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Cabernet Sauvignon tasting: general impressions

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To celebrate my 35th birthday, I had some friends over last night and enjoyed sampling some Cabernet Sauvignon (and Cab. Sauv-dominant blends) from a variety of wine regions: Bordeaux, Napa, Barossa, Maipo, Columbia Valley, etc...

It was not a serious tasting per se (I had prepared notes about the history of the grape and about each of the wine regions represented but the gathering turned out to be a bit more informal than I anticipated so I did not 'present' my 'research'). I did not take many notes while I drank as it was more of a social affair, but I did drink some delicious, and some not-so-delicious, wines, and wanted to share my impressions. The wines we drank, in order, were:

1) Ch. Lanessan, Haut-Medoc, 1996. 75% Cab Sauv, 20% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 1 % Cab Franc. 13% ABV. I thought this wine was just splendid and ready to drink. The fruit was a little subdued but the wine boasted wonderfully mellow coffee/mocha flavours and the tannins were well-integrated at this point. The wine threw a little sediment but I did decant first. Not a top-notch Bordeaux, but 1996 was a very good vintage indeed for the Medoc. I would drink this wine again; might pair nicely with a simple dinner of grilled filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted bell peppers.

2) Burrowing Owl Cabernet Sauvignon, 2001, Okanagan Valley, 2001. 13.2% ABV. Decent, but it did not really stand out for me. The couple who brought it were worried about how they had stored it (at room temp mainly). Didn't taste off in any way, but I could not discern many specific aromas or flavours.

3) Seven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, 2001. 13.5% ABV. Really a delicious wine and the overall crowd favourite. The wine boasted vibrant acidity with definite flavours of mint, milk chocolate, blackberries, and a hint of vanilla. Ready to drink now, I'm not sure that it will improve with much more cellaring time. Certainly a wine I would purchase. (a friend brought it).

4) Peter Lehmann 'the Mentor', Barossa Valley, 2002. 69% Cab Sauv, 13% Merlot, 10% Shiraz, and 8% Malbec. 14% ABV. Another hit with the crowd. I found it to be a bit too sweet and syrupy. Black-purple, nearly opaque colour. I detected notes of cherry (almost cherry liqueur-like fruit), chocolate, eucalyptus, mint. Very extracted. Really took on some of the shiraz dimension despite there being only 10% shiraz in the blend. What surprised me was that 2002 was the coolest vintage on record in the Barossa, yet the wine still tasted of incredibly ripe fruit. Guess it goes to show how hot the Barossa is, even in an unusually cool year.

5) Concha y Toro, Don Melchor, 2003. Maipo Valley. 14.5% ABV. One of my favourites of the night. Much different than I remember it when I tasted it on release 2 years ago. Aromas and flavours of bramble, some leather/saddle character, ripe blackberry, vibrant acidity. This was my favourite wine of the night. I'll be curious to see how it evolves over the next 10 years (fortunately I have some more in my cellar). Not the fruit bomb that I remember it being, but I suspect my tastebuds were a bit numbed by the syrupy-sweet flavours of the Peter Lehmann.

6) Caymus Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, 2004. 14.5% ABV. I was the sole person who thought this bottle was corked. I detected a 'wet wood' taste that was offputting and made me suspect the wine was affected by brett. Surprisingly, my guests loved this wine and some even picked it as their favourite. Weird. Nobody believed me when i said I thought the wine was corked.

7) Escorihuela Gascon, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. Mendoza. 14% ABV. The thing that most struck me was the weight of the bottle! It was twice as heavy as any other bottle on the table. I have had this experience before with Argentinian wine bottles. Is it to protect from breakage during shipping, or what? Anyway, the wine itself was overwhelmingly tannic and not yet ready to drink. It'll need 5 years minimum, probably 10. A dark, brooding wine at this point, with predominant notes of tobacco and leather. The fruit was overwhelmed by the massive tannins. I'd love to put some of this away for 10 years and see what happens.

