of wines through his knowledge. Our next meeting will be Monday, December 7, 2009. This Grape of the Night will be French Bordeaux. Guy Lelarge owner of VWC has even offered to attend and provide us with his knowledge. Bordeaux wines are a blend and can be either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot based. Let’s see what we can discover. Hope to see everyone there.


Rusty Sly