The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout

Click here to see results...

It’s been a long time since there was such a difference is scoring between our male and female judges. It’s not uncommon for the genders to differ on how they perceive and evaluate the aromas and flavors but the scoring is usually fairly consistent. Not this time! For the first time ever, we are listing the wines tasted twice with scores and comments gender so that you can compare and contrast the diversity. As is the custom, the female judges scores and comments will be listed first, followed by the men’s assessment of the wines.

Choosing wine to enjoy should not be a nail biting challenge. Our lives are moving very fast these days and making choices for me seems to be getting harder. There is an abundance of selections in everything. Take television for example. If you have cable or satellite TV, it seems that there are an endless amount of programs to watch - at least until you actually try to choose something to entertain and/or educate you. So much of the programming is repetitive be it the same theme or just a rerun. If you're a football fanatic like my husband, you can watch the NFL network over and over and see the same game 20 times or more but if you think you're more discerning, you tend to trust the recommendations of friends, family or one of the many reviewers in the newspapers, in magazines, on television, or the Internet. So it is with wine.

The power of the press is awesome when it comes to wine and has the biggest impact on Cabernet Sauvignon. I remember when the editor of a major wine publication made a sweeping statement about the 1998 vintages of California wines condemning them to poor quality. Producers had a tough time selling their wines for those vintages so prices were reduced and I had a ball buying up great Cabernets for my cellar...wines that I enjoyed for many years - a few that we're still enjoying. I trusted my own palate, the reviews of some wine writers whose palates are similar to mine and the recommendations of some great wine retailers.

Read reviews but remember it's your palate that counts. Try to find a wine critic who commends wines that you like. Our judges included other wine writer palates that we respect including some in the blogosphere: Michael Cervin; Alan Goldfarb; Rosina Wilson; Nikitas Magel; Scott Clemens; Christian Oggenfuss; Laura Ness; and Liza Zimmerman.

Cabernet Shootout

Don't feel that you have to like the wines that wine critics praise. Don't be intimidated! If a movie reviewer gives 5 stars to a film, do you feel that you're unsophisticated if you don't like it too? Wine is no different. Personal preference is what counts. So drink and enjoy what you like. At Affairs of the Vine we say, "If you like the way it looks and you like the way it smells and you like the way it tastes...it's good wine. So use our recommendations as a guide but you are the authority of what provides "Love at First Sip" for you.

If you see anything in these results which you think is of interest or noteworthy, we would love to hear from you and we will put as many comments up on our website as possible. And remember, trust your own palate. It's the only one that matters.

The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout began with a series of blind tastings over a six week period as the wines were tasted in groups of 32 wines per session. The top wines were then tasted blind to determine the best of the best. The final tasting was held at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Our professional panel brought their experienced palates and love of Cabernet to this task. One thing that all of these wines have in common is balance. It is the quality that we look for when tasting and evaluating wines both for immediate consumption and long term aging. We are delighted to share their observations on these wines. Click here to see results...

The process and manner utilized by Affairs of the Vine for assessing and judging the entries is unique within competitions in that it employed the following procedures:

The tasting panels was comprised of a diverse range of wine industry professionals from varying disciplines including restaurant and retail trade, winemakers, wine writers, wine educators, and viticulturalists.

Rounded up for The Cabernet Shootout Panel were the following professionals: Barbara Drady, Affairs of the Vine, Wine Writer, Educator; Giovanni Balistreri, GM Russian River Vineyards; Michael Cervin, Wine Writer; Scott Clemens, Wine Writer, Epicurean Traveler; Susan Darwin, Wine Consultant; Debra Del Fiorentino, Co-founder/Director Wine Radius, Sommelier, CWP, CSW, Wine Educator, Wine Judge; John Drady, Vintner; Leon Glover, Winemaker, Lionheart Wines; Alan Goldfarb, Wine Writer, Editor: Appellation America; David Heppberger, Wine Consultant, Buyer Menlo Circus Club; Anton Hicks, Owner/Wine Buyer, Nectar Lounge; Shayna Leia, Sommelier; Nikitas Magel, Wine Marketer, Wine Blogger: Vinikitas; Paul Manchester, Wine Distributor; Laura Ness, Wine Marketer, Wine Judge, Wine Judge: Appellation America & many others; Christian Oggenfuss, Principal, Vintuba.com, WSET; Andreas Papaliolios, Consummate Wine Lover; Sid Sall, Wine Director, Great Chefs of Marin; Walter Vornbrock III, Wine Consultant; Rosina Wilson, Sonoma/Marin Correspondent: Appellation America; and Liza Zimmerman, Chief Editor: Cheers Magazine.

