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The world’s most planted wine grape

The Shafer winery in the Stags Leap area of Napa Valley, California (Photograph supplied)

On August 30 we celebrate International Cabernet Sauvignon Day, so I intend to describe a few very fine ones to you. At 840,000 planted acres in the world, it can rightfully claim first place, as merlot has 657,300 acres and chardonnay 518,900. Its entrance into the world of wine is relatively recent and it is the result of a sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc vine getting rather friendly in the south of France and producing a baby cabernet sauvignon vine in the seventeenth century.

For me the telltale sign of fine cabernet sauvignon is cherry, cedar and even mint. It would be truthful to say that this grape is highly respected in our house and although I never try to be negative, there is just one aspect that I strongly do my best to avoid. I refer to the effect of methoxypyrazine, often called pyrazine for short. This compound produces a bell pepper flavour that can be quite lovely in a bottle of sancerre or pouilly fume, but in cabernet sauvignon it suggests to me that the grapes did not receive enough sunshine to fully ripen. Vineyard managers have learnt to control it by managing the vine leaf canopy through pruning. You can be quite reasonably assured that this problem will not exist in wines rating 90 points and above as this will hint at fine vineyard and winemaking attention.

We stock cabernet sauvignons priced in their teens and all the way up to over one thousand dollars. Today I have selected a few that rate extremely high and fall into that quite expensive, but not prohibitive price range. Try any one of them and you will understand why it is the most widely planted.

In Bordeaux virtually all red wines are blends with merlot dominating in St Emilion and pomerol and cabernet sauvignon in the other areas. Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 2014 Reserve de la ComtessePauillac (phew) is the second wine of this great property, and it is 59 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 41 per cent merlot. Decanter magazine awards it 92 points and says: “the excellence of this second wine vindicates the appointment of Nicolas Glumineau as technical director in 2012. The nose shows black fruit aromas, and there’s immediate, lush, forward fruit on the attack. It’s suave and concentrated, but also remarkably deep, weighty, robust and structured with a long finish”. $92 (Stock #8360).

2017 Chateau Gloria from the commune of Saint Julien is a blend of 61 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 26 per cent merlot, 8 per cent petit verdot and 5 per cent cabernet franc that scores 94/100 with Vinous, and this, “the 2017 Gloria is just as delicious from bottle as it was from barrel. A rush of bright red cherry and plum fruit, blood orange, iron, dried flowers and mint gives the 2017 its sense of energy. Medium in body and full of character, Gloria is one of the highlights of the vintage. Don't miss it”. $69 (Stock #9564).

Now we will go down to Tuscany and my longtime friends Neil and Maria Empson and try their super Tuscan blend of 90 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent merlot. Neil has always told me that the abundance of nitrogen in his small vineyard is so important for overall quality. This is what The Wine Advocate has to say about 2016 Cignale. “Mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a tiny part Merlot to soften it up. This is a plump, rich and nicely structured wine with a dark core of dense fruit, spice, dark blackberry and dried plum. The wine is structured and firm with good support for all that rich and dense oak fruit. Compared to the slightly softer 2015 vintage, this wine is more angular and tightly wound”. 94/100. $63 (Stock #9004).

James Suckling rates 2018 Penfolds Bin #407 Cabernet Sauvignon from Australia 94/100 and he writes, “a very confident expression of cabernet sauvignon, this has a briary, red-toned core of fruit with redcurrant, raspberry and blackcurrant aromas, as well as a cedary-oak thread and some pomegranate notes. The palate has a very sleek, long and juicy feel with elegant tannins carrying fully ripe red-plum and dark-cherry flavours. A great 407”. $95 (Stock #7238).

Cabernet sauvignon is just so happy to grow in California’s Napa Valley and below those storied rock precipices that legend says a giant stag leapt across, sits the Shafer winery. Dare I say that I know of no other producer in the world that does a better overall job than they do. Like many in this valley, they do not blend and so 2018 Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon is 100 per cent cabernet.

John Shafer uprooted his family from Chicago in 1972, and bought 209 acres in what would later become Stag's Leap District. He quickly planted a small parcel of cabernet in the hillsides above the winery at the advice of Nathan Fay and created his first wine from that planting in 1978, a precursor to their legendary Hillside Select. John's son Doug joined the family biz in 1983 and has helped move the winery into the international limelight. John and his wife Barbara have dined in our home may years ago and we knew them well. Barbara died in 2016 and John followed three years later.

The Wine Enthusiast rates this wine a close to perfect 97 points and comments, “this is a muscular wine with a velvety backdrop – classic for the vintage and appellation. Silky tannins glide across a foundation of turned earth, crushed rock, clove and tobacco. The wine is hugely structured and grand. Dark plum, cherry and mocha flavours round out the profile. Cellar Selection”. $123 (Stock #6817).

The name of this wine is derived from a generation and a half, represented by the father and son team who ran this winery.

Try any of these wines and I believe that you will understand why cabernet sauvignon is the king of grapes.

• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

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Published August 26, 2022 at 7:58 am (Updated August 26, 2022 at 7:41 am)

The world’s most planted wine grape

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