The gorgeous, tasty side of cabernet sauvignons

For those of you who have been reading my column for the last few years, you have probably noticed I don’t write about cabernet sauvignon that often. I have no problem going on record as saying that most are either overpriced, very generic or a combination of both.

How refreshing it is that I can now say there are some really great cabernet sauvignons, or cabernet sauvignon-dominated wines, that may fetch a pretty penny but are completely gorgeous. I have a hard time justifying spending $500 for a bottle of wine, especially one that is just a few years old and does not have a track record, but when it comes to spending between $50 and $100, there is room for justification.

Why? One of the great things about cabernet sauvignon is that it can age rather well. How can you tell which cabs will age? It is a matter of balance. Oak helps, but if a wine is over-oaked and does not have enough acid or tannin, drink it now if you like the flavors, just don’t bother saving it. If a wine has a ton of tannin but not enough fruit to match, it is going to dry up quickly. Cabernet sauvignon is not inherently as highly acidic as some other grapes, like pinot noir, but still needs acidity and cannot rely on tannin alone for structure. Also, alcohol helps a wine age but too much alcohol can throw the whole wine out of wack.

There is a lot to consider with cabernet sauvignon, but if you are unsure, taste any one of these three wines to see how balanced and worthy the wine can be.

Palladian Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004: Medium to full-bodied with cedar, black currants, vanilla and floral overtones, it oozes with acid, yet the fruit keeps it juicy and the tannins will help ensure it has a long, healthy life. Suggested retail: $40

Cain Concept, 2004: While this wine contains 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, it will make any Napa Valley cabernet drinker very happy. Full-bodied with baked red and black fruits, kirsch, cassis, floral tones and a little spice, it is explosive without being over the top. Suggested retail: $60

Lieff Cabernet Sauvignon, “Auberge Road,” 2004: Full-bodied with supple tannins, herbal, toffee and cassis aromas, and juicy, black fruits on the palate, this cabernet is drinking well now but also shows signs of further development for at least
10 years in the bottle. Suggested retail: $50

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco

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