On a recent chilly night, I enjoyed the company of good friends and two iconic wines: Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from Chile and Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville 2014 from California. Same grape and same vintage, but these elegant red wines from different continents were dramatically different in style. Of course, being a certified wine geek, I seized this moment to give my very patient friends a short talk on Cabernet Sauvignon. (Wine Rule: She who brings the fine wine gets to deliver a lecture!)
image courtesy of Don Melchor
Cabernet Sauvignon may trace its heritage back to France but this adaptable red grape is planted in vineyards around the globe. A natural crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon produces full-bodied red wines that are rich in color and flavor. Its excellent acidity and firm tannins also make Cabernet Sauvignon perfect for aging. A staple on any wine list, Cabernet Sauvignon is a crowd pleaser and although there are some common traits, the flavor profile can vary widely depending on the region and winemaking technique. Cabernet Sauvignon's versatility was perfectly expressed in both Don Melchor and Robert Mondavi.
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($125)
Puente Alto Vineyard, Maipo Valley, Chile
Considered one of Chile's iconic wines, Don Melchor is an outstanding example of Cabernet Sauvignon's capacity to express power and nuance. "A sense of place" is a common wine descriptor and although I've never been there, Don Melchor transported me to its Puento Alto (High Bridge) vineyard on the north bank of the Maipo River, at the foot of the Andes Mountains. Planted with vines imported from France, Puente Alto is grouped into seven blocks that are further divided into 142 parcels -- each parcel offers a unique expression that varies from year to year. Winemaker Enrique Tirado says that "Don Melchor is not a single Cabernet Sauvignon, but multiple expressions." That multiplicity is detected in the glass - Don Melchor is fruity and earthy, powerful and nimble. Its rich red fruit flavors are beautifully accentuated by hints of tobacco, earth, graphite, and cocoa floating ethereally on a pillow of velvety tannins. A relative newcomer to the wine scene, the first vintage of Don Melchor was released in 1987 but it has made an astounding nine appearances on Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 list, including this superb 2014 vintage (96 points) on the 2017 list.
Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($62.50)
Oakville, Napa Valley, California
In any game of word association, Napa Valley leads to Cabernet Sauvignon which leads to Robert Mondavi. When he founded his eponymous winery in 1966, Mondavi didn't just take California winemaking to the next level, he elevated the reputation of American wines around the world. Mondavi passed away in 2008 but the winery remains committed to crafting wines that truly express Napa. Geneviève Janssens, Director of Winemaking, says "It is an honor to work in Oakville for the winery that really put this appellation on the map. Since the moment Robert Mondavi chose Oakville for his vineyards and winery, his vision of gracious living and world-class winemaking has extended all the way down into the soils." And what soils they are - Mondavi described his celebrated To Kalon Vineyard as possessing "ideal soils, sunlight, and rain" -- essentials for growing quality grapes.
Mondavi's To Kalon Vineyard was originally planted in 1868 and was named Vineyard of the Year by the California State Farm Bureau. To Kalon means "the highest beauty" in ancient Greek.
image courtesy of Robert Mondavi Winery
If someone asked me to recommend a classic bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, I would not hesitate to suggest this bottle of Mondavi. A wine that elegantly demonstrates the union between fruit and oak, its intense dark fruit flavors are heightened by spicy hints of vanilla, coffee, and nutmeg that were integrated into the wine via meticulous barrel aging. Not shying away from its power but still silky and seductive, this superb wine is unabashedly and quintessentially Napa.
Are you ready to embark on your own Cabernet Sauvignon tasting journey? I recognize that both Don Melchor and Robert Mondavi Oakville are on the pricier side (and worth every penny). However, both producers have less expensive wines in their portfolios and you can conduct this side-by-side tasting with an endless selection of wines from around the globe. Go ahead - geek out, drink, and be merry!