Wine Time with Aaron the Wine Guy

Hello Prince Albert! We’re diving back into a grape varietal that many know and love this week: Cabernet Sauvignon!

Cab Sauv is one of the most recognizable grapes in the world both by appearance (often deep purple) and its smell and taste (high intensity, rich blackberry and cassis). The way each specific Cab Sauv tastes mainly comes down to its growing conditions in the vineyard but clever oaking and sometimes chemical additions can also have an effect.

Wait a moment, did I just say chemical additions? Yes, many chemicals are used in wine production including SO2 (sulphur dioxide), filtering agents (often using egg white), thickening additions (dairy, lactose) and even flavoring. The most common flavor addition is probably oak flavor which can be in liquid form or in solid form like oak staves.

High quality Cab Sauv can get expensive quickly and these options are often from premium growing areas like Bordeaux, Napa Valley or like today’s example, the Similkameen Valley in the Okanagan. Why is Cabernet expensive to produce?

Cabernet Sauvignon is a thick skinned grape and needs a long growing season to mature fully. Areas like Napa, the Okanagan Valley and Bordeaux provide hot days and cool nights during growing season and this produces flavorful, powerful cabernet grapes ideal for winemaking. When weather is not as ideal or the growing season is cut short, grape growers have to think on their feet to adapt.

Some vineyards use heating barrels placed strategically in the vineyard to increase overall temperatures while others may use ice which actually protects the vine and traps heat for the plant and grapes. This is achieved by lightly spraying the vines and allowing a small layer of thin ice to coat the vine. Any technique applied to aid in grape growth adds to the cost of the bottle on the shelf.

When these options (and many others) fail, the winery is left with a few choices. They can leave the grapes as they are which will result in unripe and astringent wine, add flavorings or additions to alter the flavor and character of the wine or blend the less-than ideal Cab Sauv with another grape or two.

This brings us to blended Cab Sauv. Additions and alterations are often a last-case scenario and to produce better quality wine, producers will turn to blending. While a bottle may say Cabernet Sauvignon on the label, there are usually small additions of other grapes to enhance the wine.

Examples are Petit Verdot grapes (in the Israeli wine), Monastrell (in the Spanish wine) and often Merlot; as seen is many Canadian Cab Merlot blends. There is so much more to say about Cabernet Sauvignon but here are my wine picks of the week!

Las Hermanas Crianza 2015: (DOP Jumilla, Spain). Dry to off-dry red, deep ruby color with hints of violet. The nose is high in intensity and brings a rush of fruit-forward scents like ripe blackberries, freshly crushed grapes, red currants, dark cherries and vanilla. The fruitiness carries onto the palate with medium-plus body and flavors of boysenberry, blackberry and cassis. Red and black currants are the most noticeable followed by a touch of smoky meat moving into the finish. Pepper, earth and tea leaves provide some bitterness near the finish with firm but sweet tannins and medium acidity. Pair with creamy cheeses, meat roasts, meatloaf or hearty stews served with crusty bread. Very good! $30, 14.5% ABV

Orofino Passion Pit Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: (VQA Similkameen Valley, Canada). Dry red, deep ruby color. The bouquet is a blend of bright fruit and animal notes featuring black currants, Bing cherry, olives, wool, animal fat (gamey), licorice, forest floor and foliage. The complexity of the nose is reflected in the taste with excellent concentration, high tannins and medium-plus body. Cherry, red/black currants, plums, aged tobacco, fall leaves and earthy cedar all unfold with time spent in the glass. Decant this beauty for a solid hour before consuming. Assertive oak and fine pepper spice combine with cherry and gamey animal notes on the long finish. Can cellar for another 3 to 5 years but is drinking well now. Pair with gamey meats (venison, lamb, bison) or fine cheddar. Outstanding! $40, 14.3% ABV

Efrat Cabernet Sauvignon 2018: (Israel). Off-dry red, medium ruby color. The nose is soft and light with fruity raspberry, black currant, red cherries, grapes, bready yeast and an herbal twist. This Israeli red is soft to the taste with light wood notes (cedar & oak), red fruits and soft acidity. Tannins are very low which allows the delicate raspberry and cherry notes to pop. Hints of raisin skins trail on the quick finish and leaves the mouth with a silky, mellow mouthfeel. Two words to describe this wine: soft and smooth. Pair this simple Cab Sauv with burgers, soft cheeses or light meals like kabobs or salt & pepper ribs. Good! $24, 14.5% ABV

Cheers and thanks for reading!