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Tasting Cabernet Sauvignon
These Cabernet Sauvignons were from Washington, Oregon and Idaho and ranged from $8 to $85 per bottle, so we got to see a real range of red wines.
How do we judge 140 wines in the space of six hours? First of all, we have two panels of four judges each, so each panel saw 70 wines. That still seems like a lot of wine, but it’s no more than a solid day of work for most professional-grade judges (in fact, we typically will judge 125 or more at most national competitions).
Cabernet Sauvignon by the numbers
While we cannot reveal the top wines until the magazine comes out, we do have a number of observations, including:
- Acid was not an issue. We caught ourselves regularly writing, “Plenty of acid” or “Great acid” on wine after wine.
- We tasted fewer oak bombs. There are always a few, but for the most part, the winemakers represented in this judging showed a deft touch with oak. It was nice to see oak as a component of the winemaking rather than a dominant feature.
- Tannins were mostly in check. Cabernet Sauvignon has a well-earned reputation for big tannins. While we certainly ran into some big tannins, most were not over the top, and many were beautifully integrated, providing structure that didn’t get in the way of the fruit.
- Alcohols were OK. The average alcohol was 14.2%, which is not overly outrageous. The lowest alcohol was 12%, while the highest was a hefty 16.7% (one other was 16%). In fact, the 16.7% wine carried its weight surprisingly well.
- All sizes of wineries were represented. Case productions for these wines ranged from 40 to 248,000, so many hard-to-find wines were tasted alongside large-production Cabernet Sauvignons.
- Wines came from all over. We tasted Cabernet Sauvignon from 14 appellations – including two labeled as being from the newly designated Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley. Of the 140 wines, 61 came from the broad Columbia Valley, while 22 came from the Walla Walla Valley and 19 were from the Horse Heaven Hills. All but 11 Cabernet Sauvignons came from Washington.
- There was a broad vintage range. We tasted one wine from the 2006 vintage and two from 2011. Most were from 2009 (61), 2010 (42) and 2008 (24).
How we tasted these Cabernet Sauvignons
We taste all wines blind. This means:
- Judges didn’t know who any of the producers were.
- All judges were served glasses poured in a different room, so there was no way anyone could identify a wine by the foil around a bottle’s neck.
- Judges didn’t know the vintage, though they were given a range.
Additionally, we decant each red wine, which we have found gives each wine the best opportunity to shine.
Look for results in the Spring issue of Wine Press Northwest. We’ll also have more to write about some of these Cabernet Sauvignons at that time.