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Wine School! (Class #5 – Cabernet Sauvignon)

Mar. 1, 2010
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Great writing, art, romance, and history have all sprung up under this wine's influence. Grown just about everywhere, cabernet sauvignon is the world's most popular red. Known also as "claret," learning cabernet is an absolute must for a would-be wine enthusiast. So read on—you'll find something workable.

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I decided to make an evening of our Cabernet Sauvignon tasting. Our samples for the evening:

Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) 2006 Coastal Estates Cabernet Sauvignon – USA – $8-10

Chateau Gauthier 2006 Médoc Bordeaux – France – $12-14

Cousiño-Macul 2007 Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon – Chile – $11-13

Tannic wines like cabernets, especially when young (and anything less than five years old is considered young for a cab), almost always need to be decanted before drinking. Decanting is WineSpeak for getting some oxygen into the wine. One of those pretty glass decanters is helpful but not necessary. For most cabs, open the bottle 20-30 minutes before you drink.

If you want to experience the flavors of a classic French red, this Bordeaux has them. Even an inexpensive Bordeaux like the Chateau Gauthier has the complexity for which this region is known. The nose has "The Old World Funk," best described as an "earthy" scent (the SP in Crime called it "agricultural"). The initial taste is "wet", but the tannins of the cabernet quickly catch up. There's some more of that "earthy" taste. The finish is very interesting. If you read enough wine reviews, you'll see mentions of "leather" and "cigar box." I finally understood what they meant after tasting this wine, which finishes a bit dry. (Note: almost all Bordeaux are made of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This one is cabernet-sauvignon dominant.)

The BV was a huge contrast. The nose is very clean and extremely fruity. The flavor was much fruitier, with a lot more body. (Some would call this "jammy.") The finish was barely dry. The tannins were almost completely covered by the fruit.

The Cousiño-Macul was, again, a contrast. Before I let it breathe, the nose almost smelled like asphalt. After a bit, that morphed into fruit and tobacco scents. There's also little of that "Old World" scent. The body of the wine was in-between the others and the finish was the driest. The flavors weren't overpowering—some fruit, some tannin, and a little chocolate.

Big ol' reds like cabernet sauvignon go hand in hoof with steak. Steak and potatoes is a classic pairing with cabernet, which is precisely why we chose this menu. With the three wines before us, we tried them with the steak.

The Bordeaux immediately jumped to the forefront. The earthiness of the wine was a perfect complement to the beef, potato, and garlic flavor. The fruit came out as we ate. I could see this with any kind of game or anything earthy like mushrooms. The Chilean wine also paired nicely. The tannin in this wine, more so than the earthy flavor, cut through the fat in the beef and made a pleasant combination. However, I think this wine really would stand out in a meat dish that has a little bit of spice, like a chimichurri sauce.

The BV didn't fare quite as well. The best thing about this wine—the fruitiness—was lost against the flavors of beef and cheese. This wine wouldn't be a bad pairing with something a little sweet and spicy, like barbecue sauce or a dry rub of some kind. But with straight steak and potatoes, it was a surprisingly poor match. BV needs light meats, rich pastas, or something along the lines of chicken teriyaki. Honestly, I think that I could find better pairings for all of those entrees than a cab. However, all is not lost. The BV is certainly the best "end of day glass" of wine—easily the most drinkable on its own.

At the end of the evening, we sat on the front porch to enjoy the gorgeous weather. And, as we usually do, we brought out the dark chocolate. The BV didn't go well. The French wine was good. However, the Chilean and chocolate married into a wonderful creamy flavor.

Next, over to chardonnay to see what we can discover. Class dismissed…


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