A 'typical' Cabarnet Sauvignon

I had a pretty interesting question asked of me in the cellar the other day. I was asked my feelings on a "typical" Cabernet Sauvignon. Or, more precisely, what in my estimation would be considered a "typical" Cabernet Sauvignon.

On the surface this seems to be a fairly straight-forward question asking for an equally straight-forward answer. I stood there and waited while gathering my thoughts and waited and waited and waited!

The truth is that the word "typical" simply does not exist when speaking about any wine, especially Cabernet Sauvignon. There are certain "expectations" when we think of the grape, but being typical leads one to think that there is a perfect standard for the wine or there might be a magical measuring stick wherein all Cabernet is judged by a specific gold standard. This simply is not true.

Let's look at what one might expect from a fine bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon:

Varietal integrity — These are fancy words telling us that the wine in the glass should exhibit certain flavor components assigned to the red grape Cabernet Sauvignon.

We know that this grape will yield in the glass any number of flavors as well as sensations in the bouquet that are fingerprints native to the varietal. In the nose, we can find probably the No. 1 bouquet trait: cassis or currant berry. This dark-fruit flavor is not like cherry or raspberry or even the bramble flavors of blackberry, but a more complex sensation with layers of elegance the other dark fruits do not (in my opinion) have. The extraction of this fruit is very pronounced in Bordeaux, France, where this grape originates, especially in Chateau Lafite. Capturing the cassis in Cabernet is a wondrous event and can propel Cabernet to a new level of elegance.

The other flavors we can detect are those of mint, perhaps black cherry and the right amount of spices given to us from the grape or a judicious amount of oak from the barrel. The marrying of oak and Cabernet Sauvignon can be beautiful when done correctly.

There are other sensations we can appreciate from Cabernet but these are the easiest to detect for the novice when trying to come to grips with this creature.

Palate weight and longevity — There is nothing worse than a wimpy Cabernet Sauvignon. The thin, acidic light-weight Cabernets are not worth the time to make, much less to drink. Cabernet should have density, weight and terrific palate density. A fine Cabernet should linger on the palate for some period of time and let us ponder on its finesse.

This is true with all wines but the Cabernet benefits from the regalness of the tactile senses. A really nice Cabernet Sauvignon should pack the nose with a heady bouquet, have good, up-front fruit flavors of dark fruit, remain silken and heavy on the palate and finish with a long and expansive set of aftertastes.

With cuisine — All Cabernet should be primed for the table. Some say that there are no absolutes. Well, you just read one! If the Cabernet Sauvignon you purchased did not go well with that heavier fare, the wine let you down!

Cabernet Sauvignon was never meant to be sipped alone as a cocktail. The wine is meant to bless cuisine with its balance and integrity and add that special moment when everything comes together. Cabernet should never stand out at the dinner table but should blend with that which is being offered on the plates. Too much and too huge is not the best balancer with what the chef has prepared. Let each item speak for itself, including the glass of wine.

Age — Try to drink Cabernet after a minimum four years from vintage date. This is a good rule, as the flavors will have time to integrate in the bottle and the newness will settle down to a more mature offering. Almost nothing is finer than an older Cabernet Sauvignon that is well-made and sipped with good friends!

See you next week!

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