Bonita Springs Florida Weekly

Grab a cab!

WINE



The Darioush Winery in Napa, California, offers more than wine. It even has a high-end shopping area with fashions from Hermes and Gucci. COURTESY PHOTO

The Darioush Winery in Napa, California, offers more than wine. It even has a high-end shopping area with fashions from Hermes and Gucci. COURTESY PHOTO

Not long ago, I spent a week in Bordeaux attending VinExpo, the world’s largest trade show for the wine industry. After a solid week of sampling wines (don’t ask) from every region where grapes can be grown, I have a better understanding of why some varietals are so universally popular, and why some are, at best, an acquired taste.

But first — I’ve been looking over some past columns, and it seems as though I’m always imparting good news and bad news. Like when I write about the wines of Burgundy and explain that the good news is they grow only two kinds of grapes, but the bad news is that everything else about the region is more confusing than reading Shakespeare in Sanskrit.

Which brings me to Cabernet Sauvignon, especially those from California, because there’s good news/bad news for you. As anyone who has traveled to the Napa area knows, the noble Cabernet is the king of the region and, incidentally, the most popular red wine on the planet. The bad news, of course, is that so many of the premium labels have become so expensive.

Jerry Greenfield

Jerry Greenfield

The best-known brands, such as Phelps Insignia, or Opus One (originally made as a cooperative effort between Robert Mondavi and Baron Eric de Rothschild) will run you between $250 and $475 a bottle for the current release. And the so-called “cult” Cabernets like Screaming Eagle go for $2,000 a pop, if you can get them. In general, for a top-end Cabernet from the Napa region, you can plan on spending a couple of C-notes.

Now for the good news. There are still California Cabernets that offer the classic flavor profile of cassis, blackberry, blueberry, plum, toasty oak, spice, vanilla, cocoa and sometimes an undertone of eucalyptus or mint. And best of all, some of them are grown right next door to the big names, in districts like Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and Rutherford.

What is it about Cabernet Sauvignon that makes it so appealing, that impels winemakers to grow it all over the world? The flavors and aromas, of course, but also the fact that it has a big, bold structure, thanks to the tannins in the skins and stems, and that it very well reflects the characteristics of the region where it’s grown. If you sampled three Cabernets side by side, one from Chile, say, one from California, and one from France, you may not be able to tell which one comes from which country, but the differences among them would still be unmistakable.

So… where to find great Cabernets that won’t cost you a mortgage payment? Rule Number One is to look for wines from lesser known regions. Wines from Napa Valley’s Diamond Mountain can be pricey, so look on the Sonoma side of the mountains instead — to Alexander Valley, Russian River and Dry Creek.

Rule Number Two is to consider the second labels from the top wineries. Every premium winery carefully selects the grapes that are used in the top brand. The ones that don’t quite make the cut go into second labels, which can still be quite good, and excellent values as well. This week, instead of my usual recommendations and ratings, I’d like to offer some general suggestions from various producers.

An excellent second label is Darioush Caravan. The winery is a showplace, like something out of the Arabian Nights, complete with a high-end shopping area that features fashions from Hermes and Gucci. Prices on their top-label Cabernet are way up there, but the Caravan is an excellent value at around $45.

I also enjoy Noble Vines 337 Cabernet from Lodi, a steal at around $12. Even better bargains are available in wines from Washington State, like the Columbia Crest Grand Estates selection, featuring very enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot at supermarket prices.

A bit more in the premium category, but a real treat, is the Andrew Geoffrey Cabernet. Winemaker Peter Thompson has some gorgeous vineyards at the top of Diamond Mountain, right next to wineries such as Diamond Creek, Schramsberg, and Villa Amorosa. He also produces a very tasty Cabernet Franc.

So, for some great samples of this premium varietal, a little shopping around and a lot of comparative sampling can lead you to great values. Cheers! ¦

— Jerry Greenfield is a wine author, educator, and consultant. Order his books, “Secrets of the Wine Whisperer” and “Ask the Wine Whisperer” and read his blog at www.winewhisperer.com.

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