Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Cabernet Sauvignon

I’m not surprised that even in the Médoc, Cabernet Sauvignon often plays second fiddle to Merlot. Its wine can be a a bit of a mouthful – and not a terribly pleasant one.  Very few wineries risk releasing a pure Cab Sav.  Robert Mondavi Reserve ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ 2007, for example,  includes 16% Syrah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Sirah and 1% Sangiovese. The finished blend is not bad at all – but it’s a blend.

To underline the difference between Cab Sav on its own and in a blend, I invited members of class last night to dose a 100% Chilean Cab Sav with a bit of Cabernet Franc. Not everyone preferred the result – but most of us did. It was lighter, fresher, less astringent and rather more fruity.

I also served  a pure Cab Sav from South Africa, new into Marks an Spencer: Sterhuis 2006 from Stellenbosch. It’s a huge wine with masses of herby, spicy black fruit, but also very high acidity, and as Mr Parker would say so inelegantly, ‘gobs’ of tannin. It’s impressive, but 25% Merlot of Cabernet Franc, or maybe Tempranillo would do wonders for it. Thank goodness South African growers are increasingly keen on blends. In this case it might make sense.

An alternative would be to leave the Sterhuis alone for a decade. It is  a shame that too many top South African reds are drunk before they’ve had a chance to develop in the bottle.  Cabernet Sauvignon needs time. Although wine making techniques have changed, even in Bordeaux, since the days when a claret was not deemed worth attention until it was at least ten years old, some Cabernets need be tamed for a decade or more. One such is L’Adagio des Eyssards, a rare 100% Cab Sav from Bergerac.  I bought half a dozen in about 2000 a year or so after bottling (it was aged 12 months in new barriques).  I was very disappointed with it – every time I tried it over the last few years, it was dull and tough as old boots. Not yesterday. At last it has entered the swan phase: sweetly ripe, still powerfully tannic, but long, spicy and satisfying. I wish I’d been more patient.

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