America's favorite flavor of wine just keeps gaining popularity, according to data mongers who should know. But is Cabernet Sauvignon our prom king of wine because it really is superior across all price points, or because of superior name recognition—that is, because Cab's popularity feeds on itself? Food for thought. Some highlights from a recent tasting:
Jordan 2010 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($53) Often voted the king of America's restaurant wines, Jordan Cab glad-hands the palate with a sweet, lush mouthfeel. Spicy aromas of quality oak take over from initial hints of chocolate shortbread cookie—the kind that grandmothers used to keep in tins, at the ready—and the flavor is characterized by plum and mixed berry sauce. Seems like this would not tax the tongue over the course of dinner.
Benziger 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) If there's a slight suggestion of the farmyard on the nose, it doesn't come from Benziger's adorable Scottish Highland cattle—while the estate is certified biodynamic, this tier of Cab comes from growers who meet Benziger's rigorous sustainable farming standards. Anyway, the aroma puts this head to head with a lot of 2011 Bordeaux I tasted earlier this year, and it's hearty and black-fruity enough, if more bittering on the finish.
Courtney Benham 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99) Smoky, like bits of bacon in green beans—isn't that a classic? A little weedy, but a better bet with your average entrée than some.
Martin Ray 2010 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) Has that savor of iron filings and pencil shavings that connoisseurs love in a Cab (I like Riesling that smells like kerosene, so touché). Also blackberry jam stomped in adobe soil, plum and Oreo—the cookie part—and sweet-toned tannins. Agreeable.
Atalon 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) Typical Cabby-Cab aroma with highlights of nutty grape compost; deep, charred fruit and drying tannins. Question for happy hour discussion: Does all Cab that's drying and tannic get better with age?
Rodney Strong 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) Cedar, mixed berry and dried fruits, soft enough for drinking now, if not especially joyous.
Rodney Strong 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) Candy cane, antique store furniture, while smoky guaiacol lurks in the background. Tannic, complex, a quality "feel" if uncertain near-term gratification.
Francis Ford Coppola 2011 Alexander Valley Archimedes Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) The label is fun to look at, and the wine has a heavy dose of the qualities that winemakers seem to like in their top-tier Cabs: smoky oak, shag tobacco and a muddle of charred berries and palate-staining tannins. But it's a bruiser that I can't imagine pairing with any food but thought.