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Cabernet Shootout Highlights and the 2013 Cabernet Challenge

Every year, judging in Affairs of the Vine’s annual Cabernet Shootout introduces me to very good wines from wineries with which I’m unfamiliar. There are simply too many new wineries every year to keep up. Most of these wineries don’t have big marketing budgets. The Cabernet Shootout is an affordable way for them to get both exposure and critical feedback.

This year’s Cabernet Shootout finals took place on December 1 in San Francisco. We evaluated 64 wines that day. (There were two groups of judges, each blind tasting 32 wines.) This followed several weeks of preliminary judging which culled the field from several hundred.

You can taste many of the finalists for yourself, vote for your favorites and learn the judges’ top picks on January 19. The annual Cabernet Challenge, a public tasting, will run from noon to 4pm at The Winery SF on Treasure Island. I hope you’ll join me there.

Check out En Garde Winery

The most exciting find for me from this year’s Cabernet Shootout wasn’t a particular wine, but a winery with several excellent offerings. En Garde Winery makes  Diamond Mountain AVA Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and additional varietals from other locations. The winery itself is in Livermore and they also have a tasting room in Kenwood.

csaba szakal
Csaba Szakal of En Garde Winery. (Photo: En Garde Winery)

En Garde winemaker/proprietor Csaba Szakal (he’s Hungarian) is making truly excellent wine. His Diamond Mountain wines were among the very best of the shootout. I didn’t get to taste the 2007 Diamond Mountain Reserve in the finals, but I rated it Very Highly Recommended in the preliminaries. It’s impeccably made: complex, bursting with flavor and full-bodied on the palate with rich, powdery tannins. Csaba will be pouring this wine at the Cabernet Challenge.

Other Wines of Note

There were a lot of very good wines in the finals this year. Of the 32 I judged, I would rate twelve Highly Recommended and another six Recommended+. Virtually all of the wines were predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, but one of my favorites was a Cabernet Franc blend, the 2009 Vinoce Mount Veeder Estate [60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot]. It was full-bodied with flavors of black currant, currant leaf, toasted cedar, forest floor, chocolate and dark spice. Tannins were medium-plus and lightly chalky, the finish satisfying.

Tasting blind allows “popularly-priced” wines to be evaluated without bias. Matching my scoresheet up with the wine list after judging, I discovered some excellent bargains among wines I’d rated Highly Recommended.

The 2011 Angeline Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($18) offered well-balanced fruit, acidity and alcohol. Chewy plum and black currant were complemented by coffee, currant leaf and spice. Angeline is a label from Martin Ray Winery.

The full-bodied 2010 Mirassou California (just $12) had noteworthy concentration and lovely, powdery tannins with flavors of black currant, blackberry, moist eucalyptus, earthy spice and cedar.

The 2010 Shannon Ridge “High Elevation” Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County ($23) was full-bodied and replete with powdery and chalky tannins. The toothsome balance of black currant, currant leaf, mint, sweet and dark spice and licorice flavors was long-lasting.

Very good wines came from several different California AVAs.

The 2010 J Pilar Cabernet Sauvignon South Coast ($40) was easily the best Cab I’ve ever had from the San Diego foothills. It was a savory, mouth-filling wine with flavors of dry black cherry, dark spice, mint, earth and wood and lots of softly chewy tannins.

The ripe and powerful 2009 Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($34) was packed with cassis, red and black cherries, allspice and oak balanced by firm chalky tannins.

Also full-bodied with firm, chalky tannins was the 2010 Field Stone Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley ($40) which poured on ripe black currant, mulling spices and oak.

Another Alexander Valley wine, the 2008 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Rockaway Vineyard ($75) shows great potential with concentrated flavors of baked black fruit, dark spice, chocolate and very refined, yet substantial, fine powdery tannins. Let it’s complexity unfold in your cellar for a couple of years.

The 2009 Auburn James Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Vista Block 2, Napa Valley ($75) pleased with black currant, cherry, espresso, oak, chocolate, spice, medium-plus chalky tannins and excellent overall balance.

Jammy black fruit, licorice and spice were front and center in the potent and full-bodied 2008 Petroni Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley.

Two of my favorite wines of the day came from the newish Coombsville AVA of Napa Valley.

The full-bodied 2009 Great Dane Cabernet Sauvignon ($110) from HeartSmart Wine mingled flavors of clove, allspice, oak, blackberry and chocolate deliciously. Pleasantly chalky tannins a long finish made it a complete wine.

The 2008 Rocca Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Collinetta Vineyard ($85) was long, full-bodied and delicious. Red and black cherry, five spice, redwood were framed by chalky tannins


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