Colossal California cabernets

Col-head-ZalkinCalifornia cabernet sauvignon has a reputation as a big, bold wine for meat-eating masters of the universe, and it’s not unearned.

Even the word “sauvignon” shares the same linguistic root as “savage.” It is a bold, flavorful grape that is never shy or retiring, but that also means that at its worst it can be blindingly sweet or shrilly tannic. It is a widely planted grape, one of the most prolific in the world, and the United States is the third largest producer, after France and Chile.

Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are the bedrock of the Napa wine industry, and the years of work that has gone perfecting these wines on American soil means that there are many truly excellent examples to choose from. Domestic wines were largely ignored by the international market until a blind tasting in 1976 that came to be known as the “Judgment of Paris.” When several Napa Valley examples of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay beat fine French examples from these grapes’ ancestral homes, the wine world took notice. The market in Napa took off, and has been climbing ever since.

California cabernet sauvignons can be expensive. In fact, some of the most expensive wines made in the United States are Napa Valley cabernets. People buy them as status symbols. People buy them as investments. But most importantly, people buy them because they love them.

California cabernets are prized for being full and fruity, balancing out the tannin and spice-aged in the best oak barrels to impart notes of vanilla and toast. Napa Valley cabernets tend to be fleshier and less austere than those from Bordeaux.

They are rife with dark fruit flavors, like black currant and plum, with hints of smoke, savory herbs and graphite. They invite hyperbolic language — words like “massive,” “voluptuous” or “riveting” often show up in reviews. California cabernets sometimes need time to mellow, and can be excellent wines to cellar.

A bold wine like this requires bold food as an accompaniment. Younger cabernets go well with the strong flavors of slow-smoked meats. Drink them with lamb, beef, pork, or rabbit. They shine next to fatty foods with loads of umami. Aged cabernets go beautifully with more delicate cuts of beef, like tenderloin.

California cabernet sauvignon goes fantastically well with grilled meats, as the smoke from the fire brings out smoky flavors in the wine. And even though grilling season is longer in California than in Connecticut, there’s still time to fire up the barbecue one last time and sit down to a beautiful cut of grilled meat and a bold glass of California cabernet sauvignon.

Here are a few featured California Cabernet Sauvignon wines for your enjoyment:

• Spottswoode — Cabernet Sauvignon St Helena. A beautifully delicate balance of tannin, wood and acidity. Flavors of ripe black cherry, blackberry and nutmeg with notes of black tea, sage and licorice. Will age nicely for 25 years or more.

• Elizabeth Spencer — Cabernet Sauvignon Special Cuvee. Deep magenta wine, with bright blackberry on the nose and flavors of juicy plum, bing cherry, cinnamon, and clove. It has a youthful brightness that will soften as it ages, and a delightful spiciness that reveals itself on the finish.

• Paul Hobbs — Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Generous palette of cassis, fig, lavender, and black currant, with tobacco and roasted coffee. Rich, silky tannins, with lingering flavors of earth and pepper. Good potential to age for 12-15 years.

• Guarachi — Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. A wine rich in succulent dark fruits, currant and blackberry. Notes of raw cacao and espresso lend smoky richness to this expertly balanced wine.

• Cakebread — Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. A classic crowd pleaser, with flavors of ripe cherry, boysenberry and blackberry with hints of smoky cedar and toasted oak. Dark chocolate and cassis round out the lingering finish.

You can find all of these delightful cabernet sauvignon wines for purchase at our store, Old Greenwich Fine Wines, located at 195 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich. Or visit our website,

When you stop in, we invite you to taste a number of our favorite wines while we help you find the right bottle for your palate.

Robert Zalkin is the owner of Old Greenwich Fine Wines at 195 Sound Beach Avenue. His column will be available weekly at

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