Cabs, cabs & more cabs! I must admit to a certain craving at times for the flashy, fruit-forward style of California/New World cabernet sauvignon, described by one critic as "a young woman wrapped in fur."

Subtle, balanced, refined? Nahhh, leave that to the Frenchies!

2 Brothers Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (50%)/Syrah (50%) Colchagua 'Big Tattoo Red' 2004 ($8) (Boatloads XI): The label begins "This wine, you hold in your hands, comes from two brothers. Alex, a wine importer, and Erik, a tattoo artist." It goes on to explain that fifty cents from the sale of every bottle is donated to breast cancer research in memory of their mother. How can even a hardened cynic resist having his heartstrings tugged? At any rate, I'm happy to report the wine is a friendly, roughish, chewy mouthful of smoky blackberry/blackcurrant fruit. Sometimes cabernet-syrah blends strike me as neither fish nor fowl, but this has a rough gusto that makes it a good match with grilled burgers, which we just happen to have at hand. Smoky red-blackfruit on the nose, touch of iodine even, and perhaps a bit too much toasty woodiness. There's a candied sheen to the dark flavors, but there's that chewy roughnesss underneath. Big and smoky-toasty, medium acidity, not bad if you're not wood-averse, some rough tannins, slightly abrasive finish. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? For Alex and Erik, absolutely.] (11/07)

Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2001 ($21) (Steamed Steaks): is to drink now. Medium dark garnet color, smells lightly of cedar-dusted cassis, hint of oregano, trace of dark smokiness. Taut redfruit right up front, a lot of structure, a broad-shouldered wine with a high butchness quotient. Finishes rough and tannic, rather austere, a bit of a bully. Good cohesiveness and balance, the rare California cabernet that would seem to need some time to loosen up. Or dry out further, who knows. (10/2/04)

Altas Cumbres Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 2003 ($6) (Boatloads VI): Okay, fairly classic watery blackcurrant, touch of cedar, oregano, juicy-simple and inoffensive. Straightforward and rather wan, but there's enough going on to hold my attention, at least briefly. Medium-low acidity, flaccid and juicy as it heads into the finish, with a dilute matte texture. I don't hate it, and it's at least amiable, but there's nothing of note here. [Buy again? No, not really.] (12/05)

Amizetta Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Napa Valley 1992 (NJers): Medium-dark garnet color; slightly soft in the mouth, smooth... cassisfruity, with hints of pizza herbs & some fine tannins swooping in on the finish. A bit short, a bit generic, but lightly herby and pleasant. (1/23/00)

Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1993 ($27)(A Discreet Jeebus): Rich, restrained nose with a strong gravelly-graphite streak under earthy dark red cassis fruit, this wine intrigues me with its rocky layers under dark redness. Crisp and grabby in the mouth, with some interesting complexity and balance; as it slips towards the finish line some light oregano hints join the graphite streak and strong fine tannins well up and bang around. I like this much more than I had expected to; it has balance and strength in good proportion, and although it's got some hard tannins there is plenty of other stuff going on to make up for it. Don't be in a hurry with this one, it may have some interesting times ahead. (11/20/00)

Viña Aquitania Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley 'Agapanto' 2002 ($9) (Boatloads III): Lightly herbaceous nose, bell pepper and cedar over muted plum-cassis redfruit. Medium-light bodied, fairly forward at first, then turns shy in the middle, not much mouthgrab, kind of just melts away with a licoricey flicker before it has a chance to finish. Still, there's decent balance and it seems rather unspoofulated, if not particularly interesting. I'm on the fence, which usually means no. Very green-peppery with more air. [Buy again? Mmmm... nnnn.... nope.] (2/05)

Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 1994 ($204)(Scraps): Medium dark to dark garnet color, deep and dark. Interestingly layered nose that is not effusive but gives a sense of power in reserve; dark concentrated cassis with a graphite streak and hints of black olive and smoke. A tightly coiled, racy wine with a strong spine of acidity and tight layers of red fruit that moves from a tart cran-raspberry up front to a dark raspberry-slate flavor as the minerality emerges in the midpalate and flows into toasty-coffee tarriness on the long finish. Quite tight now, but it's a mouthfiller with good highs and lows, well honed and deep without being massive or clumsy. Seamless up until the rather aggressive smoky-oaky tannic finish, this needs time but seems quite promising. (3/01)

