It is the grape that made Bordeaux famous, particularly in the region known as the "left bank" of the Garonne River, where Cabernet Sauvignon plays a major role (on the "right bank" region, Merlot and Cabernet Franc tend to play a larger role than Cabernet Sauvignon).
Cab was long thought to be an ancient variety indigenous to France, and while the grape's origins are in Bordeaux, DNA research and other evidence indicate it didn't show up until the 17th century, when a chance crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc took place.
Cabernet Sauvignon helped put California -- in particular, Napa Valley -- on the map when its wines famously defeated the best of Bordeaux on the "Judgment of Paris" tasting in 1976. Today, many of California's best and most expensive wines are Cab-based and come from Napa Valley.
Washington was long thought to be too cold to produce great Cab, but that myth has been easily dismissed in the past two decades. Quilceda Creek's Cabernet Sauvignons have earned multiple perfect scores from The Wine Advocate, and Columbia Crest's 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was deemed the best wine in the world in 2008 by Wine Spectator.
Today, Cab is Washington's No. 1 red grape, bringing in more than 30,000 tons as recently as 2010. Red Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills are two of the top growing regions of Washington for Cab.
Because of its elegant fruit, tannin and acidity, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the wines that benefits most from aging, though it usually can be enjoyed in its youth, too. It is a classic food-pairing wine, working well with many foods, including red meats, artisan pizzas and stews.
Here are some of the best Washington Cabernet Sauvignons we've tasted in the past few months. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the producers directly:
Pondera Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $28: This is a big, bold wine from ripe grapes, and it opens with aromas of boysenberries, black tea, blueberries, mint and fresh-out-of-the-oven brownies. On the palate, it shows off rich flavors of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and chocolate. It's a big wine in every way and should be enjoyed with grilled meats.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: This brings a nose of smoky cherry wood, root beer and shredded wheat along with ripe Bing cherry, blackberry, black olive and tobacco leaf. Inside, it's a fruit bomb that explodes with more cherries and blackberries, trailed by cranberry juice, cherry cola and black olive. There's supreme balance and a remarkable farewell of anise and chocolate.
Pepper Bridge Winery 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley, $55: This carries classic Cab scents of black cherry, cocoa powder, coffee and finely ground black pepper, but there's also blackberry and boysenberry. Inside, there's depth to the flavors of black currant and black cherry, which carries along chocolate-covered pomegranate and licorice. Its bold structure and notes of anise make for a finish that seems to hang elegantly.
Martinez & Martinez Winery 2009 Dominio de Martinez Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $45: Fruit-driven aromas conjure up thoughts of blackberry ice cream, black currant jam, poached plums and pink peppercorns. There's a rush of bright red currant flavor on the entry before it sweetens out in the midpalate with chocolate and cherry, then blackberry returns for the finish.
Michael Florentino Cellars 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $33: The nose shows sophistication with hints of black cherry, black currant jam, blueberry, vanilla, black olive and Swisher Sweet cigar. On the palate, the theme moves toward purple fruit with Marionberry, blueberry and pomegranate, bringing delicious acidity and resolved tannins.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.
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