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Wednesday Warblings
The Challenge That Cabernet Sauvignon Has Become

By Stephen Eliot

Cabernet Sauvignon has been on our menu most of this month, and after days and days of tasting our ways through a good many new releases to be reviewed in our upcoming April issue, we are left with stained teeth, furry tongues and a few thoughts on the state of the grape in the state.

It is no question that 2009 has turned out plenty of first-rate bottlings, and has proven more successful than early reports predicted. The rain-plagued 2010 vintage, on the other hand, is a mixed bag to say the least, the kind of year that will reward patience and careful selection. I suppose, however, that what impresses me most is just how expensive good California Cabernet has become.

I can no longer afford to drink the great Bordeaux and Burgundies that I once enjoyed on an at least occasional basis, and the better bottlings of Italy and the Rhône have left me as well, but there is something especially alarming about being abandoned by such an old friend as home-grown Cabernet. I guess that is the price of success.

Oh, this is not the first time the cost of good Cabernet has made me squirm, but it is clear that opening even a couple of good bottles a month is now a real financial commitment. The problem is that the good ones are remarkably good, and the upward price spiral suggests that there are plenty of folks who believe they are worth it. I have heard half-gleeful laments from some quarters that high-ticket Cabernets are a dead, dust-gathering item in restaurants these days, but a recent survey of customer preferences showed that Cabernet sales were still strong at fine eateries. The simple dictates of supply and demand instruct that when demand diminishes, prices will ease, and I see nothing diminished about Cabernet prices.

Now it just may be that fine Cabernet will face a crisis as the wine market starts to shift. The Millennials are THE force with which to be reckoned. The new generation of wine drinkers, we are told, demands something new, abhors old expertise and relies on itself for guidance. I must wonder, however, how good Cabernet can possibly be relevant to other than those limited few who can afford it. There is a reason that $15.00 Argentine Malbec plays very big with the crowd.

Charlie has argued in earlier CGCW postings that some aging Millennials will embrace wine as something more than a simple staple and will spend more as their increasing incomes allow. I think that is true. It is also true, however, that the world’s appetite for the very best wines has grown remarkably in recent years. There is a host of fine California Cabernet Sauvignons that, in fact, rank with the best, and prices will always reflect what the market will bear. The best of anything has never come cheap.

There are those who would have me leave Cabernet for the next pretty new face, but I cannot. The friendship is too dear and enduring. Top-shelf Cabernet may have become an occasional indulgence, but it remains a memorable one. Thank goodness for good, affordable bottlings from the likes of Beaulieu and Martini, but there is still nothing like the layered richness, beauty and depth that truly great Cabernet from Montebello, Oakville, Rutherford, Stags Leap and points north and south can deliver.

I expect that I will continue to gripe about Cabernet’s cost, but know that all complaints stop when a good glass is poured.


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The State of Cabernet..
by TomHill
Posted on:3/13/2013 11:57:49 AM


   Like you, I, too, became distressed by the escalating costs of Calif Cab. My solution?? I simply turned my back on Calif Cab, particularly of the NapaVlly type, some 20 yrs ago. The only ones I bought were the MonteBello futures and the DryCreekVnyds various ones, which were very reasonably priced and great values. Caymus/Stag'sLeap/Phelps/DiamondCreek/Montelena....didn't miss them a bit.

   Back when you/I/Charlie started drinking...Cabernet was the great Calif Red, there wern't a lot of alternatives save Zin and PetiteSirah. Now there are a lot more alternatives when it comes to great Calif reds..especially Syrah...some truly world-class ones out there.

   But...after a sort of 20 yr Cabernet hiatus...I find over the last yr or two...I'm starting to find a fair number of Calif Cabs I like...really like. And they ain't $100 Cabs....they're like $40-$50 Cabs. I'll taste one and I'll think: " I gonna have to start looking at Calif Cabs again??"

   The MonteBello remains a truly monumental/world-class Cab. The Ridge Estate Cabs are a screaming deal. The DryCreekVnyd Cabs represent great drinking at a more than fair price. The Chester'sAnvil of Lagier-Meredith/Potts (sorry, Charlie...if I'm pulling a Bonne on you here!!). The new CortiReserve (made by Clos du Val) is a great/old-timey kind of Cab like you & I used to drink w/ such relish. Some of 'em are even....gasp..."balanced".

   Not sure what the Millennials are drinking. I'm not in that crowd and they refused me membership when I tried to sign up. But I would guess there's Cabs out there that even they would deign to drink.Just won't say "ScreamingBeagle" on the label.



by Joe Becerra
Posted on:3/13/2013 9:54:57 PM

I love a good Cabernet Sauvignon but I also feel the same way about the crazy prices these days. I have discoverd several good Cabs from California for around $20 or less. If I age them for 2 yrs they become $40 Cabs. That's my buying strategy these days for Cab.

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