A couple of weeks ago, I examined the state of cabernet sauvignon in the Napa Valley. It’s certainly not scientific, nor definitive, but judging by the 10 or so Napa cabs I tried, the reputation Napa has for producing our country’s best cabernet sauvignons remains intact.
That’s not to say that there aren’t great bottlings outside the Holy Grail of cabernet because additional research has unearthed (I know, it’s tough work but somebody has to do it!), there are plenty of great cabs to be found from Washington state down the coast to Paso Robles, Calif.
I’ll start in Washington where the increasing diversity and quality of the wines is matched only by the ever-expanding number of wineries. I don’t know as much about the appellations, producers and wines of Washington as I’d like, but I plan to rectify that situation in the coming months.
This much I do know: I’ve quite enjoyed the vast majority of Washington State wines I’ve tried recently, and in general, the red wines outshone the whites.
I’m going to do a more in-depth examination of Washington State wines down the road, but for purposes here, I can recommend two, one from a Columbia Valley producer and a second from Walla Walla
I quite enjoyed the Tamarack Cellars cabernet sauvignon, a cab-dominated blend with small percentages of cabernet Franc (8 percent) and merlot (6 percent). Tamarack Cellars in the Columbia Valley is a new producer for me and a young winery on the Washington state wine landscape, founded in 1998.
From 600 cases of merlot in its initial vintage, Tamarack now produces some 20,000 cases annually. Tamarak Cellars’ cabernet sauvignon combines fruit from five separate vineyards, and the art of blending results in a complex and elegant wine. Dominated by black fruit and notes of black pepper, this is a cab that cries for a steak off the grill or perhaps that roast you’ve been planning.
My second Washington state wine selection is from Woodward Canyon. Long renowned as one of the state’s premier wine producers, Woodward Canyon, founded in 1981 in Walla Walla, Wash., has remained small and focused on quality.
That can certainly be seen in this cabernet sauvignon, which blends in a healthy dose of syrah (17 percent). Packed with copious amounts of black fruit and spice, the wine envelopes your palate, finishing with layers of dark chocolate and cocoa. Enjoyable now, but I would recommend laying this wine down for up to 10 years as it continues to develop complexity.
Sonoma County, Calif., cabernet sauvignons are often overshadowed by their Napa neighbors’ bottlings. But I’m here to tell you when it comes to cabs that give you the most bang for your buck, you’d be hard-pressed to find better values than many of the cabernets from Sonoma.
I’ve tasted so many terrific cabernet and cabernet-based wines from Sonoma through the years from producers like Rodney Strong, Michel-Schlumberger, Dry Creek Vineyard, Benziger, Sebastiani, Louis Martini, and so many others that it’s difficult to narrow the list to just a few.
Sticking with my theme of value, I’ll recommend three more cab options: Parducci’s True Grit Reserve cab from Mendocino County, and St. Francis Winery and Vineyards’ cabernet sauvignon and the B.R. Cohn North Coast Silver Label cabernet sauvignon, both from Sonoma County.
All three wines blend other grapes into the mix with the cab to add complexity, fruit and depth. Parducci adds merlot and syrah to its cab. St. Francis turns to malbec and petit verdot to flesh out its cab. Meantime, B.R. Cohn adds a healthy dose of merlot to the mix. I like all three wines, and as all are priced under $25, they offer value galore!
Down the coast in Paso Robles, they’re turning out some terrific cabernet and cabernet-based wines, too. Hope Family Wines’ Treana label is a particular favorite. I recently tried two of their current releases — the 2014 cabernet sauvignon, and the flagship 2014 Treana bottling.
I like the cab, which blends in some merlot and syrah, but I love the Treana, a mix of 75 percent cabernet sauvignon and 25 percent syrah. Treana envelops the palate with big dark fruit mixed with dollops of spice and a hint of leather. It is big, rich and complex and among the best wines I’ve tasted from California’s central coast.
So, there you have it — some great cabernet sauvignon picks outside Napa from north to south. Cheers.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.