Cabernet: Antidote to February

Cabernet: Antidote to February

Cabernet sauvignon can do one job better than most wines: lift your spirits. And if Family Day didn’t quite cut it during this miserable February, may I recommend one of the following 90-points-plus cabernets sauvignons for the table one night this week. Buy some lamb from your favourite butcher, decant the wine the moment you get home, slip into your comfy duds, read the mail, start cooking, then breathe deeply. No other red grape is as capable of such soaring blackcurrant fragrance, such complexity, such power and elegance. At its best it combines true grit and symmetry.

The catch is, it needs to be very good cabernet, not wimpy cabernet, of which there are far too many in this world: wines made from over-cropped vines, vines not yet mature, underripe grapes (cabernet is a very late ripening variety), or wines so coddled and softened that they are stripped of their fibre, moral and otherwise. So as a rule of thumb, do not spend much less than $25 if you want an authentic cabernet sauvignon experience.

On Saturday, Vintages quick-marched a platoon of earnest international cabernets onto the shelves—some upstanding, some less so. I provide recommendations below, beginning with a couple of under $25 exceptions to the rule and going up from there. At last check Tuesday morning, most were still available in the GTA; we provide you with the location carrying the largest stock. If buying this weekend, check availability again via the Wine Search function at

Eral Bravo 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendoza, Argentina($18.55, 90 points, 58081)Argentina is one of the few countries to safely break cabernet’s $25 floor price rule. I loved this wine for its Old World rusticity and cab-ness, with flavours of leather, olives and very ripe, dark cassis fruit, plus chocolatey oak. Full bodied, dense, almost sweet and rich on the palate, with dry but not bitter tannin. Excellent length. The largest stock (of 40 bottles) is at the Bayview and Sheppard LCBO.

Montes Alpha 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile($21.80, 90 points, 322586)From the increasingly famous Apalta Vineyard in the increasingly famous red wine district of Colchagua comes a very well priced cabernet loaded with Chile’s ripe cassis fruit, cool eucalyptus, vanilla and a touch of graphite (pencil lead—often found in Bordeaux cabernets). It’s medium-full bodied and quite elegant, with fine acidity and minerality. Very good to excellent length. Now to 2014. The largest stock (of 126 bottles) is at the Weston and 401 LCBO.

Ses’fikle 2004 Matriarch Cabernet Sauvignon, Western Cape, South Africa($24.95, 90 points, 56841)The reds of South Africa are famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—for loads of iodine and graphite aromas. This also has very ripe, exotic red fruit mindful of pomegranate and elderberry, plus oak-driven roasted-chestnut flavours. This is not a mainstream wine, but it is full bodied, well structured and interesting, with excellent to outstanding length. Best now to 2013. The largest stock (of 58 bottles) is at the Yonge and Summerhill LCBO.

Chateau Lalande les Moulins 2005 St. Julien, Bordeaux, France($29.95, 90 points, 61036)This is hardly a classic bordeaux, showing such evolution and generosity so soon from a classic vintage. But it is very complex, supple, smooth and savoury, with generous aromas of rhubarb-blackberry pie, leather and gamy character and smoke. It’s mid-weight and smooth, with fine tannin and very good to excellent length. Now to 2012. The largest stock (of 91 bottles) is at the Yonge and Summerhill LCBO.

Kaesler 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa Valley, Australia($30.85, 91 points, 4200)This youngster is quite reserved and should go into the cellar, but I really admired its ripeness and integration and sense of compactness, which is quite different from many Aussie examples. Ripe blackberry, vanilla, chocolate and wood aromas are nicely integrated. It’s full bodied, dense and quite fine, if dry on the finish. Excellent length. Best 2011 to 2015. The largest stock (of 111 bottles) is at the Yonge and Summerhill LCBO.

Rosemount 2002 Traditional Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Petit Verdot, Australia($35.20, 91 points, 484097)Not pure cabernet, but many great wines based on cabernet have other bordeaux varieties in the blend, and increasingly petit verdot is part of the recipe for added aromatic lift. Because it’s mature, this wine has different notes of tobacco, leather, olive and dried blackcurrant, but it delivers them with intensity, concentration and suppleness. Very vibrant, with excellent to outstanding length. Now to 2011. The largest stock (of 178 bottles) is at the Yonge and Summerhill LCBO.

Rodney Strong 2004 Alden Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California($39.80, 92 points, 588795)California’s mountain-grown cabernets are often very impressive; and this is a relatively good deal because it’s on a lower-rent mountainside in Sonoma as opposed to Napa. Great aromatics with lifted floral, blueberry-blackberry, chocolate, tar and leathery notes. Full bodied, dense and taut, yet elegant enough now to suggest a long, fine future. Excellent length. Approachable now, but best 2010 to 2020. The largest stock (of 90 bottles) is at the Queens Quay LCBO.

Rodney Strong 2003 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, California($38.85, 90 points, 329961)Many California cabs have long tried to emulate bordeaux, and Alexander’s Crown, first made in 1974 (and one of the first vineyard designated wines in the U.S.A.), is a prime example. Very lifted, complex cedar, herbs, leather, juniper and cassis aromas. Quite full bodied, but feels tight and tannic, with firm acidity. Excellent length. Best 2010 to 2020. The largest stock (of 79 bottles) is at the Queens Quay LCBO.

Chateau Montelena 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California ($45.95, 89 points, 718452)Rugged, almost surly cabernet from a Napa producer that’s long been a strict disciple of Old World winemaking. Iodine and earthy flavours tussle with blackberry fruit. It’s slim, tense and dense, with a powerful 14.7 per cent alcohol finish. Excellent length. Enjoy after a bad day on the stock market. Will cellar toward 2020. The largest stock (of 79 bottles) is at the Yonge and Summerhill LCBO.

Dominus 2004, Napa Valley, California($90.80, 92 points, 63507)A seductive, charming Napa cabernet that hits all the right sensory notes but seems to lack a bit of gumption for its price and glossy reputation. An easy lover, sporting complex, subtle blackberry, cedar, sage, anise and wood spice. Full bodied, dense and supple on the palate until some youthful tannin churns on the finish. Very good to excellent length, but at $90 I want outstanding length. Best 2009 to 2018ish. This wine is largely sold out in the GTA, so call your friends in Windsor and Ottawa.