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1993 ($20)(Kane Manor): Medium-dark ruby-red; nice smoky/tar/cassis nose, rich but not lush; in the mouth cassis/tar/cedar/smoke, nice and full-flavored cal cab with some real good backbone and nice crispness. The fruit is forward, but fairly reserved, very far from jammy. Nice, medium-strong wine, a smooth, well-integrated package. Tasty. (7/24/99)

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1993 ($20)(Oddball Grapes): Medium-dark ruby color. Smells of warm blackcurrants and cedar, laced with a tarry smokiness. Tastes redfruity and dark, a sense of restraint to the ripeness, firm acidity and a juicy-earthy mouthfeel. It's not terribly complex, just medium sized and broadly calm, a blunt package of straightforward cabernet that has come together nicely since I last had it about three years ago. Still, I wouldn't hold on to any for very much longer; this seems to me to be about as good as it's going to get. Drink now, or perhaps sometime before October 17th. (7/27/03)

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($30)(Journey to Queens): Rich red; very definitive calcab nose--blackcurrants up the wazoo & some dark smoky notes underneath. Meaty mouthfeel, velvety and fairly rich. Simple, dark fruit, tart cherry/cassis, nicely balanced, with some aggressive tannins that swoop in on the finish. A very nice cab, but a bit generic, and a bit young. (10/30/99)

Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Coastal' 1996 ($10): Medium-light garnet; light cassis & raisiny nose. Vaguely sweet on the palate--unresolved sugar? Simple, generic cassis flavors, light-bodied. Slightly sandy feeble tannins. Nothing to write home about. (6/1/99)

Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 'Rutherford' 2002 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Smells of sawdust: cassis jam spilled on a woodshop floor. Tastes woodsoaked, lean and lathe-marked, hard acidity at the center, gravelly-stony undertones, taut and yes, woody. Ungiving, pleasureless wine. Did I mention it tasted like new carpentry? (3/06)

Belvedere Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley 1995 ($13): Very good burger wine--basic rich medium-ruby color, sweet, ripe nose of bright cassis & cherry with cedary undertones. Simple, but aromatically plush and friendly. Bright acidity, nice crispness, stuffed with just-shy-of-meaty cassis flavors--maybe a trace of a dark chocolate note if you're looking for it. Firm, dry tannins; has a bit of brash oakiness that isn't really very well integrated, but it isn't oppressive, and actually goes pretty well with grilled burgers. (3/99)

Benziger Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California 1995 ($18) Nice, simple aromas of cassis in the glass, pleasant and fruity in a straightforward style. Low acidity, decent tannins provide a bit of backbone. Pleasant is the operative word, if a little bit thin. Not bad for the money. (3/98)

Benziger Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2003 ($13) (Boatloads VIII): Dusty blackberry-cassis aromatics, sweet smelling fruit with dirt-mineral undertones. The acidity is a bit spiky, stands out against the fruit background, doesn't so much pitch in as stand on the sidelines and cheer, but its heart is in the right place. Tarry-licorice notes arise in the middle and mingle with dark cassis on the finish, which is medium-shortish. Quite flavorful, focused and tasty cabernet sauvignon. [Buy again? Sure.] (9/06)

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 1993 ($17) Tasty and smooth, with a nice dose of dark redfruity cassis flavor and some good backbone, a splash of acidity, pleasantly soft tannins, a touch of woodiness--not heavy, but full and flavorful and smoothly solid, nicely balanced and well integrated. (6/18/99)

Beringer Cabernet Sauvingnon Knights Valley 1994 ($20): Full of fruit, but seemed a little thin this time around, with some pronounced lemony acidity adding a little shrillness that wasn't necessarily great. Still, it had a lot of nice redfruit, cassis-oaky flavors and a good medium-bodied feel to it, with very light tannins. I'm just not as impressed as the last time around. Maybe it needs time yet. (8/98)

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley 1995 ($21): Dark ruby in the glass, densely colored. Lush, fruity nose of cassis & oak barrel, deeply dark & rich, earthy, dark oak & plush fruit. On the palate, nice, dark, rich cassis flavors with plenty of wood. Rich & smooth, with firm tannins. Not as acidic as the '94 version, and woodier. Short but sweet finish (not literally sweet, just pleasant). To me, surprisingly better than the '94, which has gotten better notices; indeed, better than the '93 too, at least at this stage of the game. The predominance of oak was surprisingly pleasant, as I usually am not crazy about it, but it worked well with the richness of the fruit. Very nice. (1/20/99)

