Aside from deciding which type of wine to pour for holiday dinners, where the grapes are grown makes a real difference in how much you’ll like it and how well it will go with your menu. This week we’ll look at the world’s greatest grape variety, and we’ll discuss where it’s grown, the variety of styles available and the wider variety of prices.
Try a new wine this week!
The world’s most famous and popular red wine grape is grown all over the world today, but different growing conditions mean different styles of wine are made from it. Here’s a brief primer on cabernet sauvignon, where it’s grown today and where you’ll have the best chance of finding your favorites.
As with many grape varieties, it’s mostly about the “earthy elegance” of Old World originals vs. the richer, riper fruit of New World countries.
First, the originals are in the southwestern French region of Bordeaux, named for the seaport city. Most are blended, but the ones with the highest percentage of cabernet sauvignon are found on the “Left Bank”, of the local Gironde Estuary. The wines from the southern part of this Medoc peninsula, those clustered around the villages of Margaux and St. Julien, tend to be more elegant in style, while those in the northern part around Pauillac and St. Estephe are usually fuller bodied.
The most famous New World versions are found in northern California, particularly Napa Valley. These can be among the most intense, fullest-bodied cabernets made anywhere in the world. Next door, in parts of Sonoma County there’s a lot of great cabernet that is maybe a little less intense than Napa’s, and almost always less expensive. And the best values of all may be farther south around the town of Paso Robles, with fine purity of fruit and very good prices.
In recent years Washington State has emerged as one of the world’s great wine regions. Cabernet there tends to combine richness of fruit and intensity of flavor with a Bordeaux-like elegance—and without the Old World earthiness. This is likely to be, at least in part, because their northerly location is almost exactly the same as Bordeaux, France. Maybe not exactly the same climate, but the same slant of the sun. Prices for Washington wines are often good for the quality.
Chile and Australia are two more New World cabernet countries, the former a little more French-like and the latter a little more like California.
As much as I like the bargain prices from Chile, and the outstanding quality from Napa Valley, for holiday menus I find myself liking Washington cab’s quite a lot. There’s enough intensity for the wine lover, but the overall style won’t overpower most meals. This is the case for Charles Smith’s “Chateau Smith” Cabernet Sauvignon. It combines impressive depth and complexity for only around $20 a bottle. Plus, the current vintage is the great 2007.
“Chateau Smith” Cabernet Sauvignon,
2007 Columbia Valley, from Charles Smith,
Food & Wine Magazine’s
Winemaker of the Year