One of the world’s most popular wine grapes is the product of carelessness. Cabernet Sauvignon was accidentally created several hundred years ago in France, a the spawn of two famous parents named Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
The rest is pretty much history. The grape variety has gone on to become the most planted and produced on the planet. When most of us think of wine, we think of Cab’s inky red tones in a glass. It has, in short, become synonymous with all of wine.
In France, it’s one of a handful of esteemed grapes often blended in the Bordeaux region. In the states and other, younger winemaking nations, it’s blended too but it’s also often let alone as its own stand-alone wine. It tends to be big and tannic, ideal for a burger or bolognese. Here, especially, Cab tends to be quite fruit-forward and concentrated, the ideal pick for those into the jammier wines.
With so much Cab out there where does one begin? Generally, where it’s warm and there are older, more established vines. That could mean anywhere from the American west coast to Australia or Argentina. Fret not, we’ve picked out the eleven best for you. Cheers!
11. Pollak Vineyards Reserve
Virginia continues to establish itself as perhaps the dominant mid-Atlantic spot to make wine, especially Bordeaux varietals. This small-production Cab out of Monticello sings with approachability.
10. Stark-Condé Three Pines
This offering out of the Stellenbosch of South Africa shows deep and dark fruit flavors without being too tight-fisted. The 2016 is velvety in texture and a bit more aromatic thanks to a little bit of Cab Franc blended into the wine.
Made from Alexander Valley fruit rooted in rich, volcanic soils, this 2018 wine is exceptionally lush, with nice hints of tea leaves and thyme. There’s blue fruit aplenty on the palate, from blueberry to huckleberry preserves.
8. Long Meadow Ranch Farmstead
This wine feels like a discovery given what it does for the price tag, especially given that it’s a Napa Valley product. Enjoy the wine’s evenness right now or cellar it for many years to come. The tasty 2018 is currently available.
7. Escudo Rojo Reserva
A fun project out of Chile with a big name behind it (the Rothschild dynasty of France), this wine demonstrates the potential of great Cab in South America, beyond just Argentina. And the price point is quite friendly.
6. Freemark Abbey Spring Mountain
Freemark Abbey has always made good Cab and aided in making Napa a quite famous place for it. This one from the Spring Mountain District (vintage 2016) shows more of Cab’s sometimes hidden earthy side, with delightful black currant, tobacco, and baking spice notes.
5. Januik Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
This delightful Cab made from fruit grown in a prized vineyard first planted in the 1970s offers cassis and baking chocolate notes, with inviting aromatics and a persistent finish.
4. Mark Ryan Water Witch
Mark Ryan has become a substantial force in the Washington State Cab circuit. This one is a dandy from Red Mountain fruit near the Columbia River Gorge. It has a lot to unpack, including some nice umami notes.
3. Quilceda Creek
It’s hard to argue the mouthfeel of a Quilceda Creek Cab. The finish alone lingers for what feels like days. Made from Columbia Valley fruit in Washington, it’s been the recipient of some incredibly high scores (if you pay attention to those). Regardless, you’ll appreciate the sheer depth in the glass.
2. Leeuwin Estate Art Series
Hailing from the Margaret Valley of western Australia, Leeuwin is turning out some head-turning Cab. The Art Series release tends to be the best each growing season, with a decadence and elegance you’ll keep returning for.
1. Nickel & Nickel Element 28
A longtime Napa specialist in single-vineyard Cabernet, Nickel & Nickel brings beauty to a grape sometimes derided for being too much about mass appeal as opposed to art. This one from 2017 is the latter (and maybe the former too, if the masses can afford it) and worthy of a few hours of your time as it opens up and shows brambly fruit, cardamom, and tantalizing structure.
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