Cabernet Sauvignon is an extremely popular wine pairing for red meats, and the kosher-keeping community, for many years now, has had a world-class list of full-bodied California Cabs to choose from, really satisfying bottles to enjoy with summer dinners. While they are a strong choice year round, they are an ideal accompaniment while serving a delicious barbecued steak or a burger on a warm summer evening.
My enthusiastic (and extremely California Cab-savvy) wine-tasting group had the opportunity to finally get back together for a socially-distant-yet-in-person-tasting, to try many of the current Napa and California Cabs on the market, but we want to add a caveat that these wines need to be opened in advance of dinnertime to breathe, and can be a bit tricky in terms of aging. Some of these wines will age well and be optimized for drinking in one, two or even 10 years, and some are perfect for drinking now. The members of my tasting group wanted to provide some direction for their fellow wine enthusiasts in terms of what to “buy to drink this summer,” and also what they might consider “buying this summer, to keep for next summer, and beyond.” With Napa and California Cabs, age matters!
The biggest surprise of our tasting, certainly with the best QPR (quality-price ratio) was the Herzog Lineage Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Paso Robles). This $16.99 wine was nice after having been opened an hour prior to our tasting, but then two hours later, the wine had mellowed out so profoundly that it was like tasting a truly different wine. Its berry and tobacco aromas were pleasing and it’s an inexpensive yet really satisfying choice for a meat meal. “It is a well-made wine and it’s fantastic for the price,” said Greg. It was truly the revelation of the night that a little extra breathing time could improve this wine so intensely. Definitely a "drink now" wine.
Conversely, the Twin Suns Special Edition Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (Napa Valley), made by Shirah’s Shimon and Gabriel Weiss, was, to us, a wine that certainly needs to be bought now, but for aging. It’s bright, bold and drinkable now, and has that typical Weiss brothers power-packed punch of fruit, but the best is yet to come for this-full bodied red. “This wine has incredible potential; buy this to put away for next summer,” said Yeruchum. Daphna noted some surprising herb notes, perhaps a hint of eucalyptus. It’s a bit sweeter on the nose and midpalate now than the average cab, a quality we think will dissipate with aging. The longer one waits to open this wine, probably for the next two to five years, we feel the wine will only improve. At $36.99, we see this as an investment wine to buy now before it sells out, to enjoy next summer and beyond.
Now, on to two evergreen wines we think are perfect for drinking right now. We greatly enjoyed and appreciated the Hagafen Wieruszowski Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley) and the Weinstock Cellar Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Paso Robles). These wines are both consistently excellent from year to year, and the group feels that these wines are fantastic pairings for meals with red meat, or even as an aperitif now and then. “Hagafen is our go-to for us for dinner out. It has solid consistency every year,” said Shannon. At $47.99, it’s a steeper price but a big benefit of it is “it doesn’t require aging, but aging makes it better,” added Yeruchum. I agreed the Hagafen was one of our most balanced and even-tempered wines of the night, really ready for drinking and food-friendly, from nose to finish.
The Weinstock ($29.99) also had its particular fans in the group. “It’s great. It’s standard and ready to drink. It’s just so classic,” said Jake. At $20 more affordable than the Hagafen, it also benefits from a stronger QPR and it’s basically always good; whatever year one finds in the wine store, this is a great bottle to pick up and take home for dinner.
Finally, we had the honor of trying Herzog’s three flagship California Cabs: The Herzog Special Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (Napa Valley), the Herzog Special Reserve Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Lake County) and the Herzog Special Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (Sonoma County).
The trick with these wines is breathing time and aging, and all of these current vintages in this range are between $40 and $50 (We purposely did not include in this tasting the California and Napa Cabs that extend in price above $50, as I feel that it has to be a really, truly special occasion for us to recommend bottles above that price in this column).
Yeruchum felt that the 2017 Alexander Valley was simply not ready for ideal drinking yet, but the group was split as it has that typical delicious Cab chewiness already that is a much-sought-after characteristic. But Yeruchum recommended restraint here. “This will be so, so good in two years. It can go three to five, but we need to be drinking the 2016 right now, not the 2017,” he said.
To me, the Lake County Cab was one of my favorites of the evening. I thought it was fun and easy to drink, with notes of vanilla, blackberry and plum, a truly classic cab ready for drinking now, but I was told that age will only improve it over the next decade. I was in the minority though; most members of the group, particularly Eva, Jeff and Ari, really enjoyed the Napa the most, and felt it was the most classic and well-designed of all the Cabs on offer. Aged for 19 months, the Napa Valley is certainly a great investment that has outstanding depth and character.
Interestingly, Shannon reported back the next day that she and her husband, Ari, had taken home the remainder of the Napa Valley from the tasting. “We let it sit overnight, and guess what? It settled and the fruit flavors came out, like a delicious mouthful of blackberries. It was fruit-forward initially too, but even more so a day later.”
Whatever cabs you pick for drinking or cellaring this summer, we hope you do it safely and in good health!
By Elizabeth Kratz