Between the Vines is a biweekly column on wine and winemaking in the Livermore Valley region. Content for this edition was contributed by members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.
Each month, Livermore Valley wine country highlights a grape varietal grown in our region. August's featured varietal is cabernet sauvignon, the bestselling red in the United States and number two in California acreage. With thick grape skins and hardy vines, cabernet sauvignon is very popular among growers.
"Cabernet sauvignon is the king of grapes!" says Heather McGrail, of McGrail Vineyards and Winery. "We chose to grow cabernet because of the climate, soil, elevation, and award-winning history in the Livermore Valley. After growing the grapes for five years, we decided to produce the wine as well."
"Livermore Valley is special because we're the first to get the warm weather and the last to get the wind from the bay, agrees Julio Covarrubias, owner of Casa de Viñas vineyard. "We produce cabernet sauvignon grapes that are big but not too big and well-balanced with flavors of coffee and German chocolate."
"More than other varietals, cabernet sauvignon grapes have bold flavors that take personality from our region," says Dick Bartlett, of Charles R Vineyards. "We count on Julio's cabernet sauvignon grapes to be packed with enormous flavors and character, which gives the winemaker many creative opportunities to produce a unique and distinctive wine."
Livermore Valley's own Concannon Vineyard introduced Concannon cabernet sauvignon clones seven, eight and 11, which provided the backbone of Napa Valley's cabernet sauvignon resurgence in the 1970s and '80s. Concannon will join wineries around the world Aug. 29 to celebrate Cabernet Day with special tastings, discounts and a "Cabernet is King" barbecue dinner with wine pairings.
When tasting cabernet, "look for flavors of cassis, black cherry, black tea, anise and the winemaker's choice of the type and amount of new oak, says fifth-generation winemaker Karl Wente, of Wente Vineyards.
"More important than the flavor is the mouthfeel. It can be huge and gripping or lean and silky, but cabernet is almost never without structure that gives the drinker something to hold on to in the mouth."
Livermore Valley winemakers agree that beef is best when it comes to pairing, but Cabernet can enhance other "big" foods, especially dark chocolate.
"I like to pair cabernet sauvignon with grilled steak and other red meats such as hearty beef stew or pot roast. It seems to go especially well if you add a rich dark sauce, like a mushroom or peppercorn sauce," says winemaker Rhonda Wood, of Wood Family Vineyards.
"Livermore Valley Cabernets tend to have a peppery characteristic with dark, rich fruit flavors with softer tannins, says Lindsey Roffey, of Rodrigue Molyneaux. "Our cabs pair incredibly well with food, so having a second glass is never hard to do!"
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