California Cabs

While the intention today was to simply taste Cabs from California, some of us were still coming down from the great Bordeaux tasting last month. As a result, during the planning phase, this California session quickly became a comparison between the two regions. And why not - California and Bordeaux are in direct competition with each other. With that said, the style of California and Bordeaux while both very good, are also quite different. The primary difference is one of temperature and thus the ripeness of the grapes. Poor vintages are few and far between in California and therefore variation from one vintage to another is usually a result of winemaking technique and not bad weather. In a effort to 'keep up with the Jones' or to generate 'Parker-Points' (depending on how you want to look at it), the trend in Bordeaux in the last two decades has been to let the fruit hang as long as possible, but even so, that timeframe still does not achieve the same degree of ripeness witnessed in California. Of course, with ripeness comes sugar, among other things, but let's focus on the degree of sweetness or brix: As the sugar content of the grapes increases, so does the potential degree of alcohol during fermentation which in turn, will affect the body and mouth-feel of the wine. The higher degree of alcohol brings out the fruit and sweetness of the wine but too much can also be overpowering so there must be a balance. In terms of body the wines are full and round; the terms 'chewy and jammy' are often used to describe California Cabs.

At North of 9 Fine Wine, we have tasted a great deal of old world wine in the past, and with last month's Bordeaux session still fresh in our minds, this afternoon we set out to determine what the group prefers. Today we sample four wines from various regions within California and one from the left-bank of Bordeaux. All the selections have a high concentration of Cabernet Sauvignon. The purpose of the Bordeaux sample is to refresh/remind our palates of the region and therefore indirectly, stimulate a comparison between the two regions.

The wines sampled are listed below in order of tasting:

2006 Napanook - Napa Valley
2004 Clark-Claudon, Estate Grown - Napa Valley
2001 Ségla - Margaux, Bordeaux
2004 Clos du Val - Stags Leap District
2006 Longboard, Redgrav Vineyard - Alexander Valley

These are some truly fantastic wines! I think as a group, we all agree that while the old-world is fascinating and its history captivating, the new frontier and specifically the high-end California labels are an absolute pleasure to drink.

Our group tasted and ranked the wines in order of personal preference, the top three are show below:

1 - 2004 Clark-Claudon
2 - 2006 Longboard, Redgrav
3 - 2004 Clos du Val

The top two wines today finished very close together and at the same time, well above the rest of the pack. In first place was the 2004 Clark-Claudon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon follow immediately by the Longboard, Redgrav Vineyard. Both wines were full-bodied and packed with red fruit aromas. The Clark-Claudon, at one point during the afternoon even showed some black licorice on the nose and perhaps a slight effervescent feel on the tongue - fascinating! If you like your wine 'jammy' and obviously the majority of our group does, the Longboard, Redgrav should be right at the top of your wish list. This wine exploded with fruit and sweet aromas straight out of the bottle. Thank-you Jim for generously donating both of these bottles to the tasting today!

Following behind, as the group's third favourite was the 2004 Clos du Val, Stags Leap District. By far the deepest in colour today, the Clos du Val was somewhat closed initially, though after a half-hour or so in the glass, the aromas and the flavours came to life.

Based upon what we have tasted here today, the group has certainly favoured the new-world style. The three top wines are a very accurate representation of why California Cabernet Sauvignon is and continues to be the preferred wine style of the masses. Is it better the the Old World? The 2001 Ségla, our selection from Bordeaux was in top form today. In fact, there was no fault to be found in Château Rauzan-Ségla's second label, but like so many of the competitive tastings held since the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976, when pitting one region against the other, California finished on top yet again.

Thank-you kindly to everyone who donated bottles from their collection for our enjoyment today. We look forward to gathering again in July to compare Rieslings from Niagara and Germany.