Saturday 18 November 2017

Wine: A well-travelled friend for life

Katharine Donnelly

People tend to have strong views on certain grape varieties. How often do you hear "I love Merlot" or "I hate Shiraz". Cabernet Sauvignon tends not to inspire the same passion, falling more into the category of a solid friend.

In the modern age of wine drinking, when a glass is quaffed in its own right as much as in accompaniment to a meal, Cabernet Sauvignon may not have the same immediate appeal as, say, a soft, plummy Merlot.

Alongside Merlot's summer pudding fruitiness, or the sweet strawberry of a young Pinot Noir, are the darker fruits of Cabernet Sauvignon -- classically, blackcurrants. Expect also green pepper, mint and, in the more complex wines, layers of what may be described as tobacco leaf, cigar box, cedar and pencil shavings.

But where fleshy Merlot provides the easiest of company, the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon can provide the basis for a more lasting relationship. It is bolstered by rich tannins, the characteristic in a grape that helps it take on red meats.

Most famously, Cabernet Sauvigon is part of the blend for Bordeaux reds, providing a firm body to Merlot's girly charms -- and with good reason: each of the grapes thrives in different conditions and, depending on the weather in any given year, can compensate for any deficiencies in the other.

Cabernet Sauvignon's attributes have been recognised elsewhere and even the Italians allow it to consort with some of their grapes, most famously in its Super Tuscans.

Its travels have taken it all over the world, sometimes turning up as part of a blend, but often as a wine in its own right.

The warmer New World makes ripening easier than in Bordeaux, giving it more upfront character and a softer drinking style, although under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon can turn up from anywhere and can taste too much of green pepper.

Californian Cabernets are legendary powerhouses; Chile gives plenty of fruitiness; Argentina can deliver some more coffee bean/chocolate character. South Africa, New Zealand and the Lebanon are among its other happy homes.

Australia produces its own classic styles, the grape's minty quality accentuated by that trademark Oz eucalyptus. Best of all Down Under is Coonawarra Cabernet. Where Bordeaux may be famous for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it will take other partners, such as Shiraz.

New World, Old World, in a blend or on its own; bring on the Cabernet Sauvignon with your favourite red meat dish.


Irish Independent

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