The Irish Times 4th April, 2015
It is those unmistakable aromas of blackcurrant or cassis, the whiff of cigar box, the firm structured dark fruits overlaid with cedar wood, the satisfying tannic dry finish; they can mean one thing to the wine lover, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet may have slipped under the radar a little in recent years, as we became more excited about the huge number of local grape varieties being rediscovered in Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere. A greater choice is always welcome, but we should not forget that Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s great varieties, responsible for some of the very best wines in half a dozen countries.
It also produces a huge number of mid-priced red wines that make for perfect everyday drinking. Cabernet Sauvignon has always proved an easy traveller, thriving in a variety of soils and climates. It also has the happy knack of almost always tasting recognisably of Cabernet Sauvignon, while also taking on a little local character. From its original home in Bordeaux, where it forms the bedrock of the great wines of the Médoc and Péssac-Léognan, it has spread out throughout the wine world, both old and new.
If you intend serving a roast of either lamb or beef on Easter Sunday, there are few better matches than a good quality Cabernet. Those drying tannins work perfectly with red meat. Bordeaux would be the traditional choice, but take a look at top-notch Cabernet from more far-flung parts of the globe.
California, and the Napa Valley in particular, has long produced superb age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon. Sadly most are very expensive. If you do feel like splurging, James Nicholson (jnwine.com) may still have a few magnums of the superb Ridge Montebello Cabernet 2006, for £190. Terroirs in Donnybrook, Dublin has a very good selection of Napa Cabernets, including Ch Montelena.
You could also look to Australia, where the Margaret River in Western Australia is famed for its structured, ripe, scented Cabernets such as Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet 2011 (€89.99) and the Cape Mentelle Cabernet 2011 (€70, independents).
Argentina makes some very good Cabernet, but this seems to get lost amongst all the noise about Malbec. It tends to be fairly big and rich, but not short on flavour.
However, our most expensive wine this week comes from Chile, home to some seriously good Cabernet. Producers here delight in holding blind tastings that pitch their best wines against first-growth Bordeaux; the results often favour Chile. I recently tasted my way through 10 vintages of Santa Rita Casa Real, a single-vineyard Cabernet from the Maipo Valley, source of many of Chile’s greatest Cabernets. It can age very well for a decade or more, but is very approachable in its youth.
Marks & Spencer, whose range of wine becomes more encyclopedic by the day, have a Cabernet Sauvignon produced by two Canada’s leading lights, Ann Spurling and Brian Hamilton. The estate is in Four Mile Creek, one of the warmest parts of Niagara, and is devoted to sustainable biodynamic viticulture. The wine is quite different to most New World Cabernet, and will fox any wine buff you invite to lunch.
I pleaded guilty recently to ignoring South African wines, partly because they seem to have dropped out of sight in a lot of wine shops, but also because many of the reds were over-extracted, over-oaked monsters. However, I have tasted some very good wines recently including some succulent tasty restrained Cabernets at very fair prices.
If you don’t intend spending over €20 for your wine, you could always opt for the Cassillero del Diablo Cabernet, widely available at around €12, or from Bordeaux, Lidl has the tasty Ch Noton 2010 for €9.99.
- Southbrook Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Four Mile Creek, Niagara-on- the-Lake, 12%, €23.50
- Cool ripe light red fruits with savoury tang and dry tannins on the finish.
- Rustenberg John X Merriman 2012, Simonsberg Stellenbosch, 14%, £13.99 /€20-22
- Smooth ripe cassis balanced nicely by an earthy tannic edge and a touch of cigar box.
- Stockists: jnwine.com; Sweeneys, Glasnevin.
- Santa Rita Casa Real 2011, Maipo Valley 14%, €49.95
- The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; The Loop, Dublin Airport; Redmond’s, Ranelagh.