Cabernet Sauvignon

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Bordeaux Wine Rules
In general, Bordeaux’s regional wine rules dictate what grape varieties may be grown where and how (no irrigation, all AOC wines are dry farmed) and to what levels of alcohol a wine may be made (14% is the max). If one doesn’t want to play by the designated wine rules, they cannot enjoy all of the perks and privileges that go along with AOC labels and must be relegated to the simple status of “table wine.” Chardonnay, for example, while known, grown and revered in Burgundy is not allowed in the AOC regions of Bordeaux. If someone has a particular passion for the Chardonnay grape and desires to experiment with it in Bordeaux, by all means. However, it will only be eligible for “table wine” label designations, regardless of quality, consistency or other indicators. If it’s any consolation France also enforces AOC regulations on potatoes, butter and cheese, so it’s not just wine that has to suffer through strict adherence to complex classifications.

Bordeaux Wine Classifications: Grapes vs. Place
The wines of Bordeaux are not labeled and sold by varietal but by terroir. To the Bordelais knowing where the grapes were grown is more important than knowing what grapes were grown. Case in point, the terms “left bank” and “right bank” are used liberally to refer to which side of the river, Gironde, and its tributaries the Garonne and Dordogne, the grapes are grown.

With Merlot being the most widely planted red grape in Bordeaux, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and rounded out with Cabernet Franc, grape-growing villages located on the right bank have historically made wines dominated with Merlot. These right bank wines enjoy plenty of support from Cab Franc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon also making its way into certain blends. The story on the left bank plays the opposite tune. The Bordeaux wines sourced from the left bank tend to star Cabernet Sauvignon in the starting lineup with Merlot and Cab Franc rounding out the second string.

While it would be nice and easy to box up the right bank as “Merlot” and left bank as “Cab,” Bordeaux is always a blend and delicious exceptions abound on both banks. To add to the intimidation factor, Bordeaux’s wines are subject to a cumbersome classification system. Originally intended to delineate the best Bordeaux for the 1855 International Exposition in Paris, Napoleon III asked brokers to pick the top Medoc wines to showcase at the fair. These wines were categorized by quality and price from 61 chateaus (60 from the Medoc, and Chateau Haut-Brion from Graves) and today the classification still stands, but in the company of several other regionally-driven classification systems

Navigating Bordeaux’s Wine Classification System
Bordeaux’s glamorous wine reputation took extensive root with the Classification of 1855 and has reached forward to enjoy an exceptional modern-day following based on winemaking techniques that have revolutionized with the times and terroir that has stood the test of time. Bordeaux’s stature has been built on the famous names of Margaux, Latour, Lafite-Rothschild, Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild, these high-end, heavy-hitting wines referred to as First Growths have maintained a high-dollar, high-profile following for decades. However, these First Growths only represent a tiny fraction of the wine produced and enjoyed from Bordeaux. Though the prestigious First Growths sell in the $1000+ per bottle range, the majority of Bordeaux’s wine offerings sell for considerably less, in the $10-30 tier, with affordable options available worldwide.

The Hierarchy of Bordeaux Wines

The 1855 Classification
This classification spotlights the 61 top chateaus in the Medoc (left bank) region of Bordeaux, and is also referred to as the Grand Cru ClassĂ©. The Classification of 1855 begins with the First Growths, labeled “Premier Cru,” and represents the crème de la crème in French red wines. The five chateaus that make up the Premier Cru, are still revered as producers of the best of the best from Bordeaux, as classified in 1855 for the Paris Universal Exhibition. There are five First Growths and they include the estates of Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Haut-Brion and more recently (1973) Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

The Medoc Classification of 1855 included rankings for the top five First Growths (Premier Cru), the next best 14 estates classified as Second Growths (Deuxiemes Crus), followed by the Third Growths (Troisiemes Crus) with another 14 chateaus weighing in, then the Fourth Growths (Quatriemes Crus) hosting 10 chateaus and finally the Fifth Growths (Cinquemes Crus) with 18 estates making the cut. The Medoc AOCs of Pauillac, Margaux, Pessac-Leognan, St. Julien, St. Estephe and Haut-Medoc are all represented by these Grand Cru Classé chateaus.

The Graves Classification
This wine classification system was initiated in 1953, revised in 1959, and spotlights 16 chateaus for their acclaimed reds and remarkable white wines.

The Saint-Emilion Classification
The Saint-Emilion Classification covers two AOC classifications, one for Saint-Emilion and the other for Saint-Emilion Grand Cru (which has been subdivided further into The Grand Cru Classe and Premier Grand Cru Classé). These classifications began in the 1950s and the chateaus are reviewed every decade.

Cru Bourgeois Classification
While the Bordeaux wine classification systems can get pretty complicated at first glance, they start to spiral into some semblance of sanity with the Cru Bourgeois Classification, a single-tier classification.

This classification picks up many of the Left Bank reds that didn’t make it into the 1855 Classification of Grand Cru ClassĂ©s, highlighting estates that have a solid track record of quality production.

Specific Appellations of Bordeaux
These are unclassified Bordeaux reds from a specific appellation. On the label, you will see appellations simply designated as “Medoc,” “Cotes de Blaye” or “Fronsac.” These wines are typically a good bet for solid, value-driven Bordeaux.

