Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be another day dedicated to the celebration of...well, anything, oenophiles around the country will raise filled-to-the-brim glasses to toast National Cabernet Day on Thursday. While it's easy to dismiss these booze-filled events as just another excuse to tie one on, in truth they're focused just as much on raising awareness and educating wine drinkers as they are about straight-up drinking. And though you may already be a huge fan of cabernet, we'll bet there are a few things you don't know about this hardy variety that's known to many as "The King of Red Wine Grapes." Read on for your official Cabernet Day primer.
Rock Star Following: Cabernet sauvignon reigns one of the world's most popular grapes, showing up as the main variety in some most renowned (read: expensive) wines on the planet. It's one of the most widely planted varieties, too -- particularly in California -- where pricey Napa Valley lays claim to nearly 25 percent of the state's total cab crop.
Family Tree: Despite a long-held belief that cabernet sauvignon was an ancient Roman variety, DNA tests at UC Davis determined the grape actually is a cross between two grapes: cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc. How cool is that? So the next time you sample one of cabernet sauvignon's parents, see if you can't notice some of the similar aromas and flavors they passed down to their offspring (herbal, berry notes from the cab franc; green pepper and grassy elements from the sauvignon).
Bordeaux vs. Meritage: The Bordeaux region of southwestern France is home to the majority of the country's cabernet sauvignon plantings, where the grape is featured in the classic blends widely regarded as some of the best wines in the world. You probably know that Bordeaux blends may legally only contain the following grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. What you may not realize is that not every Bordeaux wine showcases the grape in the same way -- if it's cabernet sauvignon you truly crave, you'll need to stick with what are known as "Left Bank" blends, where it's featured as the predominant variety ("Right Bank" blends tend to lead with merlot). "Meritage" (the word rhymes with heritage) is a term that refers to a similar blend of the same classic French varieties, but produced outside of France. Back in the '80s, a group of California winemakers seeking recognition for their high-quality blended wines staged a contest to come up with a cool name for these Bordeaux-like bottlings -- the winning entry cleverly combined the words "merit" and "heritage."
Now that you've been properly schooled in all things cab, you're ready to celebrate Cabernet Day like a pro. Pop open any of these three juicy bottles and get ready to join the wine-soaked fun:
Chateau Le Pey Médoc 2009 ($20): Think value-priced Bordeaux is an oxymoron? Look no further than this easy-drinking, youthful blend that's just right for late-summer sipping. Full of tangy currant aromas and flavors, it's bone-dry -- so if you tend to enjoy fruitier cabernets, pour this one with a burger to help take the wine's decidedly old world edge off.
Land of Hope Reserve Cabernet-Sauvignon 2010 ($25): If you haven't yet explored the gorgeous wines coming out of South Africa just yet, here's your chance. We loved the mash up of old (lower alcohol, less in-your-face oak) and new world (juicy berry fruit flavors) that we discovered in this elegant wine -- and you will, too.
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Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($16): Fresh, ripe fruit, toasty spice and guzzle-worthy drinkability is what Cali cabs are all about -- and this wine is no exception. You could easily suck down a few glasses of this blackberry and dark cherry-fueled gem all on its own, or pair it with grilled beef tenderloin kebabs and make Cabernet Day extra special.