Deconstructing Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon

By all rights, Cabernet Sauvignon probably shouldn’t exist. Every time cross-pollination happens (in this particular case it was Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc), the DNA gets twisted around in a plethora of different sequences. Basically, a Cabernet Franc vine happened to be planted near a Sauvignon Blanc vine. The wind carried pollen from one vine onto the budding flowers of the other, and the result was a vine full of berries, each with its own particular genetic structure showing dominant or recessive characteristics of each parent. Of course, we need our hero, Cabernet Sauvignon, to survive so we can go on singing its praises today, so what happened? Most likely, a bird flew by and from the hundreds of grapes available, chose to eat the magic Cabernet Sauvignon berry. He pooped out the seeds, a brand new vine grew, a farmer made wine from those grapes and thought it was tasty… and the rest is history! (Makes you wonder what other genetic sequences were possible, doesn’t it?) Fate? Coincidence? Blessing from the gods? Yep.

Climate is one of the biggest factors in how any wine tastes. If you’re drinking Cabernet from a warm climate like Napa or Australia, you’re going to get oodles of juicy, ripe fruit on the nose and palate. If you’re drinking one from a cooler climate like Chile or maybe Bordeaux, you’ll notice many other things that aren’t fruit—things like graphite, pencil shavings, or green bell pepper. The truth is that Cab is a thick-skinned son of a gun who likes to take its sweet time ripening. The shorter the growing season is and the less warmth and sun it gets, the less time it has to develop those luscious fruit flavors and aromas we’ve come to expect out of a lot of New World Cabs. Using the following three wines, you’ll get an idea of how the climate factor plays into how the wine tastes. Let the games begin!

img_3885Wine #1: Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon—Napa Valley, California

SIGHT: This New World classic has a vibrant, deep ruby color; and if you look closely, the rim will have a youthful purplish hue to it. If you compare the color here to your other two wines, wines 2 and 3 seem almost dull in comparison. A swirl of the glass will show a few thick, stained legs dripping down the side of your glass.

SMELL: Get out your spice rack and fruit basket! This juicy Cab is packed to the max with candied cherry, plum, black cherry, and a slightly raisinated grapey aroma. Check your spices to see if you find notes of allspice, fennel, tarragon leaf, clove, or caraway seed as well. And is it just me, or does anyone else get a familiar whiff of Perkins’ blueberry pancake syrup…?

TASTE: Flavors of sweet red and black fruits dominate here, along with a hint of tart cranberry concentrate.  The structure of a wine is divided up into the following components: body (how thick or thin a wine feels on your tongue), tannin (the drying feeling present on your tongue, cheeks and gums), acidity (presents itself as tartness, a mouthwatering sensation, or sometimes a grippiness in your gums), and alcohol (usually a warming sensation in the back of your throat after you swallow). In this wine, we find a medium-full body, medium acidity, medium full alcohol, and probably only medium/medium-full tannins that seem to melt away pretty quickly.

Owing to the huge presence of ripe fruit notes and a nice big, round mouthfeel, we can safely say this Cabernet is a perfect example of a New World style coming from a warm climate. Old Man Mondavi would be proud!

img_3887Wine #2: Boschkloof Cabernet Sauvignon—Stellenbosch, South Africa

SIGHT: As noted before, this wine’s color is a bit more muted and red-toned than our Mondavi was. This could be classified as having a deep ruby color with more of a garnet tinge at the rim. There’s still a fair bit of staining on the glass when you swirl it, but not quite as pronounced as the Mondavi.

SMELL: This is a great wine to contrast against our first one! There are definitely still notes of black cherry and cassis, but see if you can pick out those non-fruit aromas of smoked meat, charcoal, old cracked leather, tar, black pepper, nutmeg, and eucalyptus. I even checked my dirtiest pair of socks in my laundry basket, and yep—smells familiar! (In the best way possible, of course…)

TASTE: Many of our aromas carry through to the palate, including that beautiful charred meat quality and some dark berry hints—maybe blackberry or bramble. A smoky note in the background adds further complexity, with a gentle mineral element providing lift on the finish. We’ll say that this wine has a medium body—a little lighter than the Mondavi—but firmer, stronger tannins and higher acidity. Whereas the Mondavi sits heavy on your tongue after you swallow, the Boschkloof clears out pretty quickly. The fruit quality is still ripe, but it’s definitely less sweet than the Mondavi. A sharp baking spice note comes through on the finish.

