I have to come clean about an obsession I've had for many years now: I am a cab lover. No, not the yellow kind: the yummy, red wine kind—Cabernet Sauvignon. As the backbone of all French Bordeaux and the grape upon which Napa Valley built its fame, what's not to love? It is so well known you can call it "cab" for short and sound like you know what you're talking about. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the oldest varietals on the block.
I like to think of it as a big, gorgeous diva.
Each winery or vineyard has its own style of cab, but it's always the most powerful and dramatic of their offerings. Wine people often break cab into two overly broad categories—New World and Old World. Whatever! I have no time for such nonsense. To me, cab is either dramatic or stuffy. It's either Christina Aguilera or Barbra Streisand. Both are outstanding singers, but each has her own distinct style. Which one you prefer is just a matter of taste. Try some of these divalicious cabs:
2000 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon ($50 Kelly's): The 2002 Shafer cab is one of my all-time favorites, but good luck finding it around town. I did, however, find some 2000 at Kelly's on the Westside. While 2000 wasn't the best year for Napa, this wine still shines. Powerful yet restrained, glamorous but still classy, this wine is so Barbra Streisand. If you're used to the flashy cabs, you may not like this one. Made in a classic Bordeaux style, don't expect any one element to pop out. A gentle, fleeting black currant taste gives way to a wonderfully balanced wave of minerals and French oak.
Recommended pairing: When you go see Babs, you have to wear a classic tux. You have to have steak when you drink this one. Anything else would be like wearing a plaid suit to prom.
2002 Plumpjack Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon ($65 Quarters): When I first poured this into my glass, I was immediately taken by its dramatically deep plum color. This wine doesn't mess around. Its scrumptious bouquet only alluded to what awaited me with my first sip: an over-the-top spicy vanilla flavor that blew my mind. This wine embodies Oakville terroir with its edgy, unique take on cab. Like Christina singing "Beautiful," this wine is controlled power with a flavor all its own. In a crowd of divas, this wine stands out as a true star.
Recommended pairings: A tolerance for something unique ... and maybe some earplugs.
2002 Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($68 Quarters): Hold on to your wig, because this wine will take you for a ride that you won't soon forget. This is the perfect example of a big, luscious cab with an equally big price tag. Fabulously huge and wonderfully overdone—if the Divine Miss M were a wine, this would be her. Not for the faint of heart, this cab is bursting at the seams with robust fruit flavors. Pow! Cassis. Bang! Black cherry. The only thing holding this wine from exploding out of the glass is its powerfully tight structure, backed up by a healthy dose of mouth-puckering tannins and oak. Don't even get me started on the magnificent bouquet of deep fruits.
Recommended pairings: Eating any food with this would be like trying to out-sing Celine Dion—futile.
2001 Darioush Library Red Wine ($38 online, Darioush.com): While not nearly as dramatic the Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine delivers but at half the price. Picture a Cher impersonator—this wine has all the characteristics of the real thing, but you didn't have to shell out the dough for the full-price tickets.
Recommended pairing: A propensity for designer imposter fragrances.
2001 Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon ($30 Sam's Club): No doubt—Hillary Duff. This wine is jammy with very little depth. You want to like this wine because it does have some nice vanilla and toasty oak flavors, but in the end, it's just sweet and boring. While there is some structure, it relies too heavily on its acidity for balance ... so much so that it gave me heartburn.
Recommended paring: Rolaids.
2002 Frog's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ($30 everywhere): This environmentally friendly vineyard always delivers approachable cabs, and the 2002 is no exception with its generous earth and berry flavors. Fertilizer- and pesticide-free, you can feel confident that you aren't getting any unwanted chemicals in your glass. You don't get any heavy oak flavors like you may be used to in cabs since Frog's Leap rarely uses new oak barrels for its wine in an effort to reduce wood consumption. Like Alanis Morissette, this cab never pretends to be anything but what it is—likeable, straightforward and delicious.
Recommended pairings: Good taste and a hybrid car.