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Cabernet sauvignon is king of red wines

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
June 18, 2003
Every grape used to make wine has its fans: merlot, zinfandel, chardonnay, your choice. But in the world of red wines, the cabernet sauvignon is king of them all.
People like the explosiveness of the cabernet and they are the primary wine of choice with red meats, and even pasta and red sauce.
Cabernet grapes produce wines of deep color and wonderful aroma with intense and memorable flavors, long life and marvelous complexity. They are grown all over the world. In years when the weather is at its most favorable best, the resulting wines are without peer.
Mississippi's state warehouse is inclined to only stock wines that are in demand. It is a tribute to cabernet's popularity, and the skill of California winemakers, that the state's fine wine list has 61 California cabernets listed. They range widely in price, from the low end Quail Creek at about $10 per bottle to the exquisite Far Niente cabernet carrying a price tag of about $100 each.
At least nine of the pricier wines have been rated by critics at 90 points or above on a 100-point scale. Ninety points indicates a quality level that warrants cellaring for the years ahead rather than for consumption after purchase.
There are cheaper wines available, but the state has a separate list for them. They are not included on the list of fine wines.
How good is 90 points? Here's a typical review from the Wine Spectator Magazine of a 90-point wine, the 1999 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve: "Beautifully focused, intense and supple, with spicy, juicy black cherry, plum and wild berry fruit that's seamless. Finishes with a long, complex aftertaste."
High praise indeed.
Cabernet grapes represent about 15 percent of California's total grape production and have been considered the state's best for many years. Only the chardonnays approach cabernet's popularity. Some cabs are blended with other red wines such as merlot, cabernet franc or others, but the cabernet sauvignon is always the dominant grape.
Oak barrels are widely used for aging. They do influence the flavor, depending on the length of time the wine spends in the oak. That length of time is totally dependent on the winemaker's preference.
It has been some time since we have held a pure cabernet sauvignon tasting but with the quality of the wines now on the market we have decided the tasting of June 26 will feature these wines and only these wines. The Merryvale, reviewed above, will certainly be one of them.
The tasting will concentrate on the 1999 vintage. The 1997s were great wines, but there are few of them left on the market. The public discovered their quality level and purchased them rapidly.
The 2001 vintage may be even better but the majority of them have not yet been released. The 1999s are both great and available and will be our choice. Overall, the 1999 vintage was rated 90 to 94, very high indeed. If we can find a 1997 or a 20 01 we'll probably show them as well. But the 1999s will be the backbone of the tasting.
As you would expect, outstanding cabernets of this quality are very pricey, generally in the $30 to $45 class. We would have liked nothing better than to serve the Saddleback Cellars wines we mentioned recently in our interview with their winemaker, Nils Venge.
However, they came into the Meridian market priced at $51 per bottle which was a little bit much for a general tasting. We will, however, taste five of the best available in the $30 range and up, and they should give you an idea of the quality at this level.
At this point we are looking at the following 1999s, subject to availability at the state warehouse: Cuvaison, Freemark Abbey, St. Suppery Napa Valley, Markham and Guenoc North Coast. We will continue to do our research and next week will announce the complete lineup.
Next tasting
The tasting will be at Northwood Country Club and the price will be $30 per place. Call 482-0930 to make your reservation or mail your check to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223 Meridian, MS 39302.
If you've wondered whether wines at this price level represent true value, this tasting should answer your questions.