Stellenbosch is the Bordeaux of South Africa. This highly revered mountainous region just off of False Bay gets cooling breezes and plenty of sunshine to grow ripe yet balanced Cabernet. Although still hefty at 14.5% alcohol, the higher acidity present in this Cab makes it a little more balanced than the Mondavi. South Africa is also known for a particular shrubby, scraggly bush called fynbos, which, some may say, adds a peculiar herbal quality that only South African wines seem to have.

img_3884Wine #3: Chateau La Croix St Estephe—Bordeaux, France

SIGHT: This wine has a deep ruby color to it—almost black—but the rim fades to that same soft garnet shade that we saw in the last wine. The legs carry much less staining with them compared to the first two wines—a huge hint to where this wine comes from!

SMELL: If the first thing you smell is fruit in this wine, you’ve most likely switched it up with the Mondavi! This is a perfect wine to explain what secondary aromas are: basically, they’re everything you smell other than fruit. Savory elements of cured meat, cedar and maybe some tarragon and fennel peek shyly out of the glass: this is a pretty closed-up wine that doesn’t announce its presence like the others do. You could also catch some floral notes floating around; perhaps some dried violet or rose petals.

TASTE: We’ve found the fruit! It’s there on the palate, hiding behind all those secondary aromas. Just-barely-ripe notes of blackberry and black cherry come through on your tongue, framed by a slight savory meatiness and a delicate herbal quality. This wine has firm tannins that linger through to the finish and a slightly fuller-than-normal body, probably due to some significant barrel aging. It has medium acidity and medium alcohol, ringing in at only 13% ABV. The absence of staining on the glass is a clue to the fact that this wine came from a cooler climate than Napa or South Africa. This hinders the grape skins from developing deeper flavor and color compounds than they would in warmer climates.

This wine is built for the long haul! If you’re willing to wait another 3-5 years (or more), those baby-fat tannins will soften and more secondary and even tertiary aromas (“aged” aromas) will blossom. This is a fantastic example of well-made Bordeaux that won’t leave a gaping hole in your pocketbook. It’s also the only one of our group that isn’t a straight Cabernet: the complete blend is 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 17% Cabernet Franc. Seeing as all three grapes come from the same genetic family (the “Carmenet” ampelographic group), it’s pretty natural that they fit so well together in blends.

If you’ve made it all the way through, you definitely deserve (another) glass of wine—or maybe a beer, at this point. We’ll keep discussing the structural components of wine, which is one of the most important things to be able to talk about when describing what you like (or don’t like) in wine. At the very least, hopefully you’ve discovered how variable even a world-famous grape like Cabernet can be. Three cheers for The Grape That Shouldn’t Have Been: Cabernet Sauvignon!

Deconstructing Wine, Vol. 2

Rule #1: There are no rules.

By this I mean, there are absolutely no set standards for what you “should” be smelling or tasting in a wine. If you smell rose petals but your friend thinks you’re crazy because clearly it’s tomato leaf, you’re both right. Is it cherry or strawberry in that Pinot Noir? The answer is: yes.

Sure, there’s a lot of science behind what goes into wine, but part of what makes wine so fun is that it allows for a very subjective, personal experience. Because none of us have the same set of smell and taste memories, none of us will come at a wine in exactly the same way. If you have a group of people you taste wine regularly with, it’s natural that your palates will calibrate and you’ll be able to use similar descriptors. But nothing can take away from your personal experience with the wine. You’ve got one perspective to work with, and it’s a valuable one.