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1991 (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Medium-dark garnet-black color. First whiffage brings a blast of big cassis-berry fruit and high-toast spicy wood. A wood-and-oak bomb, Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Trevi–o-Boyd pours this for me blind, and my first reaction is: "What the hell is this, Screaming Harlan Family?" That only gets me a smile and a cryptic shake of the head, so I sit down to listen... At first, big whacking red fruit and big new-French-oak woodiness. Tastes rich, thick and gobbified; a big, broadbeamed thing, something Cal-culty all the way. But with twenty minutes' air things begin to change, the wine turns very tobaccoey, a light oregano streak emerges and I start to suspect I'm being played with. Is this some kind of ripe-vintage gobby-oaky Bordeaux? The texture is glossy and dark, there's good acidity and some fine drying tannins. After half an hour my thoughts have switched from Cal cult to ripe-year pointy-gobby Bordeaux--my final guess: '89 Clinet. (11/05)

Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1992 (magnum): Deep, dark garnet, big fruity nose--cassis, blueberry jam, toast & smoke, lush and slightly candied. Big ol' fruit bomb, rich and meaty-fleshy, fairly soft mouthfeel, densely fruity, slightly tarry. Slaps you in the face with a blueberry & cassis-filled sock, but sometimes I like that kind of thing. (9/99)

Chateau Biltmore Cabernet Sauvignon North Carolina 1998 ($13) (Premier Cru Jeebus): We gather, smirks at the ready, expecting a silly wine or a basket case. It's a medium-dark red, nothing strange there. A sniff or two, it's got a quiet cassis nose, light hints of sawdusty oak and dark smokiness, but it's got a nice reserved, quiet quality and the separate aromas blend nicely. Okay, a sip, and it continues to not suck much. It's fairly lean but has a bit of presence, most notably manifest in a graphitey-minerally undercurrent. Medium-bodied, with a hint of greenness that isn't unpleasant and a restrained, tart piquancy, it draws you lightly into a toasty-dark finish that doesn't linger long but is persistently not awful. Unadorned, flavorful, really a very decent $13 cabernet, grown entirely in North Carolina. (9/31/00)

Brook Hollow Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($3) (Boatloads I): Okay, we're back to the Kool-Ade theme. Smells like cherry fruit punch with a hint of cotton candy and cinnamon tossed in for good measure. Clean, crisp, and utterly devoid of character, it gives the impression of having had everything interesting filtered out of it. Gives insipid factory wine a bad name, the worst of the lot. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1996 ($375) (Cult Madness): Loads of ripe candy-fruity plum-tinged cassis fruit, dense and rich and sweet-smelling, cassis-plum reduction sauce with a hint of chocolate stirred in. Rich and dense and thick, with decent structure, but candied and simple. Overdone, monolithic, and easily the weakest of the lot--frankly, more what I was expecting from these 'Cult' cabs in general (and was quite happy not to find until now), a big, overblown simple fruit-candy bomb. (2/8/00)

Buena Vista Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($9) (Boatloads VII): Gentle cassis and a hint of toasty cedar. Plain, straightforward and hard to find fault with. Simple wine, to be sure, but decent heft, flavor, just a bit of varietal character. There's a processed cheese food product feel to it, but it's fairly inoffensive apart from that, and has a quiet Velveetaª appeal. [Buy again? No, not really.] (4/06)

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 ($25) was pure redfruity, cassis-cabernet flavor, with a lot of backbone and a nice roundness that, say, the Beringer KV was lacking. Acidity, crispness, yes, but also fullness and depth to support it. Just a touch of wood, very well hidden under the ripe, gushing fruit flavors. Textbook calcab. A pleasure to drink, although it overwhelmed my grilled halibut. (9/28/98)

Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 ($30): Like this wine, can't help it, just like this wine... deep ruby color; velvety medium-rich nose of cassis & hints of plum & tar & wet earth. Smooth, fairly rich, with a mouthfeel like Elvis on black velvet. Nice weight & balance--not a blockbuster, just a nice cab with some smoky, tarry hints supporting some clean cassis/plum flavors. (8/7/99)

