Celebrating California's Cabernet Sauvignon

I have a wine savvy friend who doesn’t like Cabernet. I can understand that – not everyone wants that tannin experience in the mouth, what is often described as “little wooly sweaters pulled onto your teeth.”

But Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the great wines of the California experience, and there is much to celebrate. That’s why, next year you might want to maker sure you are in town (San Francisco) for the yearly California Cabernet Society tasting. Get on their mailing list at www.californiacabernetsociety.com.

The 2011 tasting, held at the beautiful Bently Reserve building, featured 62 wineries from many AVAs in California, all producers of Bordeaux grapes and wines. The Bently Reserve was a fitting location for this prestigious tasting; this building at 400 Sansome Street in San Francisco was formerly the Old Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, built in 1924 with an Ionic colonnade that is pure Beaux-Arts.

Lots of wonderful Cabernet s were featured, but right away I must rave about the 2008 Napa Valley “Four Soil Melange” Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequum. The fruit of this wine is lively and integrated, with a bright flavor. The grapes for this wine are harvested from four distinct Napa Valley vineyards located in four separate appellations: Spring Mountain, Stag’s Leap,Rutherford and St. Helena. Winemaker Paul Skinner encourages the wines to express their terroir, and the result is wonderful. 325 cases of this wine were produced. 14.2% alcohol, $40 the bottle. http://www.sequum.com/

Star Lane Vineyard, located at the far eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, featured two wines. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. The winemaker’s notes: “Licorice accented black cherry and cassis fruit gives way to sweet herb and mocha shadings. On the palate the wine is full yet fresh, and there is a vibrancy to the fruit character that is unique to the ’06 vintage. A very tightly wound, high-strung wine upon bottling, the 2006 Star Lane Cabernet has opened itself up into a fresh and striking mouthful that begs both immediate enjoyment and long term cellaring.” 15.1% alcohol. $42 the bottle. 
The 2006 Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon tasted a bit rough at this time, but will cellar for later use very well. The blend is 52% Cabernet Franc, 28% Petit Verdot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The mountain fruit really shines through here (the vineyards are at 1600 feet elevation) and this wine is herbaceous like many Santa Ynez Cabs, full-bodied and rich, with nice tannins, and flavor of cherries, chocolate and cedar. 15% alcohol, $80 the bottle. http://www.starlanevineyard.com/

Kenefick Ranch Winery, Calistoga, poured its 2007 Cabernet Franc, Caitlin’s Select. Only 747 cases of this wine were made, and its composition is 100% estate grown fruit, with 91% Cabernet Franc, 6% merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The aroma is dark chocolate, Maraschino cherry and fresh raspberries. Black cherry comes through on the palate, with a bit of vanilla. Robert Parker gave this wine 91 points. 15.2% alcohol, $52 the bottle. http://www.kenefickranch.com/

Justin Winery poured their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a new release. Their website tasting notes echo my experience with the wine: “offers a merge of red and black fruits, delicate spiciness from carefully selected American oak barrels, and deep brooding opaque color. A meaty entry gives way to a generous back palate of supple but not shy tannins, a graceful flow across the palate, and a fine, debonair finish.”  14.5% alcohol, $26 the bottle. http://www.justinwine.com/

The California Cabernet Society seeks to expand worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet varietals. For more information, call 707 252 6229 or visit their website at www.californiacabernetsociety.com

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© 2011 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in July 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

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