Wine, like Seinfeld, is a show about everything and nothing. To some (on
some days, to me) wine is everything. Then again,
it's just a beverage. It's
liquid. You drink it, it becomes but a memory. And wine is a show -- the
presentation of the bottle,
cutting the foil, uncorking,
decanting, pouring a little to taste, swirling, sniffing, sipping, aerifying,
swallowing, proclaiming, pouring, pronouncing, prognosticating, pontificating,
(hopefully) ordering more.
Hailing Napa cabs
Cabernet sauvignon from Napa is America's great wine
Uncorked by David Marglin
In America, the star of the show is Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon -- Napa
cab. (Wine folk love abbreviations.) Right now, Napa Valley cabs, especially
the incredible '94s, are hot. Lots of great wines are made in Napa Valley, from
lots of different grape varieties, as the weather is almost always perfect for
many grapes. But it's cabernet that is the most celebrated.
Cabernet sauvignon (the grape)
has its origins in Bordeaux, where it's the
primary variety used in most of the great red wines of that region. But red
Bordeaux is always a
usually of the following five grapes: cabernet
sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot, usually in
respective percentages of around 80, 11, 5, 4, and 1 to 2. California's
innovation was to distinguish its wines by focusing on the grape variety: hence
the 100-percent cab. These tend to be big, even overwhelming wines, which work
best with some form of red meat or cheese. Me, I'll drink straight cabs with
pizza or fish, but the nuances and passion of these wines come through best
when they're paired with pungent flavors.
Napa cabs don't come cheap. The starting price for really good bottles is $20.
(I can recommend some decent Napa cabs under $20, which give a sense of the
grape, but right at $20 the wines start to be worth twice that.) Why all the
fuss? Napa cabs are bold, they are brash, they are peppery, but they can be
elegant and demure too, in the sense that they hide their
fruit. They exude
complexity. The fruits are lush: currants, berries, some say cherries and
plums. People talk of oak and cedar, tar and molasses, tobacco and tea. I have
heard tell of maple syrup and mint flavors, vanilla and licorice, leather,
cocoa and pecans, even cigar boxes.
Cabs bring out the most epic descriptions because they offer so many flavors
and so many enticing nuances. Cabs are also power wines, for those who can
afford it (or who are on an expense account). But caveat emptor, because a lot
of people -- indeed, a lot of enthusiastic wine people -- don't have the taste
for cab. A lot of modern winemaking technique is going into making these Napa
monsters more accessible, faster. Vintners are removing
tannins and softening
the taste, so that the wines will be more ready on release, less in need of
aging. A lot of these youngsters still need big air, though, so get them open
as early as possible before drinking.
As usual, these recommendations are subject to availability and some price
fluctuations. Check with your local retailer.
**1995 Hess Select ($12, Wine and Cheese Cask, Somerville)
When you see Hess Select cab from a decent year, you'll want to buy it,
because it's released mostly to restaurants. This is an unassuming little table
wine, with loads of fruit, especially these elusive strawberry undertones. A
**l994 St. Supery ($15, the Wine Press, Brookline; Wine and Cheese
A supple but somewhat nondescript little number, with easy floral flavors that
are broad and inviting. A good cab to begin with, and a mellow finisher.
**1995 William Hill ($15, all over)
A round, blueberry flavor that starts out robust and then sort of descends
into innocuousness. A decent cheese-and-crackers wine with a nice label.
***1993 Hess Collection ($20, Wine and Cheese Cask)
This is a wonderfully full wine, with smooth oak and vanilla, that open up new
vistas of flavor in the mouth. Always a value, Hess Collection is worth the
price. Trust me: you must find this and consume.
*** 1994 Oakville Franciscan ($21, Marty's Liquors, Allston and
A mama '94, with loads of spice and fruit (overt strawberry: yum!). This wine
has a solid structure, tons of tannin,
and character to spare. A stunner to drink or hold.
***1994 Truchard ($27, Marty's, Wine and Cheese Cask)
Gentle moss and earth give way to light tar and smoked oak. Some chocolate.
This keeper drinks well now, but it's such a huge, outdoorsy wine that I would
put a bottle or two away for a rainy day, or a blizzardy night. It's selling
David Marglin can be reached at email@example.com.
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