Photo by George Rose
If Chardonnay is the Queen, there’s no doubt who holds the lion’s throne as king of the vinous jungle. From its royal home of Bordeaux to the tawny, leonine summer hillsides of Sonoma County, Cabernet Sauvignon holds court with a regal presence. It is, fittingly, the last variety to ripen. Even in the California sun, its thick skin dark-to-near black, its juice dense with black currant and cassis fruit.
Cabernet, as you might guess, is widely cultivated in Sonoma County. Prime locations include Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Chalk Hill, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Knights Valley. Benchlands and hillside locations give the variety maximum light exposure, which is important to a variety that needs the maximum amount of time to fully mature its fruit. You can identity it by its distinctively five-lobed leaf.
Royal purple is the Cabernet’s color. The wines are made to age, which means that maximum skin extraction during fermentation yields wines that are quite dense and intense when young. They often feature focused violet, blackberry and tobacco essences, while some lean towards the herbal side, with green pepper, green olive, iodine, and menthol attributes. Mountain-grown Cabernets often display firm coffee and chocolate flavors that easily draw us in.
Red meat and game. That’s the short answer for food pairings with Cabernet. Sharp cheddar cheese is another classic match, but you can also enjoy Blue Cheese, Aged Gouda or Dry Jack Cheese. After beef (a big juicy steak is amazing) and venison, think too of grilled ahi tuna or swordfish. They all go well with the King.