The King is a Savage …

This month’s club release is my 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite its prominence, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a relatively new variety. DNA studies conducted in 1997 at Davis by Carol Meredith concluded that Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which most likely occurred in the 17th century. The name “Sauvignon” is attributed to the French word “Sauvage” which means “savage” or “wild”.

For me the release of my 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a reason to celebrate. It has taken me a lot of effort to get to the point where I can make a Cabernet Sauvignon with distinctive varietal characteristics that doesn’t taste like green bell pepper. Maybe it’s because I am too fussy. After all this is a flavor that naturally evolves in this variety and there are many Cabernet Sauvignons selling for big bucks from some of the “best” appellations that reek of bell pepper. So what’s the big deal? It’s all about my personal preferences.

How does the bell pepper flavor get into the wine? The culprit is a chemical called pyrazine which is created by the plant in the early stages of the development of the fruit. From my flavor chemistry days I remember that pyrazines are a very prolific family of aroma chemicals. While some members of this family may taste herbaceous, grassy and vegetal, others are nutty, chocolaty, caramel-like and even sweet. On the vine when the grapes ripen the pyrazines are transformed into other compounds eliminating the bell pepper flavor. Since Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape variety that ripens late in the season sometimes in cool climates when the weather conditions are not favorable, the season may progress without materially depleting the level of pyrazines. In that case the wine produced will have bell pepper flavors. Strangely enough the same thing happens in very hot climates. The excess heat causes the Cabernet Sauvignon vines to shut down bringing the ripening process to a halt.

You might ask and rightly so, how was I able to make a Cab devoid of any bell pepper flavor in this hot weather region. The answer is first by appropriate clonal selection (using clones that are less prone to generating pyrazines) and second by shading the fruit that gets a high level of sun exposure. After 8 years of trying I think I have arrived. I like the Cab that I made and hope that you will like it too. Cheers!