Old World vs. New World Round One: Cabernet!

Welcome to Old World vs. New World, a recurring column in which I pit classic wines against their varietal renditions around the world. Nearly every wine book I’ve consumed seems to begin with Bordeaux, and in this tradition I am kicking things off with Cabernet Sauvignon. The son of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, it’s beyond me how those naming it missed out on the stellar branding that could have been the Franc n’ Blanc. First a few more Cab facts! Primary flavors it is known for include cassis (aka currant), blackberries, violets, tobacco, and when underripe, pyrazines. Pyrazines are a green bell pepper sort of flavor I used to call “vine-y” before I became an educated wine jerk and learned about pyrazines. It tends to have high tannins due both to its thick skin and its high pip to pulp ratio. It buds and ripens late and needs relatively mild temperatures to achieve its full glory and avoid vine-iness. Trying to make vine-y a thing here. For all its structure and status it’s a hell of a team player. In Bordeaux it partners mostly with Cabernet Franc (gotta stay on good terms with Dad) and Merlot (your half-sister Dad had when cheating on Mom), but also Malbec and Petit Verdot. In Super Tuscans it cozies up with Sangiovese (kinky like that), and in California one can find Cab blended with Syrah, a common practice long ago in Bordeaux. Cab gets around. Everyone likes him. He gets the job done. Often in oak. But before we jump into different regions I know everyone is dying to know the answer to the eternal shower wine question. The answer is…Nebbiolo! Just kidding that’s what I am trying tonight as I edit and detox from Cab. With Nebbiolo. That is how it works right? In reality it was an Italian choice though! Super Tuscans are Super Tub wine. Now, lets get down to particulars. THE OLD WORLD! BORDEAUX We have the Dutch to thank for creating drainage channels making a good deal of the Bordeaux land ideal for viticulture. Between being a prime trade route and beloved by the British, the area rose to prominence. While the maritime climate can be humid, the gravel soils of the Left Bank are perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. The original first growths of 1855 are the famed superstars, but there are other levels of wine to be savored from the French. I chose to stick with reviewing Cabs in approachable price points. 2013 Chateau Moulin de Tricot Margaux It may not be Chateau Margaux but this commune level wine is exemplary of Old World earth. Dried green bell pepper blended with dusty dried cassis and maybe not totally dried blackberry. With some raisins sprinkled on top. 2015 Chateau Malescasse Haut-Medoc Cru Bourgeois Hot tip: look for Cru Bourgeois wines. These wines are re-evaluated yearly unlike the original Napoleonic declaration of the cru classé chateaux. They are a good value. The Malescasse is very ripe fruit, leather and fruit leather. The fruit leather has been hanging in a pencil box. It has those graphite notes. It is a sturdy wine and desperately seeking…steak? I’m assuming. I’m vegetarian but this wine desires food. TUSCANY Super Tuscans seem to toe the line between Old and New World. Italy is Old World but Super Tuscans are a relatively “new” phenomenon in the wine world, when you consider the centuries of winemaking leading up to them. To be called any of the old-school DOC names like Chianti legally, “international varieties” like our buddy Cab were not allowed. Then rebels in the 70’s started making stunning wine using them. Be glad they did. 2014 Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglione A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese this is baking spice, redcurrants, cherries and cedar. On the lighter bodied end of things as far as Cab goes, it has a sweetness on the nose that translates to ripeness on the palate. For all its fruit it manages an agile body, light enough to be my shower wine of choice. I give it two loofahs up. 2011 Arnione Bolgheri Superiore Campo Alla Sughera A Super Tuscan lower in Cabernet percentage, but worth the mention. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot add up to a ripe, plush and mineral-laden brew. The crunchy soil nature calls to mind Burgundies that had a good deal of whole cluster fermentation, which is mind-boggling and worth exploring. NOW TO THE NEW WORLD! AUSTRALIA Two regions stand out for me in Australia: the Limestone Coast’s Coonawara and Western Australia’s Margaret River. I took a trip down the aisle at K&L to get the goodies. 2013 Rymill Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon There are four major influential environmental influencers in Coonawara. The cooling ocean currents from Antarctica moderate the Australian heat. The gorgeous terra rosa soil lies over limestone with its all-important draining ability. The eucalyptus grows all around, and the oils from it blow through the breeze and adhere to grape skins lending a certain mentholated note. And the final and most important influencer: koalas. Not really. They have nothing to do with the wine but next time you sip a Coonawara Cab imagine a koala munching eucalyptus nearby and see if you don’t feel a bit happier. The eucalyptus on the Rymill really hits you. The fruit is ripe as heck but I swear the mint-y nose mitigates it in the way mint does sweetness in your fruit salad. Cab that is refreshing? It’s good stuff. Also koalas. 2013 Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon In the Margaret River, the Bordeaux gravel comparisons abide although the fruit is still going to be riper and lusher than that of France. Blackcurrants are the driving force, but as with Coonawara there is a refreshing undercurrent. In Coonawara it was the mint. In Margaret River it’s an intriguing salinity that hydrates and refreshes rather than dries. Runner up shower wine. SOUTH AFRICA I looked to Stellanbosch first. Cooled by the winds of False Bay it is home to a variety of aspects and altitudes, providing fruit of varying levels of ripeness and richness. It is known for its Bordeaux blends. 