Dear Cabernet Sauvignon: I love to hate you, and yet I hate that I love you

My father is a man who is equal parts larger than life and yet a true gentleman who eschews class, grace, and a humility that only a humble upbringing could give. As an anniversary present, for a man who has almost everything, what should I get? Only a California Cabernet could be big enough, bold enough, mad and yet elegant. Winston Churchill in a bottle. Better yet, that the Cab in question should be of a Judgement of Paris caliber. The present I got him was Stag’s Leap Artemis. If I remember correctly it was the 2012 vintage.  

This is a wine I would seldom, if ever but for myself. I’m not really a big Cab Sav kind of guy. At times I have even stretched so far as to say I was “over” California’s most well known varietal. Winemakers were pushing the limits on big, bad, bold, wines and coming up with stuff that was stupidly heavy and not enjoyable beyond one glass. Still the sales guys celebrating their commissions wanted to out-bro each other and kept pushing us in that direction over massive steak dinners.  

To my surprise my dad asked that we open the bottle over dinner in New York City. Sure, why not. I’d only been dying to jump into the wine list of one of New York’s trendiest new restaurants that was loaded with the likes or Occhipinti, Broc Cellars, and a handful of Pet-Nats from the Loire. But dude wants to drink the Artemis so let’s do it.  

Its F***ing Amazing!

Well fuck me if that wine isn’t fucking amazing! A super rich wine that is fruity, yet savory, bold, and yet desired, full and yet easy to drink. I could have happily sipped on this delicious wine for hours and hours on end. For the live of god, it’s tatse still haunts my dreams. I’ve had more expensive, even better Napa Cabs before, but something just enthralled me about it. Maybe it’s because this is a wine that in not supposed to like, that’s Im not supposed to be drinking. This is a guilty pleasure of a wine, so opulent and wild. I love it! 

One hell of a wine, the Sta'g’s Leap Artemis.

One hell of a wine, the Sta'g’s Leap Artemis.

Thats the thing though, I really do love Cabernet Sauvignon and I don’t care who knows it. I also hate Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s hard to balance these two conflicting viewpoints. I am a big fan of Artemis, Heitz Cellars, and the Napa Valley Silver Oak. The latter I consider my Christmas present to myself each year. Merry Christmas Damian, Much Love, Damian. But there are also Cabernet Sauvignons out there that I hate, nay, despise! These are the wines that I feel have ruined wine as they chase the bigger, heavier, more decadent, more outlandish to the point that it’s become absurd. Wines that feel forced, trying to emulate or compete with First Growth Bordeaux and charging you so much money that you would have to get a loan to afford a bottle. Some are fantastic, sure, but some are not and still they manage to get away with it because they are just that, Napa Cabs. There is also the worst, most overrated wine of all time, Caymus! Few wines are despised in the wine business as much as Caymus is.

There are a few Cabernet Sauvignons though in California and Washington that buck the trend, that are more about what the grape can do than about pushing the boundaries. Some remain bold, hearty red wines but with more herbaceous structure that is the classic calling card of the grape. These savory notes are what make them the perfect pairing for bad ass steaks with the bone in and done medium rare. You feel like royalty, and there are few wines in the world that would come close to delivering that sensation, maybe Barolo but thats it.

Not all about the $100+ Cabs

On the other end of the spectrum there are amazing expression of Cabernet Sauvignon that deliver all that full on goodness for under $30. In the past I had stayed away from cheap Cabernet because they were so often made using heavily industrialized methods, and at their worst infused with a coloring to give them the inky allure of their more expensive cousins. They were headaches in a bottle. Thankfully one of my new favorite winemakers, Samantha Sheehan of POE, showed me the light through Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon. What makes it different is that Samantha is a minimalist winemaker, and the grapes are farmed with very little (if any) chemical intervention. The Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon is also a little bit lighter than most Cabernets, making for a super easy drinking wine that is delicious, easy going, and crushable at just about any occasion.

Another recent favorite is the Brea Cabernet Sauvignon. I had no idea at first, but a little research showed me that the Brea Wine Company is actually a project of Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars fame. Sometimes I feel like he could do no wrong, that he is a champion for natural, minimalist wine in the United States if not the world. Brea Wine Company focuses on the noble grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all farmed organically, and with Chris’ penchant for making rich wines that you love whether they were natural or not. The Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception, it is rich, heavy, and yet somehow shows restraint so as not to venture into the ridiculous world of over the top, cartoonish Cali Cabs. You can usually find it for less than $30, so it is a massive win.

I guess I will never get over Cabernet Sauvignon. I want to leave it, I want to drop it and move on to other amazing wines from around the world. Still I keep coming back to it. I cannot leave behind its richness, elegance, and unparalleled ability to pair with a good steak. There seems to be no reason for me to stop loving this wine. Despite the plethora of examples of this great wine that make it so uninteresting, overproduced, and shite, there are still a few that remind you that at its best Cabernet Sauvignon is responsible for some of the best wines in the world.