Cabernet Sauvignon. The King of Grapes. British author, Jancis Robinson, suggests that, despite its lower yields, its popularity may rest on the ease with which it can be grown, its ability to withstand cold winters due to its hard wood, its late budding which can reduce the risk of frost damage, its general resistance to disease, its thick-skinned ability to withstand heavy rains, and ultimately its “artistic concentration of blackcurrants and cedarwood.”
Since the early 19th century and on, it has been planted around the world with great success. It is the main grape in ‘Claret’, the British name for the Bordeaux wines grown in the Médoc and Graves regions of France, and it is the red grape of California’s Napa Valley.
In Napa, currently considered America’s best region for Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape commands in excess of $6,000 per ton at harvest. In contrast, the next most expensive grape there is Chardonnay, and it commands less than half that dollar figure. Further, the average price for Cabernet Sauvignon throughout all of California, is less than $1500 per ton, as of 2015 - it is easy to understand why Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons are so expensive, all in all.
I have read that, in general, a Napa winemaker has to sell his Cabs for at least $40 per bottle just to break even. In recent reviews by the Wine Spectator, of hundreds of Napa Cabernets, only a handful were priced at $40 or less, while the average, I am sure, would easily be in the $100 area.
That probably explains why, on the November 26 Vintages release as we approach Christmas, the LCBO is trying to tempt us with a number of expensive options, including Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $139.95, Beringer Private within our grasp.Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $166.95, and Far Niente Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $244.95. All are assessed by Robert Parker Jr. at 94 points, and more! (If interested, speak with your product consultant by Monday to put in an order.)
However, as much as wines like these may be far beyond the reasonable reach of most of us, there remains within our grasp a wealth of quite wonderful and affordable Cabernets. Looking at the list of Limited Time Offers in effect until November 27, there are some beauties, all on the regular list.
My first choice personally is Chile’s Santa Rita Medalla Real Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, just $14.95, a savings of $2, and a steal even at its regular price. It has great depth of flavour, suggesting cassis, cedar, and mocha. It is elegant, with ample but not overwhelming tannins.
Argentina’s Dona Paula Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $3 off at $13.95, is earthy and intense with tart cherry and sweet blackcurrant coming in easy and then wrapping you up in a soft web of tannins. It invites food, say sharp cheeses, or roasted meats.
From Hopland California, a couple of hours north of San Francisco, we get Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2014,normally $17.95, and now $16.45. It has a light entry, with expanding flavours of red fruit and blueberry. It is sneaky soft, building sip by sip to make and emphatic and pleasing impression.
From South Africa’s Stellenbosch comes Helderberg Cabernet Sauvignon, $2 off at just $10.95. Unfortunately, it is not on the shelves in the Sault, North Bay or Timmins, but it can be ordered on-line through LCBO.com, and it would be well worth it. The emphasis here seems to be on dried fruit and some herbaceous notes - I have seen rosemary suggested – but it is plush, smooth and very satisfying.
A little lighter in colour and more lifted in flavour is Nederburg The Winemakers Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, $11.95. (its regular price!) There is good substance here, with a light entry similar to the Josh, and red berry fruit along with the suggestion of tobacco. Tannins come through in a good way on the finish and confirm this inexpensive example as a very good wine, indeed.
With an “old-timey” label featuring Dr. John Lindeman replete with resplendent white mustache and mutton-chops,Lindemans Gentelman Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $2 off at $15.95, is an intriguing Australian offering. It bears a phrase, “A guide to chivalry and integrity” and states rule # 4, “Never Upstage”. I can’t guarantee that the wine won’t do that, as it is one of the smoothest of the lot, with certainly the sweetest fruit – though only 8 grams per litre of residual sugar. Where the ‘upstaging’ may come in is with the revelation that it contains ”a dash of fortified wine” which would certainly serve to enrich the flavours. This one is far too easy to drink!
On the 26th release, Chateau de Panigon 2010, $19.95, is a solid Médoc based on Cabernet Sauvignon which has earned 90 and better from erobertparker.com and Decanter. It has a drinking window from now to 2020, and it is pure, focused and long according to critic Neal Martin.
Likewise, Seven Falls Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $20.95 from Washington State was rated “Outstanding” atgreatnorthwestwine.com, showing “deep black cherry fruit and spice” and earning a double gold at the 2016 Cascadia Wine Competition.