  • All wines were tasted blind. (How could you ever do it differently?)
  • All wines were tasted without reference to producer, appellation, vintage or price.
  • Each wine was judged and reviewed on its own merit.
  • The wines were rated using a 100 point scale. The wines were placed into flights and evaluated by a team of judges. The top 64 wines selected by the team of judges were then submitted to our panel for review. Our panel was divided into two teams and each team reviewed only 32 wines.

All wines reviewed indicate a numerical score and are recommended "from the heart" with the additional reference of heart's designating the following:

heartheartheartheart = Love at First Sip
heartheartheart = An Affair to Remember
heartheart = Will Provide Fond Memories

Click here to see results...

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon
(cab-er-nay saw-vin-yawn)

Often called the "King" of red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, is a classic Bordeaux varietal.
A wine labeled Cabernet Sauvignon may be and often is less than 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Although laws are different in different countries, in the United States, a wine must only be 75% varietal in order to be labeled as such. The most common wines blended into Cabernet Sauvignon wines are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot, the other Bordeaux varietals. Syrah and Zinfandel may be part of the final blend. The blending of other varietals can add to the complexity and of the wine.

About 10% of the wines we tasted were Bordeaux blends, where the Cabernet Sauvignon grape represented less than 75% of the final blend. We have identified these wines on our results page.

Cabernet Sauvignon can possess a complex and impressive structure, displaying aromas and flavors of black currant, cassis, black cherry and plum, with chocolate, cedar and smoky nuances. Some bell pepper or weediness can also be evident. Climates and vintages that are either too cool or too warm, rich soils, too little sun, harvesting too early may lead to more vegetal characters with less fruity character in the wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon on good quality has a liveliness and richness on the palate but usually finishes with firm tannins on a youthful wine and softer rounder tannins on an older wine. Some astringency on the finish is totally acceptable.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in renowned wine regions throughout the world including California, France, Washington, Italy, Australia, Argentina, and Chile. The best growing areas for Cabernet Sauvignon are moderately warm, semi-arid regions with a long growing season, on well-drained, not-too-fertile soils.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a candidate for aging, often improving, sometimes into a truly great wine. With age, the distinctive black currant aromas can develop nuances of cedar, violets, leather, or cigar box and the tannic edge often associated with young Cabernets may soften and round out. Because these wines can age gracefully over 5-10 years, letting their flavors to mellow, Cabernet Sauvignons are ideal candidates for blending with other grapes, primarily Merlot. This blending softens the Cabernet, adding appealing fruit tones, without sacrificing its innate character.

Typical fruit aromas and flavors found in Cabernet Sauvignon include black currant, blackberry, cherry, plum, and black cherry. Oak accent are displayed as vanilla, coconut, sweet wood, smoke, toast, nuttiness, and tar. Herbal notes include bell pepper, eucalyptus, menthol, asparagus, tobacco, tea, and green olive. Spices often recognized are oregano, tarragon, ginger, green peppercorns and anise. Bottle age may show as cedar, cigar box, mushroom, earth, and leather.

Good examples of Cabernet can be medium-bodied to full-bodied, with high tannins which provide structure and often intrigue while delivering a rich, ripe berry, tobacco and sometimes green pepper flavor.
A full-bodied wine, Cabernet is well-suited to hearty and rich cuisine, and pairs well with beef, lamb, goose, venison, hearty stews, pastas with red sauce, pates, and bittersweet chocolate. Be careful with spicy foods as heat in the food tends to accentuate oak and alcohol in the wine.

Cabernet Franc
(cab-er-nay frawnk)

Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other is Sauvignon Blanc).

Cabernet Franc is lighter in color and tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavor wise, Cabernet Franc is usually fruitier and occasionally shows more  herbal or vegetal characteristics  than Cabernet Sauvignon. Aromas can be somewhat spicy and the scent of violets is generally present in a well made Cab Franc.

For ultimate enjoyment, serve your Cabernet Sauvignon or other Bordeaux blends at approximately 65° F. If your wine is stored at 70-72°F, put the wine in the refrigerator for approximately 40 minutes. If the bottle is stored at 80°F, add 30 minutes to the chilling time.

Good news about Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered in a recent study carried out by scientists at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. They found that drinking Cabernet Sauvignon red wine moderately cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. In case you needed another reason to enjoy Cabernet.

Fortunately for wine lovers, the choices of good Cabernet Sauvignon continue to grow as indicated by the confirmed old favorites as well as the rising stars reviewed in the 2009 Cabernet Shootout.

And the winners are...

Check out the "Bang for Your Buck Cabernet Sauvignons". Wines which were awarded heartheartheart or more hearts and selling for under $18.