The easiest way to get into describing wine is to connect what’s in your glass to tangible things in your world: the things you eat and cook with, the smells you encounter everyday, and all those little sensory details you normally don’t give much thought to are all essential parts of your personal memory bank. If you go into describing your Cabernet saying, “It smells like wine,” well… you’re not wrong, but now it’s time to go beyond that initial impression and see how many layers you can uncover. See if you can get any of the vanillin aromas that come when you bake cookies. Is there any smokiness that’s reminiscent of the bonfire you had last weekend? Is that lemony scent closer to the fresh lemon you sliced up for your ice water, or to the Mr. Clean dish soap you use? These are the questions that will heighten your sensory awareness, and make your normal glass of wine much more interesting than you ever gave it credit for.

That being said, we need to train your schnozz! This is where your spice rack will come in handy—you’ll definitely need that available for every wine you deconstruct. When you’re first starting out, you’ll literally have to methodically go through each spice you have (even the ones that don’t make any sense), giving each one a sniff and then going to your wine to see if that smell is also in your glass. Sounds tedious, but it won’t take long for your brain to recognize the aromas outright instead of having to be reminded by the real thing.

And since there are more than just spices in a wine, you’ll also benefit from having a few fresh fruits and veggies on hand. Blueberries, blackberries, cherries, apples, pears, citrus fruits, as well as any kind of jams, preserves or fruit juices will be very helpful in getting to know your wine. (And as I type this, I’m realizing that I can knock out two potential New Years’ Resolutions with one stone: eat healthier, and learn wine! Hmmm…)

But why stop there? Everything in your personal environment, from your dirty laundry to your wet dog to your old baseball glove, is important sensory information. If something in your wine reminds you of a specific smell or flavor, go dig it out and see if you’re right!

Finally, there are many of us that have particular affinities or aversions towards certain fruits, spices, aromas or flavors that are completely unrelated to the wine in front of you. For the sake of education and expanding your horizons, it’s best if you can forget the fact that you loathe blueberries or detest the smell of fennel for the time being. Go in with a blank slate, and take the wine as it is. After you’ve learned all about it, then you can decide whether you like it or not.

On to the star of this particular show: Cabernet Sauvignon is the first grape that we’ll dig into. By the end of this session, you’ll know the grape inside out, understand its unique qualities, and realize that it’s more than just a big, boozy red (which, don’t get me wrong, it very often is). But did you know that Cab Sauv is actually a fairly new grape in the history of winemaking? Most accounts say that winemakers in Bordeaux only started planting it regularly by the late 18th century… only a few decades before it made its debut in California! So what’s the real story behind this rock star grape? Read on, and use your nose and tongue to find out for yourself.


Deconstructing Wine, Vol. 1

“I don’t know anything about wine—I just know what I like.”

Anyone that hasn’t been frustrated, intimidated, or confused by the world of wine at some point… probably only drinks beer.

When I first got into wine, I had no idea what it was that I enjoyed about it. The only words in my vocabulary were “red” and “dry.” In fact, the only reason I got my first wine job was that my answer to the interview question, “What’s your favorite wine?” was “Malbec.” (As opposed to the more common answer, “Moscato.”)

The first few weeks of that job went fine… until I learned from Wine For Dummies that Malbec was a specific kind of grape—not a “style” of wine that anyone could make from generic red grapes picked up at Cub Foods.

It was at that moment that I knew I’d gotten in way over my head.

Times have changed and I know a few more grape names now, but a few questions have stuck with me from the very beginning: Why do I like certain wines and not others? What makes a certain variety of wine taste like it does? And most importantly, how do I talk about wine?

Do those hoity-toity wine critics seriously detect notes of “delicately spiced orange blossom” or “medium-rare steak over a charcoal flame” in their glass? And I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I want to discover “sweaty saddle leather” in my glass of Syrah. Every person has their own personal memory bank of aromas and flavors stored up, but translating those memories to a glass of wine can be tough.

It takes time, patience, practice, and effort, but it gets easier. How deep you get into your glass of wine is totally up to you, but being able to understand a little about what you’re drinking and why you like/dislike it takes a lot of anxiety out of wine buying, whether you’re faced with 30 glass pours on a restaurant wine list, or 3,000 bottles at your local wine shop.