2011 Glenelly Estate ‘Lady May’ Cabernet Sauvignon A wine with stature strength and attitude! The grapes were grown in the Glenelly Estate vineyards of Simonsberg-Stellanbosch, where many slopes face east, cooling the temperature. Which is good because things got hot there in 2011. It’s full of raspberry jelly, cassis jam, lavender, violet velvet and sage. I don’t know that the acid is high enough to age much longer but if it does I look forward to the tobacco and savory mushroom notes I detect a hint of. 2013 Noble Hill Paarl Cabernet Sauvignon Slightly inland from Stellenbosch, Paarl is more known for Syrah/Shiraz but the granitic soils do decent things for Cab. This is more fruit and less earth, but sometimes I want less tar and chew, and more spicy fruit. Which is what I get along with a bit of green wood—cedar lets say. It is both a sipper and a swiller, as the acid is high enough to keep your mouth watering for more. NAPA Ah, yes. Probably Bordeaux’s biggest contender for both prestige and ability to get away with ludicrous price points. Most of them need time to age and balance and meld themselves into the magic they are capable of. Napa wines can be big and blowsy, or overly alcoholic but they also frequently deserve the term “F***ing Delicious” because they are. A wee bit on the spendy side sometimes but I’ll be jiggered if they aren’t crowd pleasers. 2015 Venge Bone Ash Vineyard Calistoga Naturally boughten by me because “Bone Ash” sounded so goth. Once opened although—I would love to have been wealthy enough to get two bottles and age this. Yet it is absolutely scrumptious NOW. The tannins are already friendly with the richness of fruit. I see this as being exquisite in a different way in five-ten years, but DAMN it is balanced now. A blackberry, blueberry and cinnamon stew. Said stew was placed in a cedar bowl and set sailing on a saline sea. Sexy, smashing, spices and smolder. 2014 Long Meadow Ranch Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, 4% Petite Sirah and 100% certified by California Certified Organic Farmers! Long Meadow does sound like a ranch—in addition to wine they grow olives to make olive oil, breed horsies and cattle and have a flock of poultry for happy organic eggs (the best sort). From the nose I got a balance of juicy but not overripe fruit and slight pepper. On the tongue came dried cherries, prunes and black currants with hints of sage-y earth and baking spice such as allspice and mild cinnamon. And the acid is high enough to keep the fruit from being a bully. It could pair with queso, steak, mushroom madness or…some really gooey hunks of cheese. Clearly I am hungry as I type this. WASHINGTON Everyone thinks of Washington as being eternally cloudy and rainy as Seattle. But the Columbia valley is in a rain shadow, meaning it is dry enough for grapes to grow. Cabernet is making a name for itself there. The sub-region of Red Mountain is getting more play too—its slopes allow that high diurnal range. The sun gets the grapes all ripped n rosy by day then temperatures swing low at night to preserve acidity. 2014 Canvasback Red Mountain The wine is indicative of 2014 being one of the hottest years, but it runs in the range of blackberry coulis without veering into overcooked jam. Overcooked is a flaw I saw quite a few Washington Cabs veering into sadly. But not this one. A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc, the 40% new oak melds delightfully in with floral vanilla notes. Fantabulous value. 2016 Columbia Winery At 80% Cab Sauvignon this one is a pleasant enough medley of every other Bordeaux-sanctioned grape plus the erstwhile blender Syrah. I got rich blackberries and chocolate with a smidge of oak. The tannins aren’t quite as integrated as I prefer but this is a very decently priced workaday Cab. BONUS ROUND Julien Pineau Bocca Di Rosa I’m throwing this rosé Petillant natural of Cab Sauvignon from the Loire because it was too good not to mention. Oh the glory of exploration. This was my true fave but I’m putty in a rosé sparkler’s hands. It is solidly sound natural wine, and the only Cab I could find at my neighborhood’s new natural wine shop Psychic Wines. It is strawberries macerated in white pepper and balsamic on the tongue. It has that undercurrent of funk but the beauty of the color distracts you. Our brains synthesize ALL incoming information into experience and I will be damned if appearance is not a legitimate flavor. Which is why I think its stupid that people discount wine tasting when people taste and don’t know if it is white or red. I repeat color is flavor and this unicorn tastes like shiny fuchsia. CONCLUSIONS I found it hard to actually pit Old World vs the New here as the typical differences are amplified in a grape like Cab. Old world wines are more earth and mineral forward and new world are fruit forward. As for the heavyweights, Bordeaux and Napa are top-billed Cabernets and they are exquisite…when they are. And they both cost…so much. Are these prices worth it? Sometimes. But The New World presents quite a few high-quality options when you can’t break the bank and don’t need wine that makes you weak in the knees. Like sometimes I am in heels and need not to fall over so say, “no thank you I’ll pass on that Screaming Eagle”. That’s hyperbole. If someone handed me that I’d drink it and keel over happily. But that’s an unlikely scenario. I will be so bold as to declare a quality for price winner. Aside from my precious natural pet nat rosé, I’d say South African Cabernet Sauvignon was a happy surprise. It is not as abundant here in Southern California, but worth seeking out wherever you are. But if you have a casual bottle of Haut-Brion or Stag’s Leap hanging about, give me a call. I’ll sit down for that.

