Cabernet: It’s not just Napa and Bordeaux anymore.
If you’re a typical American wine drinker, cabernet sauvignon is probably the grape you think of when you think red wine. It’s the second most widely-planted grape in the nation, bested only by — you guessed it — chardonnay, that wine more treasured by middle aged women than anything except their first-edition collections of 50 Shades.
But like a good man, a good cabernet can be hard to find. Really hard. And if you’re anything but a professional — or someone with spare money to throw at status symbols — you’re probably not going to fork over a hundred bucks for a bottle of 2012 Stag’s Leap. (If you are reading this and you are someone who loves me: this bottle of wine is a totally appropriate Christmas/birthday/”please marry me” gift. Seriously.)
Most American amateur consumers get stuck in the Kendall Jackson, Central Coast rut, or just go the “fuck it” route and opt for Vendange and the quick, cheap trip to lala land that is the only purpose of $8 magnums. And I’ve been there, guys. I’m not knocking it.
But if you want an interesting cabernet that you can think about, that can still stand up to a piece of red meat, you might want to look a little bit south of Napa.
New World Reds
Cabernet is a thick-skinned grape that can stand up to warmer tempteratures than a softy like pinot noir. With that in mind, this little number out of Mendoza caught my eye while I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe’s. With a price tag of $4.99, it was a bet worth making.
Mendoza is best known for its premium malbecs, and is the leading wine producing region in Argentina. Its vineyards cover 160,000 hectares, making it, arguably, the largest wine region in the world. Although it’s got a warm climate, the region’s situated in the foothills of the Andes, and the snowmelt water and altitude balance the sunshine and promote the growth of quality grapes.
When I opened it up, I noticed the wine was bottled under synthetic cork — a cheap option, but one that doesn’t fail as often as natural cork and is more sustainable to boot. And even though I’m a pretty die-hard screw cap fan, I have to admit, it’s nice to hear that satisfying “pop.” It feels like the beginning of an event — or the end of a day.
I poured a glass and nosed it.
Okay, guys. I’m gonna be honest. This isn’t the $100 bottle of cab I had with dinner that one time I went to Bern’s (and felt completely underdressed and outclassed the entire time even though I was wearing the nicest thing in my closet). This is a $5 bottle of cabernet.
But you know what? It’s cabernet. There’s definitely cassis on this baby, and its presence just grows and grows as it’s sitting in my glass.
The bottle claims it’s aged in oak barrels three months — a little short, but, uh, at least it’s not oak staves.
It’s a bit pale for cabernet, especially if you’ve ever had one of those cabs so rich and dark you swear to god it’s syrup (I’m looking at you, Caymus). And there’s more red fruit than you’d expect overlaying the rich black and blue fruits you can detect lurking underneath.
Here’s the thing, though: This guy fits the basic profile of a cabernet and will stand up to sharp cheddar (which I tried) or piece of steak (which I did not). Plus, it’s beefy on the alcohol (13%), and its aggressive acid and tannins make me think this young’n might even have aging potential. It’s only a ’14, after all.
And it doesn’t finish quick, like you’d expect of a cheapie, but soft and round — all that youthful tannin and acid subsides and lets those fruits come through moment by moment.So if you’re gonna buy cheap wine, skip the jug of sugary, shitty sangria and spend $5 on a wine that actually displays some of its varietal characteristics. La Finca’s a great beginner’s cabernet.