8) Jackson-Triggs 'Sunrock Vineyards' Cabernent Sauvignon, 2003, Okanagan. 14.6% ABV. This wine is remarkably consistent year after year. Polished, with well integrated alcohol and tannins. Some vanilla, chocolate, ripe black berry flavours. Proficient, but somehow not inspiring (it is a bit weird how consistent the wine is year-to-year, especially considering it is a single-vineyard release. Something to do with the winemaking, methinks).

9) Inniskillin, 'Reserve' Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Okanagan. 14% ABV. Admittedly my palate was getting a little tired by this point, but I had low expectation for this wine and was pleasantly surprised. Inniskillin is a wildly inconsistent winery that makes some great ice wines and some decent whites (including a very good chenin blanc that I served at my wedding), but usually fans on reds. I thought this wine was very quaffable, with ripe fruit, smooth tannins, and good acidity. Perhaps a bit too 'new-world-y' with fairly prominent vanilla flavour from the oak, but not bad given the price.

8 people managed to drink all 9 bottles by the end of the night, and it was mainly 5 of us because the first 3 guests left early. Surprisingly, I do not feel at all hungover! Must by the good quality of the wine.

BTW, I served cheeses and sides influenced by a recent thread here on what cheese goes well with Cabernet Sauvignon. The food pairings were great. I had the following cheeses: beemster, stilton, comte, and salers. I also served some pheasant and walnut terrine (delicious). Also picholine olives, nicoise olives, cornichons, some very good sourdough baguettes, german air-dried beef (think it was called schinkenspeck), herb and garlic cured beef from a local charcuterie, truffled salami from Oyama Meats on Granville island, Italian walnuts in-the-shell, and black mission figs.

My wife made some amazing chocolate cupcakes for dessert with rich ganache frosting. I could not find any late-harvest Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wines. Do they exist?



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  1. Re: Caymus. Were these wines tasted blind? If not, I suspect some people might have loved Caymus just because it is Caymus and it garners high ratings.

    Re: late harvest cabernet sauvignon. I don't recall seeing one, but I've had a Peller Estate icewine made from cab franc. It went great with chocolate ice cream.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mengathon

      No, the wines were not tasted blind. But mind you, many of the wines garner high rankings (i.e. the Don Melchor earned a 96 pt rating in the WS).

      Not many of my guests were familiar with the Caymus because they all live in Canada and do not purchase many California wines, partly due to cost. So I do not think that the 'Caymus' factor was significant.

      And yes, I have encountered ice wine from cab franc, but no late-harvest cab sauv.

    2. nice notes - sounds like it was a great evening. were any of the wines decanted or aerated?

      1 Reply
      1. re: ibstatguy

        All of the wines I provided (which were most of the wines) were decanted for approximately 2 hours prior to serving.

      2. You have some young wines, 2 hrs isn't enough for a young cabernet from CA. I love Napa cabs. The Caymus was wayy to young, a good Napa cab gets better after 8-10 yrs.
        If you get a chance, try Hourglass, Sherwin, Neal, Anomaly. All cabs, all wonderful.


        1 Reply
        1. re: amedemonet

          Well, I agree that some more bottle age would have been better, but I have been collecting wines for only about 5 years.

          As for the Caymus, it was corked, and no amount of cellaring time would have helped that.

        2. Great post. Great night.
          No criticism from me.
          When a winemaker puts the cork in his wine, it is not with anticipation that it's final day will be met with an aggressive decanting and a raised eyebrow.
          It's really just here in the new world that we need our tannins integrated and our two
          all-beef patties special-sauced.
          I like a little vigor in the glass.
          Just finished the '06 Condrieu from St. Cosme, this evening.
          A thoroughly enjoyable experience, beautifully scented, perfumed and sexy with great depth and power. Hints of honeysuckle, mint, licorice and violets, with mad balance and crazy length on the finish.