Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Foodie Freak: Cabernet Sauvignon

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This will be the first in what may just well be a very long series on different wines and the grapes that make them here in the county.


I tried to think of how to describe a grape and wine to people who have no knowledge of wines so that, even without ever tasting the wine, you could get an idea of its character and want to try that wine for the first time.


For this series I will compare the wines with something that most people know – celebrities, past or present. I'll compare the wines to the celebrities that fit each wine the best.


Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted vine in Lake County – and the world – so we will start with it.


I don’t think you could describe Cabernet Sauvignon any better than George Clooney. My first thoughts went to Clark Gable; however, I changed when I realized that the major growing demographic of wine drinkers today are between 21 and 33 and I wanted to use a celebrity that they could really identify with and “taste” in their wine. Other factors made me change my mind also and you’ll see as we go along.


Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most popular grapes, being found in almost every wine growing region in the world. For the better part of the 20th century it was the most planted grape around the world. Similarly, George Clooney is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. Some people call the Cabernet Sauvignon “The king of wines” and George Clooney is one of the most noteworthy of Hollywood royalty.


One of the reasons that Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are popular is that they are very hardy and able to stand up to a variety of adverse conditions. The grapes are small but have thick skins, and the vines can survive many adverse conditions from extreme heat to frost. George Clooney starred in “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” and “Oh Brother Where Art Thou>” so he’s gotta have some thick skin to survive those harsh conditions also.


The flavor of all grape varieties vary with how they are raised but Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can have some that are very regional in themselves. Green bell pepper, sometimes called vegetal or weedy flavor, is present in the wine if the grapes don’t quite develop completely. But if they get the right amount of sunlight for just the right amount of time during the day this flavor is destroyed by the sun. The suns effect may not happen in areas that get too much cool wind like the coastal Monterey Bay wine region that negates the effect of the sun and the wines may very well end up with a vegetal taste.


Monterey Cabernet Sauvignons are renowned for having this weedy taste since the climate of Monterey County is just too cool. This isn’t necessarily a bad flavor, just like some white wines have an essence like cat urine and it isn’t considered a bad thing (as someone who lives with cats, I would disagree).


Other flavors like mint and eucalyptus are also indicative of the grapes growing region, mint being found in growing areas like Washington State, Coonawarra region of Australia and the Margeux region of France, although no links have been found they are all western coastal wine growing regions.


Also coincidentally, eucalyptus flavors – more commonly called menthol – are found in Cabernet Sauvignons grown in areas like Napa, Sonoma,, and Australia, all of which have a large population of eucalyptus trees but no official link has been found.


Other flavors to look for in a Cabernet Sauvignon can include allspice, asparagus, blackberries, black cherries, black currant, black raspberry, cassis (fancy wine talk for black currant), clove, cola, dill, ginger, green olives, grape, green peppercorns, pimentos, plum and violets.


The aging process (particularly in oak) can give it additional flavors of bay leaf, cigar box or tobacco, coffee or cappuccino, earthy, five spice powder, caramel, cedar, cinnamon, chocolate, coconut, iodine, leather, mushroom, pencil box or pencil shavings, plastic, raisins, smoke, tar, toast, vanilla, wet dog and, of course, oak and wood.


Sometimes, in order to be more encompassing, flavors like allspice, clove, cinnamon, and five spice are just grouped into a descriptor of “brown spice” and flavors like grape and different berries are just clumped into “fruit” or “fruit forward” descriptions. The large number of “black” fruit descriptors sometimes are grouped and you will see the description “black fruit flavors” or even given “jam” or “jammy fruit” flavors.


Now you can’t tell me that a lot of those smell and flavor descriptors wouldn’t match George Clooney as well, right? Don’t you think George Clooney is evocative of the smells of leather, cigar box and coffee? Oh, stop what you are thinking, I’m just trying to help people understand the wine, but come on, he is a darn good lookin’ guy!


The tannins which most red wines are famous for are described with short, medium, medium-long and long finishes, even descriptors of bitter, dusty, light, young and even unforgiving. Tannins are frequently described as giving a “furry” feeling to the mouth, possibly being reminiscent of that five o’clock shadow of George Clooney seems to always have.


Genetic testing has determined that the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a cross between the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc vines that most likely crossed in the 17th century in the Bordeaux region of France. Although some rumors are told of the grape being written about in ancient Rome, it is a young variety of grape. However, the name of the grape itself is thought to have come from the fact that the Cabernet Sauvignon has similar tastes to both the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc grapes.


Similarly, George Clooney isn’t actually descended from Rosemary Clooney but she is his aunt and George isn’t an old celebrity but is newer on the scene than Clark Gable. In California Cabernet Sauvignon is usually kept as a sole vintage but across the world it is often blended with other wines to make unique combinations like Cabernet/Shiraz. The George Clooney jokes in that last sentence are too obvious and I’ll leave them to your imagination.


Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be mild and enjoyable to harsh and overbearing, depending on the winemaker and situation, again confirming the Clooney comparison. Which keeps with the name Sauvignon which is based in the French for wild or savage. Cabernet Sauvignon is a strong grape with a commanding presence that many winemakers choose to blend with other grapes to make it less assertive, like putting George Clooney in the “Spy Kids” movies.


While most Cabernet Sauvignons will be aged in oak, most will not stay in the barrel more that 18 to 24 months at the most. Some will age in oak and then be moved to stainless steel vats, the steel aging lightens the flavor and gives a cooler finish to the wine with lighter tannins. Tannins can be mellowed by storing a bottle of wine for a few years. While this is commonplace in Europe they tend to enjoy older wines that have aged for many years Americans tend to enjoy younger wines that are drank in the first few years of being made.


So, now, hopefully you have an idea of the character that is Cabernet Sauvignon and if you ever get the urge to curl up in front of a fire with George Clooney, you can come close with a Cabernet Sauvignon.


Lake County Cabernet Sauvignons are available through local vineyards listed below (independent vineyards also grow it but sell the grapes to wineries).


Beaver Creek Vineyards

Brassfield Estate Winery

Ceago Del Lago

Dharma Wines (Monte Lago Vineyards)

Dusinberre Cellars

Eden Crest Vineyards

Fore Family Vineyards

Hawk and Horse Vineyards

High Valley Vineyard

Langtry Estate and Vineyards

Moore Family Winery

Noggle Vineyard and Winery

Obsidian Ridge Vineyard

Ployez Winery

Robledo Family Winery

Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery

Shed Horn Cellars

Six Sigma Ranch and Vineyards

Sol Rouge Vineyard and Winery

Snows Lake Vineyards

Steele Wines (Steele, Shooting Star)

Terrill Cellars

Tulip Hill Winery

Villa La Brenta

Wildhurst Vineyards


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

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