The Elusive Cabernet

They say if you try something enough times, you’ll develop a taste for it and even begin to enjoy it. That’s happened with certain foods for me and I figured that would be true for certain wines – and specifically Cabernets. It’s the one wine I purposely don’t drink much of. Before you think I’m crazy, I have a valid reason, that I wrote about here. But being the open-minded gal that I am, I’ve done my best to keep tasting.

This past weekend, the wine group I’ve become  a part of declared this week as Cali Cab and Bordeaux Day. Perfect, I thought: A chance to try a wide array of these wines, with the hopes I’d find one or two I like. I could then – maybe – pin down a specific vintage, age, producer or location. Since I’ve had some positive experience with cabs, like this 2006 Corison, I’m on a quest to classify them. If only it was that easy.

Our Cab and Bordeaux expert of the group kindly saw this day as a challenge for me and he pulled three wines from his locker and poured them blind for everyone to taste. He elegantly labeled them “One,” “Dos,” “Trois.”

(A blind study in Cabernet wines – bottles behind the decanters are not what’s in the decanters / Photo by me.)

My first impression of One, was that this was a classic California Cabernet. Fruit forward, rich, full-bodied. And then boom, I’m hit with green pepper (and maybe there’s a bit of cassis, too). I drank my pour, but I was eager to move on to the next. Dos turned out to be my favorite. I enjoyed it not because it was missing those green backend qualities, but because there was so much enjoyable chalk and gravel and dirt, that those flavors made up for the bitter finish. Trois was pretty. It was lighter than the other two and felt similar to Dos. But I think the lighter quality of the wine didn’t quite diminish the bitter flavors like they did for me in Dos.

When the wines were revealed, any confidence I had in ever distinguishing the difference between French vs. California Cabernets went out the window.

(The wines revealed/ Photo by me.)

Yes … One was a Bordeaux, and Dos and Trois were California.

And yes, I snubbed my nose at the 1999 Chateau Palmer Marguax. Actually, I take that back – I enjoyed the aromas wafting from the glass – I snubbed my tastebuds. What surprised me even more than misidentifying the country, was I have strong memories of enjoying the earthiness found in a 2008 Alter Ego, also produced by Chateau Palmer. Dos was a 2001 Beringer – a single vineyard from Steinhauer Ranch on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley (not the kind you find in the grocery store); and Trois was the oldest, a 1997 Jayson Bordeaux blend from Napa Valley.

I’m nowhere closer to enjoying Cabernet to the level that I can a Burgundy, or a Syrah, or most other wines, but this was a fun endeavor. I brought home the remaining bottle of 2010 Hope & Grace Stags Leap Cabernet that I contributed to the afternoon. My impressions of it yesterday was a lot of anise (black licorice) and herbaceousness. I sipped it, but had I not received it as part of a wine club shipment, I probably would have never paid for it. Twenty-four hours later, it’s much more enjoyable to me. Those flavors have tempered a bit and some chocolate subtleties have begun to appear. 

So what are my takeaways? It’s time to try these wines paired with a delicious steak to see if that helps me. And while it would have been great to identify which direction I should go to look for Cabs I can appreciate just sipping, I can’t deny it wasn’t a lot of fun trying! 

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