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Cab It Up

Searching for the sweet spot in recent Cabernet Sauvignon releases



I will venture at least one bold prediction for 2016: Cabernet Sauvignon will continue to be America's top-selling red wine. Check in, come January 2017, and tell me it isn't so.

There will be other contenders for the title of Next Big Wine of the Wine World, as surely as there will be a pooh-poohing chorus of subsequent press to explain their failure: "They're only really good in their home region in Europe, after all, and besides, their names are just too hard for everyday wine drinkers to pronounce—as compared to, say, Cabernet Sauvignon."

It's hard to say what it is that boosts the Beringer 2012 Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($165) above its neighbors in this lineup. It isn't the price, although the tasting was not blind, I had a misremembered and wildly inaccurate, lower figure in my head for this wine. An inky, purple specimen, nearly smoking with singed oak and charcoal aromas, sweetened with maple syrup and bourbon overtones, the Private Reserve at first only offers fruit aromas of charred fruit. Thick tannins drag across the palate like a cat's tongue. But intense extract of blackcurrant and blackberry fruit win out through the roundly puckery finish in the end—this wine's just got the stuffing.

Shy and restrained in the aroma department, the Francis Ford Coppola 2013 Director's Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) is a party wine on the palate. Sweet, purple grape and blackberry juice integrate nicely, for the price, with char and modest tannins.

Recognizing that most Cabs in this price range are cellared in the trunk of the car for as long as it takes to get home from the store, the Martin Ray 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) is bottled with a super-helpful screw cap. Grapey and savory notes, with an animal-hide facet, evolve after a day or so, and when the backend heat subsides, until it's a stewed-plum pleasure.

Telling about the 14 months it spent in French and American oak in the aroma language of French roast coffee and oily oak smoke, the Alexander Valley Vineyards 2013 Estate Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($23) delivers clearly defined blackberry juice flavor and cassis liqueur intensity on the palate, capped, like an unexpectedly sumptuous dinner for a very modest tab, with a chocolate mint.

Delivering a near anesthetic dose of tongue-numbing tannin, the Murphy-Goode 2012 Poker Knight Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) may call some big Cab drinkers' bluff; I like the 2012 Terra a Lago Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) for its prettier smack of dried black cherry.

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