Cabernet Sauvignon

Wines to Pair with Your Next Porterhouse


March 3, 2016 Drinks By Photo by Chase Pellerin and Jack Seemer
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Cabernet Sauvignon is the alpha daddy of wine varietals. It’s big, bold and everywhere. It’s the main grape in Bordeaux blends (at least on the left bank of the Garonne estuary), and, as a result, it’s been a strong player in the history of California winemaking, given that Napa Valley winemakers have historically looked to Bordeaux as a primary reference point. Common tasting notes for a traditional “Cab” are black currant (or cassis), plum and cherry, with the cool, herbaceous quality of eucalyptus. And because of its natural, full-bodied intensity, the wine is often paired alongside big food flavors, particularly the steak dinner.

Commonly, the association of Cabernet to meat comes from habit. But it turns out there’s some sense to the madness too. “Meat is a quick reference point with Cabs, and I think its a valid one,” says Lorena Ascenios, the head buyer at New York City’s Astor Wines & Spirits. “You’re pairing two like things that just work really well together. Cabernet Sauvignon also caters to the American palate, which craves something obvious, as opposed to subtle.” Matthew LaSorsa, the proprietor of Brooklyn’s Heights Chateau, agrees. “Every wine sits on a frame,” he says. “It’s got its fruit, its complexity and its acidity. A really good steak, on the other hand, has marble — that’s fat. Cabernet’s high acidity balances fat, giving you that wonderfully interesting fleshiness in steak.” For Marco Pasanella, the proprietor of Pasanella & Son Vitners downtown, Cab’s “not your only choice, but it does makes sense,” he says. “You want a wine with cojones. And the more raw the steak, the more umph you want in your wine.”

To take out the guesswork, and help avoid blank stares at your next visit to the wine store, these industry experts have weighed in with their favorites across a range of price points.

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The Experts (From Left): Lorena Ascencios is the head buyer at Astor Wine & Spirits, at 399 Lafayette St, in Noho, NYC, and has been with the company for over 17 years, starting with her role in sales. Marco Pasanella is the proprietor of Pasanella & Son Vintners, at 115 South St, which has been open for over ten years, focusing on small producers and “discoveries.” Matthew LaSorsa grew up in Brooklyn, and opened Heights Chateau (123 Atlantic Ave), today a trusted neighborhood institution, over 25 years ago in Brooklyn Heights.

Under $20

Budget-Friendly Finds

Don Cristóbal Finca La Niña Cabernet Sauvignon

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“I always like throwing in something incredibly inexpensive into a list of recommendations because I think it over delivers. This wine from Argentina has a richness and a lot of fruit, but not a lot of those classic cassis notes. Also, this isn’t a wine you age. You buy it by the case, you have friends over, you open it with take out. It’s a statement, and it’s delicious for what it is.” — LA

Producer: Don Cristóbal | doncristobal.com.ar
Region: Luján de Cuyo, Argentina
Vintage: 2014

Viña Errázuriz Max Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon

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“This Cabernet has got to be one of the great steals of the wine world. It’s a deeply structured, full-bodied Cabernet that’s characterized by cassis and plum notes. The wood is a little strong, so there are some oak tannins in the back. But there’s a lot of wine here for $15.” — ML

Producer: Viña Errázuriz | errazuriz.com
Region: Valle de Aconcagua, Chile
Vintage: 2013

Drovers Cabernet Sauvignon

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“This wine is in a very juicy camp of Cabernets. It’s very approachable. The archetypal California cabernet is muscular, and it’s big and it’s brawny. This one is more fruity — it’s not going to knock you out after a glass. Though not as big as other Cabernets, Drovers makes up for it in friendliness. We can’t keep it in stock, it’s like crack!” — MP

Producer: Andrew Jones | fieldrecordingswine.com
Region: Paso Robles, California
Vintage: 2013

Under $50

Mid-Range Consistency

Chateau d’Archambeau Graves

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“This is a Cabernet-based Bordeaux from Graves — ‘graves’ as in gravelly soil. Back in the day, Graves was really the epicenter of old Bordeaux. I like this one because it’s 2010, a good year. The best Cabernets have a structure and an acidity. When they’re young, they’re considered ‘tight,’ which means that the flavors aren’t totally integrated. Over time, like here, stuff starts to meld together and those big flavors don’t stand aside as much. At $20, it’s a steal.” — MP

Producer: Chateau d’Archambeau
Region: Graves, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2010

Ch. Hourtin-Ducasse Haut-Médoc

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“This wine comes from a small artisanal producer in Bordeaux — it’s a husband-and-wife team, and they just have a few hectares. They make two wines, that’s it. You get some spicy notes here, some cassis. There’s an aspect of minerals, which is hard to describe, but it comes from the soils [in Bordeaux]. You don’t get an overt expression of new oak, since that can overtly change the profile of the wine; they use older oak, which can be a beautiful thing. The wine is about the fruit, the grape. It’s an expression of what Cabernet actually tastes like, and 2009 was an excellent vintage.” — LA

Producer: Chateau Hourtin-Ducasse | hourtin-ducasse.com
Region: Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2009

Amavi Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon

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“This wine comes from east of the Cascades, so during the day, the grapes are exposed to a deep, intense heat. This is an oak-bodied Cabernet that has a lot of plum and black currant characteristics; it’s big and full, but it’s got some roundness without being overripe. It balances structure and acid at the back side so it’s actually quite brilliant for the price. If you were looking at California for a similar kind of depth of complexity, you’d be paying upwards of $50.” — ML

Producer: Amavi Cellars | amavicellars.com
Region: Walla Walla Valley, Washington
Vintage: 2012

Under $100

Special Occasions

Chateau Cantemerle Haut Médoc

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“Even though this wine is $50, you get a lot of wine for the money. It’s not ranked in the top classification of Bordeaux wines, so there’s a value for the quality. The main difference between this and the Chateau d’Archambeau for $20 is the intensity, the length — you could say the volume is turned up here. The wines are cousins, but this is the Ferrari to the Corvette.” — MP

Producer: Chateau Cantemerle | cantemerle.com
Region: Médoc, Bordeaux, France
Vintage: 2010

Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon

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“Heitz is in the lower part of Napa, a part of the region influenced by winds from San Pablo Bay. When Cabernet is grown in a cooler climate, the taste tends to be more “bing cherry” rather than “black currant.” The wine is Bordeaux-esque, but it has maintained a California statement without being overly ripe, overly intense or over-oaked. It’s strongly integrated with wood, but done in a very elegant way. Oak is like salt — you can overdo it. Heitz does it in a way that adds another level of complexity without overpowering the fruit.” — ML

Producer: Heitz Cellar | heitzcellar.com
Region: Napa Valley, California
Vintage: 2011

Howell Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

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“When people think of American Cabernet, a lot of people dart to the Napa Valley. This is a classic California winery in the Howell Mountain Appalachian; it’s a very high elevation, which maintains the grapes’ fresh acidity. Even though the wine is aged in new French oak, its very elegant. The barrel doesn’t overtake the fruit so you still get that cassis and cool, herbaceous quality.” — LA

Producer: Howell Mountain Vineyards | howellmountainvineyards.com
Region: Napa Valley, California
Vintage: 2011