What is a Wine Supposed to Taste Like Anyway?

I saw an intere!sting wine description last week that gave me the idea for this week’s blog. Someone was reviewing a Syrah and said something to the effect of “it doesn’t taste like a Syrah”. Hence the title of this blog!

Before I start, though, let me emphasize — if you like what you are drinking, it shouldn’t matter what it tastes like! As I have said so many times, the best wine is the wine you like the best!

Having said that, however, certain wines are expected to taste a certain way. And perhaps the best example is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Historically, the most famous example of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines are those from Bordeaux in France. There it can make long lived, famous and very expensive wines like Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Haut Brion.

In terms of flavour profile, the emphasis tends to be more on the herbaceous/non-fruit side of things. There is talk of cherries and sometimes black currants, but also aromas and flavours that have become almost completely attached to some of these wines (such as pencil lead, which is supposed to be a fragrance in Chateau Latour).

Move to California, however, and you get a completely different result! Due to generally warmer temperatures (and therefore riper fruit), you get much more emphasis on the fruit itself, and particularly black currants (or cassis as the French like to call it). I can distinctly remember the first time I tasted one of Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Cabs in the mid 1980s — wow, what an experience after the more austere French versions! Up until then, I didn’t even know what a black currant was, but the explosion of ripe fruit in my mouth, covered with toasty oak, changed my wine view forever!

Those are just two parts of the Cabernet Sauvignon taste spectrum. In Australia, you tend to get more of a Cali style, but even jammier because of the heat. Chile and the rest of South America lean more to Bordeaux in style. And in Italy it can be completely different again, taking on an earthy, sometimes peppery overtone that tastes nothing like Cab from anywhere else. BC, by the way, has both French and Cali versions. La Frenz makes a great version of both, with its regular Cabernet being Cali in style and its Reserve Red more Bordeaux-like (although much riper — and nicer — than most Bordeaux I have ever tasted).

So what’s the lesson here? Well, it’s not about “good and bad”, that’s for sure; or about what “it’s supposed to taste like”. Rather, it is all about style. Figure out the style of Cabernet you like, and then if you know what country makes that kind of style, you know where to find it! Then it’s up to you how much you want to spend on that style (althought that is a whole other blog topic!).




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