Wine isn’t meant to be stressful. A little knowledge can go a long way. With the right set of vocabulary and a solid framework in which to better understand major types of wine, it all becomes insanely fun.

This series of “Deconstructing Wine” will give you tools, language, and practical advice to help you take the mystery and the awkward guesswork out of wine. We’ll cover major types of wine, including what makes them unique and why they’re important. Hopefully, you’ll be able to discover how your personal palate works and make sense of what you like and why. And the best part? The homework requires popping bottles.

Stay tuned for the first edition of “Deconstructing Wine,” featuring one of the world’s most noble and revered grapes!

Tasting Bars: August 26-27, 2016

WINE BAR: This weekend we welcome Bourget Imports! Check out this stellar lineup from 4-7 p.m. on Friday and 1-6 p.m. on Saturday.


The Neds Sauvignon Blanc

Lagar de Cervera Albarino

Morgan Highland Chardonnay

Couly-Doutheil Rose

The Neds Pinot Noir

Rin du Bois Gamay

La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi

Ar Pepe Rosso Valtellina 

BEER BAR: Come check out Boom Island Brewery and Bauhaus Brew Labs this weekend on the tasting bar!

Boom Island Brewery Tasting: Friday, August 26, 4-6:30 p.m.

We have Minneapolis based Boom Island Brewery pouring their great Belgium-style beers. Kevin and his crew make authentic style beers using yeast strains he brought back from the Belgium breweries. Boom Island was the 1st brewery in the Twin Cities to completely be dedicated to the Belgium-style, and with one sip of his tasty beers, you’ll know he’s done a beautiful job recreating the classics right here in Minnesota.

Bauhaus Brew Labs Tasting: Saturday, August 27, 3-6 p.m.

We welcome back Jake from BauHaus Brew Labs back to the store this Saturday. We’ve been selling tons of their stuff from day one and if you haven’t tried them yet, here’s your chance. You won’t be disappointed. As a Bonus–All the 6pks will be on sale for $7.99. Plus we’ll have the new Schwandtoberfest 4pk to taste.

LIQUOR BAR: This weekend we welcome El Nivel Tequila! Stop by from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday and check out their wares.

Come in to meet the owner of El Nivel Tequila, who lives locally here in the Twin Cities! This family owned distillery makes 100% organic tequila in hand-blown bottles and sealed by hand with care. This creamy citrus forward tequila stands head and shoulders above the rest. Don’t miss out!

Tasting Bars: August 19-20, 2016

WINE BAR: This weekend we welcome Rootstock Wine Company! Check out this stellar lineup from 4-7 p.m. on Friday and 1-6 p.m. on Saturday.

Larrua Rueda

Domaine de Feuillard St.-Veran

Pfluger Dry Riesling

Domaine Turenne “Camille” Rose

Camina Tempranillo

Terriere Beaujolais-Villages

Chateau de Viella Madiran

Alois Campole Aglianico


BEER BAR: Come check out Brooklyn Brewery and Lagunitas Brewing Company this weekend on the tasting bar!

Brooklyn Tasting: Friday, August 19, 4-6:30 p.m.

Lagunitas Tasting: Saturday, August 20, 3-6 p.m.



Tasting Bars: August 12-13, 2016

WINE BAR: This weekend we welcome John from World Class Wines! Check out his stellar lineup from 4-7 p.m. on Friday and 1-6 p.m. on Saturday.

• Le Pouy Gascogne Blanc – France
• Pascal Jolivet Sancerre – France
• Saintsbury Chardonnay Carneros – California
• Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros – California
• Corbillieres Touraine Rosé -France
• Fantini Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – Italy
• Cusumano Nero D’avola – Italy
• Ontanon Rioja Crianza – Spain


BEER BAR: This weekend we welcome Summit Brewing Company and Alaskan Brewing Co!

Summit Tasting: Friday, August 12, 4-6:30 p.m.

Alaskan Tasting: Saturday, August 13, 3-6 p.m.


LIQUOR BAR: This weekend we welcome J Carver Distilling! Stop by from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday and check out their wares.