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Seeking Cabernet

June 1, 2021 2 comments

Now, this is frustrating.

At the recent dinner with friends at Knife Pleat restaurant (amazing food!), I assumed my role of designated Wine Guy and was going through 20+ pages of the wine list. 1970 Solar di Samaniego Rioja Gran Reserva caught my eye – at $200, it represented an amazing value for a 51-year-old wine. After confirming with the Somm that the wine is still well drinkable, only more delicate than powerful, I had to wriggle an approval for spending $200 on a bottle (I was not paying).

After the wine made it into the glasses, it appeared that everyone was really enjoying the nose, which was complex and spectacular. The first sip of the wine, served at the cellar temperature, was met with more than subdued enthusiasm – let’s be honest here, it was rather a sigh of disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the wine, but it was well closed and at least needed the time to open up.

After a few attempts to enjoy the wine, my friend asked “can you recommend any big, round, smooth, and velvety wines”? It turns out a few years back when she just arrived in Irvine, she got a bottle of wine at the local store. The wine was on sale for about $20 a bottle, and all she remembers was Cabernet Sauvignon and that she really enjoyed the wine – but she has no idea about the producer, the vintage, or any other essential elements.

Have you been in a situation where a simple question can lead to literally complete paralysis while trying to answer it? This might be a situation where your knowledge becomes your big handicap, as you try to hastily dissect the complexity of such a simple question.

Basically, the question asks “can I recommend an amazingly good California Cabernet Sauvignon at a reasonable price to someone who is not a wine aficionado, but just want to occasionally enjoy a good glass of wine?” – how easy this should be to answer for the Wine Guy? For yours truly Wine Guy, not so easy.

Good California Cabernet Sauvignon might be one of the best pleasures on Earth. I’m talking about the wine which unequivocally extorts “oh my god” from the red wine lover after the first sip. Of course, this is a simple idea – but not so simple to provide a recommendation. We need to take into account price, availability, and readiness to drink. BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve might be amazing with proper age, but with the price of $100+ per bottle and pretty much undrinkable upon release, this is not the wine I can recommend. The same story would be with Kamen, one of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignon wines I ever tasted. Textbook, Turley, or Waterstone would offer more reasonably priced options (under $50), but still, I don’t know how amazing these wines are upon release. Suggesting non-winos to decant will not work. Asking them to keep the wine in the cellar until it reaches perfection will not be received very well. That leaves us with only one option – we need to find a Cabernet Sauvignon which is delicious upon release.

In an attempt to rehabilitate me after (almost) an epic failure at the restaurant, I decided to look for the simplest solution – the wines from Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s wines rarely disappoint; they are light on the wallet and don’t require cellaring or decanting to be enjoyed.

Trader Joe’s offers a good selection of Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Choosing the wines was a combination of prior experience and just good-looking labels – Justin makes outstanding wines in Paso Robles; you can’t go wrong with or beat the prices of the Bogle wines);  I had MOONX wines before, and have good memories of them.

Here are the Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Trader Joe’s I offered to my friend to taste (notes are mine, of course):

2018 Paso Dragon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
sage, blackberries, red and black fruit
Blackberries, herbs, medium body, clean acidity, nice finish with a touch of pepper
7+, a bit too weak for the Cab, but easy to drink wine. Can’t really identify as Cabernet Sauvignon.

2018 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $24.95)
Ruby
A touch of eucalyptus and mint, blackberries; second day – earthy and complex, a hint of gunflint.
A distant hint of cassis and tobacco
Second day: Classic cab is coming through, cassis and mint, clean acidity, crisp tannins.
8/8+, this wine needs at least 5, better yet 10+ years in the cellar to shine.

2018 Boggle Cabernet Sauvignon California (14.5% ABV, $7.99)
Light garnet
Bell peppers, a hint of cassis
Blackberry preserve with tobacco and a touch of coffee. More herbaceous than anything else.
7+, it is a drinkable wine, but might be the least Cabernet of the group.

2019 Moonx Cabernet Sauvignon California (13% ABV, $6.99)
Garnet
A touch of cassis, berries compote, a hint of bell pepper
Lodi fruit presentation, a hint of cinnamon, warm spices, sweet tobacco, berries preserve, a touch of fresh tannins, medium finish.
8-, easy to drink, good balance, pleasant, great QPR.

My friend’s favorite on the first day was Paso Dragon. MOONX was a favorite on the second day. She declared Justin “not bad” on the second day. And she was unmoved by Bogle on either day.

From my point of view, only Justin was worthy of Cabernet Sauvignon designation – give it time, and it will be a spectacular one. MOONX was very good too, but it didn’t necessarily scream Cabernet Sauvignon. We need to remember though that my friend’s love and desire for Cabernet is simply based on the good prior experience with the wine named Cabernet Sauvignon, but was that a classic Cab nobody would ever know.

There you go, my friends. Let’s go on the quest to find the best, varietally correct Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly drinkable upon release, at a price that leaves 401k intact. Ready to offer recommendations? Be my guest…

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