Château Moulin de Tricot

Margaux Red Bordeaux Blend 2013

Raisins and earth and some super dried green bell peppers and then buried in more earth. Old world classique. — 2 months ago

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Rob Brobst III

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@Ellen Clifford interesting note on the taste!
Ellen Clifford

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@Matt Perlman and tasting even better day two!
Ellen Clifford

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@Rob Brobst III thanks! More currants on day two but still the dusty pepper thing going on...

Campo alla Sughera

Arnione Bolgheri Cabernet Sauvignon Blend 2011

Picture my speech bubble saying “is it okay to include this in an overview of cab around the world?” I mean barely this is only 40% Cabernet Sauvignon but regardless its verrrry tasty and balanced. And acidic and fruity yet earthy and it’s a Super Tuscan mostly the two cabs: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20 cab franc. Then 20 merlot and 20 petit Verdot. It’s the college student who joined every club but never got to be president of any of them. Well rounded and appealing. Distinctive not of any one thing exactly but so appealing and damn reliable. It gives you ripe cherries and red and black cassis, a whiff of the vanilla and spice of oak with a crunchy bite of oak. It’s balanced. It’s pleasurable. The more I drink cabs the more I think it is a ringleader than wants it’s cohorts to back it up. Good on its own? Sure thing it is substantial. But. Better than many of its blending partners and damn when it shares the spotlight...it is a star with back up dancers and a plan — a month ago

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Glenelly Estate

Lady May Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot 2011

Velvet as can be I picture wrapping up in a purple velvet cloak (okay confession sorta-former goth I could do that right now), hiding in a cedar closet with a glass of creme de cassis, bouquet of lavender and dark music but not to dark. The more air it gets the more interesting things come out. This is the Joy Division of Stellanbosch cabs? Dark and deep yet consumer friendly. Not pop but not quite goth. — a month ago

Daniel, Severn and 16 others liked this
Paul Treadway Huntington Beacher Bum

Paul Treadway Huntington Beacher Bum

Music Plus is a place that used to sell tapes & cd’s for those under 30 years old,
Ellen Clifford

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Hmmmm unless in my hometown of Stl visiting Vintage Vinyl I cannot buy music in person for fear of judgment

Canvasback (Duckhorn Vineyards)

Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Fruity AF and I’m okay with it. The body is lighter than I’d surmise and the vanilla of the oak comes through in a delightfully floral way. Not exceptionally complex but not one-note either. Blackberry coulis and red currant jam without being cloying. Could get some comely leather notes with age but I’m good with it now. — a month ago

