World of Wine

Nederburg Cabernet Sauvignon, RingBolt Cabernet Sauvignon, Pérez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon, Project Paso Cabernet Sauvignon. (Photo: Chris Mikula)

At this time of year, many of us often look for reds with intensity in the flavours and some weight in the texture. There’s plenty of choice, including malbecs, shirazes, cabernet francs and merlots, but one of the more popular varieties is cabernet sauvignon. You’ll find it throughout the LCBO because it’s grown in many wine regions.

Today’s quartet of cabernets — from South Africa, California, Australia and Chile — represents only four New World regions. We could add Canada, Argentina (where I generally find the cabernets more impressive than the malbecs), and New Zealand, before moving to Europe.

There, Bordeaux stands out as the “home” of cabernet sauvignon, and its presence in so many great wines earned it the title “King Cab.” But cabernet is the fourth most widely grown red wine variety throughout the whole of France. It’s also popular in Spain and Bulgaria, and in Italy it’s a key component of many Super-Tuscan blends.

Finally, cabernet is one of the main grape varieties in the burgeoning wine industry in China.

So it’s grown just about everywhere grapes are cultivated, but it doesn’t necessarily do well in all these regions. Cabernet sauvignon needs a long growing season if the grapes are to fully ripen. If they don’t, the flavours can be green and weedy (generously called “bell pepper” notes), and while traces of greenness can be fine, too much is not. Some parts of Chile and California provide that long growing season every year. Others (like New Zealand and Ontario) don’t, and it’s important to look at the vintage when you’re buying cabernet from those regions. (Recent very good years in Ontario are 2007, 2010 and 2012.)

When cabernet does ripen, it over-delivers in just about every department. It’s a small, thick-skinned grape, so there’s a high ratio of skin to flesh. The skin contains flavours, colour and tannins, so cabernet produces plenty of those — so much, in fact, that winemakers have to try to control them. Because cabernet delivers so much structure and tannins, winemakers often blend in another variety to soften it.

That job frequently falls to merlot, and so a classic blend is cabernet-merlot, with cabernet the major partner.

The tannins give cabernet sauvignon (and its blends) lasting power, and some can be cellared for decades, as their tannins drop away and the various components integrate. But the great majority, like today’s four, are ready for drinking much earlier, although many have medium-term keeping potential.

In fact, as these four are permanently in the LCBO, you could buy a bottle of one now, then one of each new vintage as it comes into the LCBO. For a total outlay of $60 to $100, you’ll have an interesting vertical of five vintages to taste in 2017.

Nederburg ‘Winemaker’s Reserve’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

From Western Cape zone in South Africa, this is a medium-bodied cabernet, nicely complex, with a quite rich, smooth and mouth-filling texture. The tannins are drying and manageable. Drink it with it with a grilled steak or roast beef. 14.5-per-cent alcohol; $11.45 (111526)

Project Paso Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Newish in the LCBO, this cabernet from California’s Paso Robles region shows lots of ripe-sweetness in the fruit, and good acidity that produces a tangy texture. It’s a good bet for barbecued ribs and gourmet hamburgers. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $17.90 (291153)

Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

This Western Australian cabernet delivers up-front, concentrated flavours, but surrenders nothing to definition, complexity and balance. The acidity is clean and the tannins easygoing. It’s a great choice for braised short ribs. 14.5-per-cent alcohol; $19.95 (606624, Vintages Essential)

Perez Cruz Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

From Maipo Valley, considered Chile’s best site for cabernet, this full-bodied example shows rich, ripe aromas and flavours, with layered complexity and smooth texture. Try it with well-seasoned grilled lamb or beef. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $15.95 (694208, Vintages Essential)

Email Rod Phillips at rod@rodphillipsonwine.com. Join him online Thursdays, 2 to 3 p.m. at ottawacitizen.com/winechat, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rodphillipswine

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