Luxury Life & Style - (Page 64)

KING CABERNET California‘s Classic Bottles by Bonnie Graves don’t drink much cabernet. Maybe it’s due to all those years of sommeliering, when at times it seemed like no other grape in the world existed in the mind of the affluent American consumer. I remember when anything from Spain was a tough sell, and legendary bottles of Burgundy would sit in various restaurant wine cellars to be inventoried month after month, while so-called “cult” cabs would fly off the racks for often astronomical prices. I guess it all comes down to basic PR, and too often these wines simply don’t merit what folks seem willing to pay. You know the old expression about a fool and his money? It goes doubly for the wine fool. That said, cabernet sauvignon remains the undisputed king of the cellar. Why is the topic of this article. I find that a lot of collectors avidly purchase cabernet and other Bordelaise family products without ever understanding why these bottles are age-worthy. Rather, they compulsively compare numerical assessments (stupid from the outset) as prognosticated by certain magazines and critics and then buy; if a bottle of cabernet sauvignon fetched a “92,” then buy, buy, buy. Under 90, then pass. Trying to assign a composite number to something as ephemeral as a bottle of wine is directly akin to trying to constrict human intelligence to something as mundane as an IQ assessment. (One wonders if Ein- I stein would have bothered to register for Mensa…) But we Americans like numbers, and wine collecting has especially fallen prey to this numbers-driven mentality. Leaving scores out of the cabernet discussion opens up a much more interesting forum. That cabernet sauvignon grows more interesting with age is the first plank of an enhanced understanding. Cabernet is a thicker-skinned grape that ripens later in the growing season worldwide; this means more tannin as grapes grow physiologically larger and skin surface area increases. When I teach classes about cab, I often describe tannin as “the velvet socks on your teeth” that make one want to brush after a particularly chewy mouthful. Looking back on my ill-advised organic chemistry days, I recall that tannins are technically plantbased polyphenols that bind and precipitate proteins. One finds them in black tea, pomegranates, berries and, importantly, in wine grapes. Tannins in cabernet sauvignon are derived from grape skins, seeds and stems and provide the framework or the bones for ageing the wine. Harsh at the outset, tannins ultimately protect a wine from premature oxidation while allowing interesting secondary aromas to emerge. Why do we age wines? Nowadays, wines are instead increasingly made to open upon purchase. Winery processes like microoxygenation and magnetized gizmos on the retail side both promise to round out these irksome tannins so the impatient consumer won’t have to wait years for a bottle to reach its apex. But I can tell you from experience that truly transcendent cabernet-based wines take time. There is no shortcut. I can also tell you that wine is an organic product that dies a slow death no matter how carefully it is cellared. If you’re still holding all your ’82 Bordeauxs in the hopes that another 25 years will render magic, you fail to understand wine. But when you choose to open a carefully cellared bottle is half the fun of saving it; enjoyable at 10 years, it might be sublime at 15 years but completely dead at 20 years. You decide, and for goodness’ sake, leave the critics out of it. It’s your wine after all. Two other key components in cellaring cabernet wines are alcohol and oak. It’s downright hard to make bad cabernet in a growing climate as friendly as Napa, for example, and yet so many poor wines are made. Why? Too much alcohol, too much oak. When winemakers err with ripening and picking decisions, a quick fix is to oak the living daylights out of the resultant crappy juice. Oak barrels should enhance wine in the way that a marinade might soften beef; start out with poor protein, and no amount of marinating can save your brisket, so to speak. Similarly, too much alcohol in a bottle of wine often means that there isn’t much acid or tannin left behind to preserve 64 Luxury Life & Style September/October 2007

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