Severn, Paul and 11 others liked this

Château Malescasse

Cru Bourgeois Haut-Médoc Red Bordeaux Blend 2015

Girl computer Cru Bourgeois. You guys. Get into the Cru Bourgeois it doesn’t mean you are bougie (which Merriam-Webster just decided to include in their dictionary so if you don’t know what I mean...look it up), it just means you have high standards and a way with bargains. Consummate old world. It’s all like hi I’m all dark berries and black currant and violets and we’ve been having a party with our buddy tar but hidden in a pencil box because we are supes into graphite. Fuck this ink nonsense we like stones and lead. This wine is badass but it really would like some food too methinks. Earth and cassis. I’d very much like a mushroom pizza on the side. — a month ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Robert Howey thank you so much!
David Thompson

David Thompson

Agree with Robert above....keep writing.
Ellen Clifford

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@David Thompson thank you! I will 😊

Rymill

Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Light and lithe as far as cabs go. The eucalyptus note really burns your nose in the proper way—it’s mint to your ripe fruit salad. Tannins are on their way to knitting themselves in. And hand-harvested by koalas! Not really but I very much want to imagine koalas picking wine grapes. Apologies if I am objectifying... — a month ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Trixie 🐨 for the win;)
TheSkip

TheSkip

I see you’re a fan of lithe as well 😜
Ellen Clifford

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@TheSkip totttttally:)

Venge Vineyards

Bone Ash Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Super fruit forward but there is a hit of salinity that makes this sail. I also just love how sexy the bottles are. A solid and balanced brew. Never had a bad Venge. That being said I’ve only ever had two but both made me want more. — a month ago

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Ellen Clifford

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@Matt Perlman Nice! Let me know how it is!
Paul Treadway Huntington Beacher Bum

Paul Treadway Huntington Beacher Bum

Surprised you like Venge, thought it would be to fruit forward for you,
Ellen Clifford

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@Paul Treadway Huntington Beacher Bum I liked it a lot! Fruity, yet, but not in an overwhelming way

Marchesi de' Frescobaldi

Tenuta Frescobaldi di Castiglioni Toscana Super Tuscan Blend 2014

Despite the cagily not helpful nature of the tech sheet which would not give me the percentages of cab s, Merlot, cab f and sangiovese in this I’m not mad at it. Juicy with good acid and I love a bit of acid. More red fruit than black, and lots of baking spices that have been socializing with olives. I hate olives but these olives had enough character to liven up the mix without being an overwhelming note. What I’m saying is these are the only olives I will ever associate with. Sorry that was a tangent this wine is yummy and on the lighter side of cab blends. — a month ago

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Matt Perlman

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So does no olives = no northern Rhône? Because that would be ☹️
Ellen Clifford

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@Matt Perlman you know, I’ve never had a problem with it in N Rhône! I think it’s just actual olives I hate—maybe more a textural thing than a flavor thing. Cause I do love a good Cornas...so maybe I misspoke about this being the only olive thing I’ll associate with🤔hmmm

Vasse Felix

Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Hard at work here but sincerely I like this better than...a lot of cabs I’ve tried and at 30 bucks it is VALUE. Ripeness of fruit and a whiff of saline and stone. Margaret River gem. There is a certain syrup-y nature to the Aussie cabs I’ve been trying but they are lightened by acid and flavor. For the person who is thinking What Identifiable Things Am I Gonna Taste?: raspberries that have been turned to syrup and salted, Black and red currant, a whiff of licorice and blackberry pie that is not too sweet. — a month ago

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TheSkip

TheSkip

Australia is underrated
Ellen Clifford

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@TheSkip I’ve been hit or miss on it in past but have been tasting some pretty good examples of late!

Long Meadow Ranch

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Very very good cab. In this last month of observation I’ve tasted too many not-mentionable cabs. This guy is solid. The acids are strong (solid plus point with me!) and the tannins oh so smooth (albeit me personally might like more but I am NOT the zeitgeist). The alcohol I guessed was 13.8 and I got...13.5 damn. Close.Then let us say blackberries, green vines, with perhaps some blackberry pleasure. Damn yummy wine with doable Napa price point. — a month ago

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Norman Gennaro

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I would argue you ARE the zeitgeist!