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Cabernet In Costume

Cabernet Sauvignon Isn't Always Just Cabernet Sauvignon?

While I don’t remember exactly where I was the moment I realized that not all Cabernet Sauvignon is actually, you know, Cabernet Sauvignon, I can remember the brief moment of existential dread. What does this, or anything really, mean? Where do I go from here? I may not have made much progress on those, but luckily, the moments passed and I found myself driven to explore the most basic truths of what exactly I was drinking when buying a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

It may be the most planted variety of vitis vinifera in the world, providing a backbone for many of the planet's most sought after and expensive wines, but with all of that acclaim, many people don't understand just how versatile it is. Even further, I'd wager that most people are like I was once, not even realizing that just because a bottle is labeled as "Cabernet Sauvignon" does not mean that it is the only grape present. Here in the good ol’ US of A, a wine needs only be 75% of the stated varietal. That’s right, most of the Cab you’ve enjoyed in your life is supplemented by the likes of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Syrah…the list goes on. So, why the smoke and mirrors?

In the vast majority of cases, there’s no deception intended. There are many reasons why a winery might choose to bottle a varietal wine of Cabernet Sauvignon while blending in accessory varieties. The most common concerns are cost related, as prices for Cabernet grapes continue to reach new highs in Napa and elsewhere. Many wineries don’t enjoy raising prices on their workhorse wines and in order to reach their production goals, they might need to reduce the concentration of the most expensive grape in the region. The truth is that even if you aren’t familiar with many of the grapes I mentioned above, there’s a pretty darn good chance that you’ve tried them unbeknownst to you.

There is also an argument to be made—and plenty of tradition to present affirming testimony—for blending Cabernet Sauvignon as a matter of style. Are we really going to turn up our noses towards the esteemed Chateaux of Bordeaux’s Médoc? After all, where the heck do we think the best of the best here at home learned to make the darn grape?! Certain individual vineyards and expressions simply wouldn’t be the same if not bottled entirely as one grape or another; I will not protest against such a reasonable notion. But there are times when a nod towards those who came before us, or a small bone thrown to those wanting their red wines to be a bit less aggressive, is in proper taste.

Winestyr's Picks

I've picked a handful of wines from our portfolio that all showcase the many different expressions that Cabernet can produce and will pair perfectly with that first bit of chill we're starting to feel in the air.

2016 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon

Fun Fact: Silver Ghost founder Weston Eidson’s great-grandfather, John Montagu, was an automobile pioneer at the turn of the last century. Being a British Lord and in Parliament, he was instrumental in much of the early automotive legislation and even gave the future Edward VII his first car ride. He was friends with Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, and his secretary served as the model for the Rolls-Royce hood ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy, which we still see on Rolls-Royce cars today. Silver Ghost derives its name from John Montagu’s favorite car, the 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

This is another fantastic vintage of what has become one of our best selling wines. Bursting with flavors of black cherry and blueberry, with a backbone of cedar and cigar box, and tart acidity, this full-bodied wine drinks at least two tiers above its price point. This Cabernet Sauvignon has become the "house Cab" for many of our members and for good reason. Drink with hard artisanal cheeses, filet mignon, or braised lamb. 90pts and Editor's Choice from Wine Enthusiast.

2016 Tobias Vineyards Formation Red Blend

Brand new to the Winestyr portfolio, Toby Forman is the son of Ric Forman (Forman Vineyard, Rossi-Wallace) and has truly found his own winemaking voice. Fruit is sourced from both Sonoma and Mendocino here, proving that Napa isn't the only source in Northern California for exquisite Bordeaux-style wines. Two years in French oak barrels give this modern Bordelais style blend time to slowly mature, nurturing along perfectly ripe fruit largely sourced from the Rockpile in Sonoma County. What an incredible introduction to Toby Forman's efforts here, as this wine is built to cellar but ready to enjoy right away.

2015 Gård Vintners The Don

There may not be anywhere on Earth offering a better value on exceptional Cabernet right now than Washington. When I first tried this wine, I remembered why I first gravitated towards Washington Cabernet. The wines are always that perfect blend of lush and bright, with varying degrees of earth and minerality. This effort from Gård is a perfect introduction to the regional style and is built for dinner parties and relaxing evenings at home. The Don is unique though, taking a page from the famed Australian 100-point sensation "Grange" to blend Cabernet and Syrah, both of which are likely Washington's strongest regional offerings.

2016 Stewart Cellars Tartan Napa Valley Red

I sat down with James Stewart at his Yountville tasting room last week to try a selection of library releases and still I was blown away by this current release. Merlot and Malbec may lead the blend, but even at just 17%, Cabernet here brings a seriousness to the wine's aromatic and textural structure. One of our most popular wines, the 2016 vintage of Stewart Cellars' Tartan Napa Valley Red brings more of the same power, finesse, and complexity as past vintages. Bursting with bold black and blue fruit flavors, and with a backbone of cedar and pipe tobacco, this vintage is an extremely enjoyable Bordeaux style blend of 43% Merlot, 29% Malbec, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 11% Petit Verdot. 

2015 Juslyn Perry's Blend

If there truly was going to be a "Bordeaux in Napa" it would be coming from somewhere like Spring Mountain, where Juslyn's estate vineyards continue producing tremendous fruit. At a whopping 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, Perry's Blend is a textbook example of hillside fruit, with grippy tannins and a long, long life ahead. This wine exudes the power, sophistication, and depth of flavor that has made the Napa Valley so famous. Deep purple and black fruit flavors are melded perfectly with notes of sandalwood, spice, and earth. This wine is drinking beautifully now, but has the structure to age in the cellar gracefully for 10+ years. Aged for 1.5 years in 50% new French oak, 50% 2yr old barrels. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot. 480 cases produced. 95pts from Wine Advocate.