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Monday Manifestos
Not So Guilty Pleasures Of Full-Flavored California Cabernet

By Stephen Eliot

I know it’s not hip to say so, and I suppose that my love of good, really good California Cabernet will bring sneers from the new wine cognoscenti that prize “soaring acidity” and a “profound mineral presence” above all else. But I admit it...I happen to enjoy big, deep, wonderfully rich, brimming-with-flavor Cabernets Sauvignons.

Please know, I am not defending the corpulent, excessively alcoholic few that have their souls literally cooked out of them, but when you actually look at the long list of fine California Cabernet producers, you will not find so many offenders as some would have you believe.

We are putting the final touches on the April edition of CGCW, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the featured wine. As is our policy, any wine that is up for high recommendation is tasted a second time before going to press, and, as usual, that means there is a considerable number of very good leftover bottles crowding my kitchen counter. They will not go to waste.

After a long tasting session yesterday, I grabbed a new favorite, the Aurielle Napa Valley 2008, and poured an immensely satisfying couple of glasses with the perfectly cooked, rare Niman Ranch rib eye that was dinner. For the life of me, I cannot see how someone would complain at such a combination.

I cannot say I am all that bothered by some folks telling me I am wrong; to each his own. But, their evangelistic fervor and the seeming need to change the world by eradicating the scourge of such wines does gives me pause for cause. Hey, there are plenty of anemic French reds, and Italy has more than a few too. Oh, and don’t forget the new terroir-driven reds of Germany, Austria and Greece. I would remind the crusaders that they have a wealth of smaller sized wines of “nuance” from which to choose, so just drink them and please leave me alone.

I was particularly pleased to see that in the March issue of Food & Wine magazine, executive wine editor Ray Isle seems to agree. I cannot say that I am always a fan of said publication, but I think Mr. Isle is dead on in this instance, and I humbly give him a nod of respect. It appears that he, too, has grown tired with the droning whine against Cabernets that are damned as being too big and too flavorful. And, he is keenly aware that most people who are not sommeliers or their fellow travelers actually seem to like them. Amen.

I adore great Burgundies, and I relish classic Loire reds and whites. The great Rieslings of Germany have been high on my list of favorites for forty years, and Barolo, Barbaresco and the best wines of Rioja are always welcome at my table. There are even times when I do not mind screechy acidity, or at least mind it less, but there are menus that want intense, deeply drawn and outgoing red wines…times when absolutely nothing else will do.

Even as I write this appreciation of full-flavored wines, I can smell the Bolognese meat sauce for this evening’s pasta that has been slowly simmering for the last several hours. A nice Barbera might do the trick, and Sangiovese or a good Côtes du Rhône would not be a bad idea at all, but there’s a bottle of Ravenswood’s latest Teldeschi Zin waiting, and I could not be happier.

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