16 Nov Truth In Wine:The Quality Factor: When Cabernet Ain’t Just Cabernet
Sometimes I hear people say, “I only drink Cabernet Sauvignon,” or “I don’t like Merlot.” Another common refrain is, “I’m really a red wine person.” White wine is not part of their drinking repertoire.
We all have taste preferences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But to label a wine “good” or “bad” by its color or varietal is tantamount to saying all Cabernets or all white wines taste more or less alike. Say it ain’t so!
If you think all Cabernet Sauvignon tastes alike, you’re really missing out. Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like where it’s grown and who’s growing it. In other words, the Cabernet grapes they grow in Bordeaux don’t often taste much like the Cabernet grapes they grow in Napa Valley. Bordeaux is not as warm as Napa. The Cabernet there doesn’t ripen as much as it does in California, and as a result, you’ll typically get a richer, riper-styled wine from Napa Valley than Bordeaux. This isn’t good or bad; it’s just the way it is. And it means that you can get wildly different wines all labeled Cabernet Sauvignon. Some you’ll love; some you’ll hate. But don’t think you’re going to like a wine simply because it’s Cabernet. That’s silly. Just for fun, try drinking two Cabernets—one Old World and one New World—at your next dinner party. You’ll see the difference. (Continued below.)
If you drink a variety of wines made by a variety of producers from a broad cross-section of wine growing regions, you’ll find that variations in taste and quality are legion…it’s what makes drinking wine so interesting.
The same can be said for every grape varietal on the planet, from Chardonnay to the Israeli-bred Argaman. Thank goodness, too. Because this is what makes wine so interesting.
And let’s not forget the food factor. What we eat really does affect the taste of what we drink. I usually drink wine with a meal, so food and wine are constant companions. Brighter, fresher tasting wines—like whites and rosé—pair well with lighter fare such as salads or fish. More full bodied, rich wines—like many reds—go well with richer foods like meat. This simple equation is called “complementary pairing,” and it covers most of our wine drinking needs.
Veal Osso Buco with Butter Beans and Gremolata
Photos courtesy of Ed Anderson from
The Covenant Kitchen; Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table
(Schocken Books/OU Press 2015)
Finally, if you think that Cabernet is your “favorite” wine, it’s possible you just haven’t tried enough different red wines. Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir and the many other red varietals found all over the world will open doors to quality drinking that you’ve never imagined. You prefer Chardonnay? That’s OK, too. But start drinking Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Roussanne, Pinot Blanc and a host of other white wines. Rosé is your favorite summertime wine? Great. But remember that not all rosés were created equal. Be selective, and you’ll discover many shades of pink—some better than others.
This is what I call fun! And yes, vintage does matter. But that’s a subject for another blog. Meanwhile, try to embrace all kinds of wine. Avoid taking refuge in familiarity because, indeed, variety is the spice of life.
Vintner Jeff Morgan is the co-owner of Covenant Winery, in California and Israel. He’s also the author of nine books on food and wine and a former wine journalist.