Wines Designated as “Bordeaux” and “Bordeaux SupĂ©rieur”
Bordeaux and Bordeaux SupĂ©rieur are the generic wines of Bordeaux and make up about 50% of the wines from the region. These wines may source grapes from all over the region and usually sell in the value wine category, with Bordeaux SupĂ©rieur priced on the higher end due to grapes sourced from older, more mature vines. The label designate will simply read, “Appellation Bordeaux Controlee.” Perhaps the most well-known example is Mouton Cadet, a very drinkable bargain Bordeaux typically selling around $8 a bottle.

The District of Pomerol
Like a breath of fresh air, the Bordeaux district of Pomerol has avoided the complicated classification process. Wine labels will simply indicate “Appellation Pomerol ControlĂ©e.” Merlot serves as the region’s dominate grape varietal, producing wines with softer tannins, more forward fruit and ready to enjoy earlier than their Cab cousins. Pomerol is Bordeaux’s smallest wine growing region, with production just over 5 million bottles. The most famous resident of Pomerol is Chateau Petrus, the celebrated maker of one of Bordeaux’s most expensive red wines.

Source: TheSpruce.com

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Famous Vineyards of Napa organized by AVA

Where to Find the Best Cabernet Sauvignon Wines in Napa:
There really isn’t a single best spot in Napa for Cabernet Sauvignon, because it’s a matter of taste. That said, we’ve observed two distinct styles of Napa Cab based on where they grow. Each have their own style and unique features so it’s ultimately up to you to decide.

Napa Valley Floor Wines Lush and refined…
Flavors: Blueberry, Ripe Plum, Black Cherry, Licorice, Mocha, and Violet (or mint). Usually, well-rounded with more refined flavor profiles along with fine integrated tannins.

Features: If you’re into lush, bold, and opulent Cabernet wines with a dominance of fruit (vs. other) flavors then the Napa Valley AVAs are likely to make you very happy. These wines show marvelously in their first decade and then, if you’re lucky, hit another sweet spot at around 15 or so years of age. If you follow ratings, the valley Cabs are generally well-loved by the critics too and garner the highest ratings.

Napa Hillside Wines Dusty and bold…
Flavors: Black Currant, Black Cherry, Wild Berry, Spicebox, Anise, Espresso, Cedar, and Sage. Wines have more rustic flavor profiles with heightened minerality and earthiness, supported by firm tannins.

Features: If you’re into bold, smoky, and mineral driven Cabernet wines with good structure (AKA tannins) then the hillside AVAs of Napa are likely to make you very happy. The more variable temperatures on the hills produce smaller berries which in turn add additional color and tannin to the wines. These wines generally take longer to come around due to the higher tannin (maybe 5–10 years) but when they do, they become more lithe and supple.

If you’re interested in knowing more, here is a list of some of the most prominent vineyards of Napa. You’ll see a prevalence in Oakville, but due to climate change, we’ll expect to see some up-and-coming regions (like Coombsville and Wild Horse Valley) produce the future of quality in Napa.

Coombsville
Kenzo Estate Vineyards, Coombsville / Wild Horse Valley (producers: Kenzo Estate)

Atlas Peak
Stagecoach Vineyard (producers: Arrow & Branch, Arkenstone, Caine, Miner, Chappellet, Paul Hobbs, MacLaren)
Pahlmeyer Estate Vineyard (Atlas Peak area) (producers: Pahlmeyer)

Oakville
Beckstoffer To Kalon (producers: Schrader, etc)
Harlan Estate (producers: Harlan)
Screaming Eagle (producers: Screaming Eagle)
Showket (producers: Peter Michael, Showket, Bevan )
Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Oakville (producers: Heitz)
Beckstoffer Missouri-Hopper (producers: Alpha Omega, Bacio Divino, Bure Family, Morlet, Hess Collection, Venge Family)
Dalla Valle (Eastern side of Oakville) (producers: Dalla Valle)

Rutherford
Staglin Vineyards (producers: Staglin Family Vineyard)
Beckstoffer Georges III (producers: Bell Cellars, Bryter Estates, Hunnicutt, Keating, Schrader)

Stag’s Leap District
Fay Vineyard (producers: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars)

Saint Helena
Spottswoode (producers: Spottswoode)
Capella S (producers: Abreu)
Madrona Ranch (producers: Abreu)
Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyards (producers: Alpha Omega, Realm, B. Cellars, Myriad, Arrow & Branch)
Chappellet (in Prichard Hill Area) (producers: Chappellet)
Bryant Family (in Prichard Hill Area) (producers: Bryant Family)

Calistoga
Eisele Vineyard (producers: Araujo)

Howell Mountain
Thorevilos Vineyards Between Saint Helena and Howell Mountain (producers: Abreu)
Herb Lamb Vineyards Between Saint Helena and Howell Mountain (producers: Colgin, Herb Lamb, Turley, Trujillo)
Beatty Ranch Vineyards (producers: Vie Winery, Far Niente, Howell Mountain Vineyards)

Spring Mountain District
Cain Vineyard (producers: Cain Five)

Diamond Mountain District
Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill (producers: Diamond Creek)

Source: Wine Folly

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