Cabernet Sauvignon may be King, but we can still spend like paupers and enjoy it!
A Couple of Whites
South Africa continues to impress with wines of good value. The Wolftrap White has made another Top 100 best buy list at $13.95, and I have recently tasted a couple of other whites which should have broad appeal.
Nederburg The Winemasters Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $11.95 - the herbal side gets good expression here, along with tart racy acidity suggestive of lemon and lime. It cries out for shellfish.
Two Oceans Pinot Grigio 2016, $9.95, will definitely delight. Hailing from the Cape region of South Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, the wine benefits from this moderating influence which allows the grapes to ripen and develop fully. There is great refreshing flavour here, and it is a wine to enjoy all year round. Great acidity, good pear and peach notes, and nicely balanced. It could take on other PGs at twice the price.
The third Thursday in November is the traditional release date for Beaujolais Nouveau, and here in Ontario it is the day all new wines from this fall’s harvest reach the shelves. At one time there was a great deal of hoopla surrounding the event, a celebration of the year’s harvest. Nowadays, we find the “usual suspects” represented – a couple of Beaujolais Villages Primeurs – Joseph Drouhin and Georges du Boeuf (the unofficial “King” of Beaujolais), another du Boeuf, this time a Gamay Nouveau from the Ardeche, and two straight Beaujolais Nouveau from Mommesin and L’Art respectively.
In every case these are made from the Gamay grape from which all red Beaujolais originate. Gamay does well in Ontario, and Reif Estates releases its Nouveau version, “The Fool” at this time, along with a new white made from Kerner, “The Hanging Man”.
Two Italian Novellos are also represented, one from Trentino made by Mezzacorona from Teroldego, and one from the Veneto made by Negrar and likely based on Corvino.
They range in price from $15.95 for the Beaujolais Villages, to just $9.95 for the Novello wines. All are fresh and grapey, with the Reif having a bit of prickle on the tongue. There is decent depth to the Drouhin, and the Negrar Novello even exhibits a lick of tannin on the finish. If you want to experience the fresh new wine, now is the time. Perhaps it will bring back memories when many families made their own wine from grapes brought in from California.
November 26 Vintages Release
There are lots of goodies here. I recommend that you pick up a catalogue at the LCBO or speak with your local product consultant to learn what is coming down the pipe. Here are a few recommendations, just to whet your appetites.
Cathedral Cellar Chardonnay 2014, $16.95 - this South African winery has a dedicated following, and they will be very happy once again with this good value. It will sell out quickly. Mid-weight, with breadth of flavour and light on the oak.
Tenute Messeri Visioni Offida Pecorino 2013, $16.95. This gem from Marche is at its peak. Vintages describes it as being “tangy and fresh, with exuberant, ripe citrus and apple tones.”. Pecorino had almost disappeared as a varietal, but we’re glad it’s back!
Toro De Piedra Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2014, $19.95 – from Chile, this wine really impressed me the last time I tried it. The emphasis is on BIG, with oodles of tropical fruit and toffee along with a lick of toasted vanilla. All is brought to great resolution with the acidity revealed on the finish.
Casa Del Bosque Reserva Carmenère 2014, $14.95 from Chile is delicious with dark, rich berry fruit. I had harboured a reluctance to this grape because of its tendency to carry a vegetal streak, but there is none whatsoever of that here. I am converted.
Chateau Peyros Vielles Vignes Madiran 2011, $18.95 from the southwest of France bears a heady 93 from the Wine Enthusiast. It is a blend of Tannat and Cabernet Franc, with a density and solid structure that would best be enjoyed a few years down the road in order to really appreciate the “rich black fruits”.
Amastuola Primitivo 2013, $15.95 is an organic example from Puglia. Natalie MacLean calls it robust, and says that it ”finishes with baked blueberry pie and dark spice.” Her score? 91
San Felice Chianti Classico 2013, $19.95, sports “three glasses” from Gambero Rosso, its highest accolade. A tasting note indicates “warm earth, meat, leather, spice and dried fruits. A lifted violet tone keeps things bright.”
Baròn De Ley Reserva 2010, $21.95 has been called a “Star Buy of 2015” by decanter.com, scoring it 95. Balanced and structured, it displays the classic characteristics of a great Rioja red, including a “punch of citrus acidity and a fine rasp of tannin.”
There are many more wines to seek out, so check them out and enjoy.