The King of them all

Cabernet Sauvignon is often considered the king of the reds, an incredibly versatile varietal that does well all over the world, from France to Australia, Chile to California, a mighty tannic warrior that benefits from the softening blend of Merlot and others in Bordeaux as well as Syrah and other grapes elsewhere in the world. Jacques Scott has this month brought to the table a selection of five of their finest in a blind tasting to see if tasters really know the subtle nuances that define Cabernet Sauvignon’s specific terroir, all beautifully complemented by Ragazzi’s best cuisine. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.

When the five Cabernet Sauvignon wines were presented and poured to the four blind tasters (Jacques Scott’s Lee Royle and Sergio Serrano, Ragazzi’s Manager Erno Virag and yours truly) the overpowering scent of blackcurrant and cassis filled the air, while the deep dark red and purple hues emanating from the glasses were both a dead giveaway that this tasting was unmistakably Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lee gives some background to the grape: “It’s been successful all over the world because it is a relatively easy grape to grow, its thick skin making it resilient to disease and infusing the wine with a deep red/purple hue. That said, Cabernet Sauvignon has a long growing season so winemakers have to be patient.”
Wine made from the grape lends itself to a long aging in the bottle because Cabernet Sauvignon produces highly tannic wines, especially when grown in its native Bordeaux region of France, where the cool temperatures create wines that are not only highly tannic but also highly acidic, giving the wine a considerable longevity.
Wines on the table for this particular blind tasting were, in no particular order, as follows:

  • Olmaia, 2001, Toscana IGT, Italy CI$70.99
  • Vinum Africa, 2006, Stellenbosch, South Africa CI$15.95
  • Wynns Coonawarra Estate, 2006, Australia CI$22.99
  • Robert Mondavi, 2005, Napa Valley, California CI$32.99
  • Viña Maipo 2007, Gran Devocion, D.O. Maule Valley, Chile CI$16.99

The first wine poured was highly tannic, dry and spicy and not overly fruit forward on the palate. Ragazzi’s chicken in Marsala wine with mushrooms and duck special in a herb and wine demi-glaze, along with their incredibly rich and delectable gnocchi with four cheeses, did a terrific job in matching the tannins in this and the other wines, the richness of the food a perfect match for the wine.  This first wine had testers scratching their heads and vowing this to be one of the hardest blind tastings to date.
“It could be the Vinum Africa,” ventured Lee, “because South African Cabernet Sauvignon wines are actually very similar to Old World wines in that they are not particularly fruit forward and not as jammy as their other New World compatriots.”
Next in the tasting was a clearly older wine, the edge of the wine appearing to lose just a hint of its redness, mellowing out just a fraction to tones of rust. This wine was far softer and easier to drink than the first, and was actually voted the favourite of all four testers. All indications therefore drove testers to choose this as the Olmaia.
“For me, this was clearly the best of the bunch,” Sergio states. “It’s a fantastic wine that is ready to be drunk now. Full of tannic muscle, the wine is balanced and a true winner.”
Next was another intense red, although less purple-hued wine than the following two wines. Lee noted the vanilla nuances of the oak aging in this wine as well as blackberries and a hint of mint on the palate.
On to wine number four, this time a deep dark purple-hued wine that stood out from the crowd because of its purple intensity as well as a slightly more peppery nose. This hinted to the testers that this could be the Viña Maipo from Chile, because this wine is actually a blend of 85 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 per cent Syrah.
“Some countries can allow as much as 25 per cent of the wine to be other than the named varietal on the label,” Lee explains. “Therefore although this is a Cabernet Sauvignon it also has some additional Syrah blended into the mix to round out the tannins of the Cabernet Sauvignon.”    
The final wine was also a deeper purple in hue, a super concentrated wine that was full of blackcurrants, vanilla and spices on the nose. On the palate a rounder softer flavour than previous wines, again leading testers to believe that this wine was another blend, this time Robert Mondavi’s Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, which includes 12 Merlot, 5 per cent Cabernet Franc, 3 per cent Malbec, 1 per cent Petit Verdot and 1 per cent Syrah.
“This is a very similar to blends that you will find in Bordeaux, minus the Syrah,” Lee furthers. “A really dense, fruity wine that’s well-structured and highly alcoholic.”
After much deliberation, sniffing, sloshing and sipping, three out of the four testers guessed all five wines in their correct order, as follows:

  • Vinum Africa, 2006, Stellenbosch,
  • South Africa CI$15.95
  • Olmaia, 2001, Toscana IGT, Italy CI$70.99
  • Wynns Coonawarra Estate, 2006, Australia CI$22.99
  • Viña Maipo 2007, Gran Devocion, D.O.
  • Maule Valley, Chile CI$16.99
  • Robert Mondavi, 2005, Napa Valley,
  • California CI$32.99

Readers might wonder why we did not include a Bordeaux. After all, it is the home of the mighty Cabernet Sauvignon grape. We are devoting an entire tasting to the Bordeaux blend of wine (called Meritage in California) in next month’s Journal, so don’t miss it.