The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout

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This year’s Cabernet Shootout panel of judges tasted 217 unique wines from 43 different appellations. Our findings will be challenged in Chicago on September 29th by the Chicago Wine Club

Each wine was tasted a minimum of two times by two different panels consisting of our 26 judges before we selected the wines that moved on to the final round.

Our panel (7 women and 19 men) is comprised of a diverse range of wine industry professionals from varying disciplines including restaurant and retail trade, winemakers, wine writers, wine educators, and consultants.

We’ve detailed our favorites with scores and comments by gender so that you can compare and contrast the wines as seen by our male and female panelists. As is the custom, the female judges scores and comments will be listed first, followed by the men’s assessment of the wines.

Complete results with comments by gender.

The 2010 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. We had many wonderful hosts for the prelims: Russian River Vineyards, Lab Zero, Menlo Circus Club, and our dear friend, Sid Sall opened his home to us.

Now that the finals are completed, 35 of the top rated wines have been invited to face a further challenge.

The wines and our judges are facing a further challenge at Chicago’s Blue Star Wine Bar on September 29th. 35 of the top wines with be tasted blind by the Chicago Wine Club. Members are comprised of the "Wine Curious" and the Wine Educated. This vibrant group is 80,000 members strong. We expect that 200+ members will join us for the Cabernet Shootout Challenge. The Chicago Wine Club will choose their favorites. Let’s see if they agree with our judges. Results will be posted on the Affairs of the Vine website and the Chicago Wine Club website.

About Our Process

Choosing wine to enjoy should not be a nail biting challenge. Our lives are moving way too 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…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. If you don’t enjoy reruns you probably 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 recommends wines that you like. Our judges included wine writer palates and critics that we respect including some in the blogosphere: Steve Heimoff, SteveHeimoff.com; Laura Ness, Appellation America; Thea Dwelle, Luscious Lushes; Jason Mancebo, $20 Dollar Wine Blog; Ellen Landis, Ellen on Wine; Eric Hwang, Bricks of Wine; Steve Paulo, Notes from the Cellar; Fred Swan, Norcal Wine; Larry Chandler, Larry Chandler…Wine, Food & People Pairings; Barbara Drady, Wine Evangelist; and Ray Johnson, Ray Johnson on Wine.

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 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; Larry Chandler, Director of Social Media, eWinery Solutions; Susan Darwin, Wine Consultant, Founder at California Boutique; Debra Del Fiorentino, Consumer Marketing Director Events, Sommelier, CWP; John Drady, Vintner; Thea Dwelle, Luscious Lushes; Chris Greacen, Social Media Professional and Wine Lover, Lab Zero; Steve Heimoff, SteveHeimoff.com; David Heppberger, Wine Consultant, Buyer Menlo Circus Club; Eric Hwang, Bricks of Wine; Ray Johnson, Director of Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State, Ray Johnson on Wine ; Ellen Landis, Ellen on Wine ; Jason Mancebo, $20 Dollar Wine Blog; Cosmin Marinescu, Sommelier, Flyte Wine Bar; Ben Narasin, Wine, Food, Travel & Luxury Lifestyle Writer ; Laura Ness, Appellation America & many other publications; Dave Page, Wine Consultant; Andreas Papaliolios, Wine Buyer Tahoe Yacht Club; Steve Paulo, Notes from the Cellar; Bruce Robinson, Consummate Wine Consumer; Sid Sall, Wine Director, Great Chefs & Wineries of Marin; Eva Swan, Norcal Wine; Fred Swan, Norcal Wine; Edgar  Vogt, Wine Educator at Wine Works; and Walter Vornbrock III, Wine Consultant.

The Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout is an incredibly comprehensive and focused tasting of Cabernet, utilizing a diverse tasting panel comprised of wine industry professionals from varying disciplines including restaurant and retail trade, winemakers, wine writers, wine bloggers, wine educators, and viticulturalists.

Our judges utilize their experience and expertise in tasting and evaluating the wines. We provide them with Aromatic Descriptors for Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc created by Affairs of the Vine and two wonderful new additions to our repertoire provided to us by Walter Vornbrock III. His amazing Aromatic Wine Quadrant and Organoleptic Wine Quadrant are invaluable (Organoleptic refers to sensory properties).

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

• All wines are tasted blind. (How could you ever do it differently?)

• All wines are tasted without reference to producer, appellation or price.

• Each wine is judged and reviewed on its own merit.

• All wines are tasted by at least two tasting panels before the finals.

• A maximum of 32 wines is tasted per day – four flights of eight wines each. We have arrived at this formula and find that in this format, each wine can be tasted with clarity and concentration without palate fatigue.

• The wines are rated using a 100 point scale. Copious notes are required. The notes and the ratings must have continuity or the scores are not recorded.

• Although we would prefer not to use a point system to rate the wines, we have not come up with an alternative method that allows us to select the top wines that are tasted by our final panel and those tasted at the Cabernet Challenge.

• For the Cabernet Sauvignon Shootout Finals, the wines were placed into flights and evaluated by teams of judges over a period of six weeks. The top 64 wines selected were then submitted to two final tasting panels for review. Each panel tasted only 32 wines.

• Top wines selected by our professional judging panel are presented in The Cabernet Challenge, a blind tasting by a group of wine loving consumers to be held in Chicago on September 29th. The wine lovers will select their favorites. Results will be posted on the Affairs of the Vine and Chicago Wine Club websites following the Challenge.

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 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 2010 Cabernet Shootout.

And the winners are...

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