Blending CabsFebruary 28th, 2011 by Alan A. Barone
If you are looking for the best of both worlds – a wine that has the dynamic characteristics of the most celebrated grape in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the more unique flavor and structural components of other red varieties – than you should focus your attention on the fascinating genre of Cabernet Blends.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a brash vine that grows readily in a variety of different soils. It is a hearty grape, with black, very tough skin. Its ability to survive cold winters and resist a host of insects as well as outlast the most potentially damaging rains has made it the basis for many of the best wines that America produces. It ripens typically in late season and produces very distinctive wines. These growth characteristics, along with its flavor appeal have made Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular red wine varieties available.
Cabernet wine can reflect the personality of the winemaker while keeping the essence of the grape’s flavor profile. The most pronounced effects are from the use of oak during production and the most popular vessel is the 59 gallon barrique. This affinity for oak is helpful in softening the vigorous tannin, naturally present in the grape. Some winemakers choose to harvest their grapes at different ripeness levels in order to incorporate these different elements that contribute to the complexity to the wine. A critical first decision of a winemaker is whether or not to produce a varietal or blended wine.
Historically, the Bordeaux wine region is intimately associated with Cabernet Sauvignon, and surprisingly, little or no Cab is produced without the blended component of other grape varieties. Wine makers throughout the world have tried to reproduce the complexity of this region’s wines and Bordeaux is the benchmark for the blending of Cab. While Cabernet and Merlot are the principle grapes, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot round-out the traditional “Bordeaux Blend” (it is the “Meritage” blend in the United States). Syrah is blended routinely in the Languedoc and Australia.
It has been revealed gradually that the particular traits of each varietal will complement each other and consequently improve the quality of the blend. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon is known to add structure, acidity, tannins and aging potential. However, when the grape is harvested at less than ideal ripeness, it may be void of its rich fruit intensity. Winemakers remedy this by adding the rounder flavors of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, which may also add additional aromas to the bouquet. In the lighter soils of the Margaux region, Cabernet-based wines may lack depth of color or body which can be achieved by blending Petit Verdot and Malbec.
The blending process ultimately allows the winemaker to react to the many variables associated with each harvest, as well as permits their creative license to produce a signature wine.
If you find Cabernet Sauvignon irresistible as much of the wine world does, do not hesitate to try, test and taste this wonderful varietal blended with other superb red grapes. And… here is a place to begin:
Enjoy these ($30 or under) recommendations with your favorite beef or game dishes:
2006 Beringer, Knights Valley Alluvium
Toasty oak and black currant aromas open-up on the palate with flavors of black cherry, vanilla, sweet spices and bright, spicy finish. Merlot dominates the blend.
2005 Girard Artistry, Napa Valley
Appealing spice and fruit scents of nutmeg, lavender and plum translate to the elegant, medium-bodied palate with hints of cocoa and tobacco.
2007 Newton Claret, Napa Valley
The blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Syrah shows aromas and flavors of smoky blueberries and cranberries with a touch of peppery spice.
2006 Columbia Crest Grand Estate, Columbia Valley
This easy-drinking wine has a delicate style, more of an herbal character and restrained fruit aromas and flavors. Blended with11% Merlot; 5% Cabernet Franc; 4% Syrah.
2006 Ramey Claret, Napa Valley
Spicy plum and dark berry aromas lead to a firm and medium to full mouth feel with plum and black currant flavors and undertones of black pepper and herbs.