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon Agnelo Vineyards Mendoza (Argentina) 1999 ($13) (McNetta 2002): Bright cherry-candy nose laced with smoke and a trace of mint. Tart, simple but cheerful, slightly hard in the middle, tangy red fruit--cherries and red currants. Acidity in the midpalate turns spiky, out of step, the wine fades as it struggles towards the finish, turning watery and finally lightly astringent. Not actively unpleasant, but disjointed and not particularly interesting. (6/02)

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection Napa 1991 ($155) (Cab Franc Blowout+): Deep, rich red; sweet, rich dry cassis/dark bell pepper, tobacco nose... oh no, I'm in trouble, this is starting to smell like cab franc; fairly crisp & tangy, rich cassis flavor, but a bit green-peppery. (6/8/99)

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Special Selection 1995 ($140) (Continuing): Mmmm... an upfront rush of woodshop aromas, a creamy mouthfeel with a vein of surprisingly tart dark red fruit that soon is swallowed up by woodiness and fierce drying tannins. It's woody. There's a lot of wood. I don't like a wine this woody. Even the regular '95 is far less distorted by carpentry. (9/23/01)

Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 1999 ($10) (All CNN Wines): Simple soft redfruit nose. Simple soft redfruit taste. Clean, two-dimensional wine with good balance and some friendly loosely wrapped red fruit. No finish and no real character, but it's cohesive and not overwooded. A wine that knows its place and doesn't aspire to be more than a decent burger wine. And it is. (11/11/01)

De Loach Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($9) (Boatloads IV): So diffuse and fruity-soft it could well be cabernet nouveau. That said, it's perfectly pleasant as a quaffer, a spineless little quaffer. Shame, as about six or seven years ago I really used to like the De Loach single vineyard zins, which I haven't seen in a while. Watery, bleh. [Buy again? Nuh-uh.] (6/05)

De Loach Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Russian River Valley OFS 1995 ($40) (McNetta 2002): Very smoky-toasty smelling, sawdust and graphite over muted red berry fruit, hints of clove. A sip, and something is coming unglued--the fruit has faded in the middle, leaving mostly toasted flavors and an alcohol burn. Finishes with a lot of stern gritty tannins. Drink up, drink up. (6/02)

Del Dotto Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1998 ($60)(Horrifying the Newbies): A distinct pickle-barrel aroma emanates from my glass. Dill and oak and something like cinnamon toast as well, over a base of rich, slightly candied cassis. Tastes oaky-smoky, with lots of ripe cassis popping up in the midpalate, then fading fast into an astringent wood-tannic finish. Unpleasant. (3/3/01)

Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Volcanic Hill 1989 ($50)(Scraps): a very restrained, elegant nose; dark blackberry-cassis fruit and light spicy-toasted cedar, tobacco and earth hints. The tangy subdued fruit seems a bit hollow at first, a touch wan, but it rallies and finishes well, with a certain pleasingly dark reserve and a touch of licorice, as well as sandy tannins. Lacks focus and concentration in the middle, but a decently balanced and nicely layered varietal wine. (3/01)

Dundee's Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) Merlot (24%) Petit Verdot (1%) South Australia 2001 ($10) (Boatloads IX): Plushly fruited nose, black cherry and cassis laced with cedar hints and a touch of African violet. Tastes juicy and plump, with some slightly spiky acidity, like a dark dry fruit punch. Simple, straightforward fruitiness, moderately composed, just enough spine to get by. The small amount of petit verdot adds structure and backbone, its presence is appreciated. Decent pizza wine. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Tom Eddy Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($60) (Asylum): Plenty of smoky toasted oak here, over a standing pool of rich, deep ripe cassis, which is monolithic but also quite dense. The wine has nice balance, a shadow of a graphitey hint passes through the midpalate, but cedar and toast take over on the finish, then more toast and toast. Rich, ripe, quite routine Napa cab, not that there's anything wrong with that. (9/8/00)

Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Keyes Canyon Ranches 2003 ($12) (Boatloads VIII): Ripe aromatics, velvety creme de cassis mingling with cherry preserves and a dark tarriness. Tastes slightly candyfruity, but there's a pleasant matte quality to the mouthfeel, and that along with middling acidity and some sandy-rough tannins give the wine some much-needed mouthgrab. There's a cartoonish quality here, as if it were a slightly sketchy caricature of a big pointy-style cabernet sauvignon, but it's juicy and flavorful and really quite nice, in a simple kind of way. [Buy again? Yup.] (9/06)

Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon South Africa 2004 ($7) (Boatloads IX): Classic blackberry-blackcurrant aromatics, light oregano hint, touch of cedar, fairly routine but enough complexity on a small scale to maintain interest. Medium bodied, medium acidity, gently fleshy cassisberry fruit, some slightly spiky acidity. Seems manufactured, but small and composed and balanced, a lot of wine for seven bucks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Oh yeah.] (11/06)

Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon 1987 ($46): This wine was way vegetal, with a nose of canned asparagus & cedar. Dark ruby color, turning light brown on the rim. Fruit seems faded, tannins are soft. Not bad, but too much asparagus in the nose for my tastes. I believe its time has passed. (10/19/98)

Forman Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1991 ($30) (Elegant Americans): Dark garnet; nose is austere & soft, smoky cassis; in the mouth it's a fleshy, meaty cab, low acid & some soft tannins. Plummy fleshy cassis flavors wash over your mouth. Nice enough. (9/99)

Frey Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley 1998 ($10)(Cape May Geeks): Another one of Mr. Scott's biodynamic trophy wines, this wine is a medium garnet with a dark shadowy cast in the center of the glass. Hmmm. It has a very light nose. Smells odd, tinny, like a Quonset Hut, along with some violet & pizza herbs and trace amounts of earthy muted redfruit. Tastes strange as well, sharp, smoky and light at first, then turning a bit watery in the midpalate, finally finishing on a bitter, slightly astringent note. Kind of freaky. (6/3/00)

Galleron Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1994 ($50) (Scraps): A classic Napa cab nose, juicy dark cassis, coffee and cedary woodshop hints. A sip, and you're greeted with a big burst of dark planky red fruit, dense and friendly, that simply stops dead more than finishes. Slightly soft, very ripe, chunky, a solid big ol' foursquare woody cab that could well be called routine but has a certain St. Bernard-puppyish appeal. I do have a soft spot in my heart for big, clumsy Napa cabs, and this appeals to that spot, but it's quite a gawky wine. I think it may even wear overalls. (3/01)

Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Barelli Creek Vineyard 1994 ($18): Nice, complex nose of cedar & cassis, a touch of tar & smoky aromas. Deep, dark, purply-red with a touch of brown around the rim. Medium-bodied, crisp, earthy mouthfeel at first, turning slightly watery. Nice cabernet flavors, touch of oregano on the nose; lash of bitter flavors comes out of left field at the almost-finish; soft tannins turn harsher on the finish & seem a little out of balance. Pleasant, but muted. Not bad, has some nice character, not appallingly oaky, but the watery quality takes something away from the flavors. A day later it seems more integrated. (6/98)

Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Barelli Creek Vineyard 1997 ($24) (All CNN Wines): Dark cassis and shoe polish smokiness on the nose. Nice balance, crisp spine, tangy rich vein of dark, slightly tense red and black fruit and plenty of almost but not quite integrated smoky oak. Very pleasant up until the finish, which fades in a flurry of astringent wood tannins. I was prepared to dislike this wine, but was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly elegant, well made cabernet that holds its good dose of oak nicely and with restraint. Score one for the industrialists. (11/11/01)

Geo Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley "Ona" 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IV): "'Ona' is the name of one of the bravest native tribes that lived in the fjords of Southern Chile." Who knew that Chile was the home of tribes of cabernet-loving fjord dwellers? Not I, that's who. Smells of black cherry and cassis, along with a smoky-graphite streak, something like a burnt pencil. Tastes soft and cassis-curranty, juicy and quietly candied. Not much finish, inoffensive and amiably juicy. [Buy again? Nah.] (6/05)

Golden Kaan Cabernet Sauvignon Wine of Western Cape (South Africa) 2003 ($6). A plonk sighting lads, thar she blows! Watery redfruited industrial plonk; thin, antiseptic and characterless, without the decency to be ripe or plump or something redeemable. [Buy again? No no no no.] (12/05)

Gossamer Bay Cabernet Sauvignon California 2000 ($5/.187 ml.) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Light cherry cough-syrup aromatics, smells of nothing much at all. Tastes glossy-candied in a very light way, but also anemically underfruited and soft. There is an odd burnt-bark funk that persists on the finish when the cough syrup flavor has faded, Robitussin with wood chips. Thin, vapid and redolent of processing, but under the circumstances strangely drinkable, in the sort of plastic-industrial sense that airline food is "edible." That is to say: if that's all there is, it can be consumed without gagging. Plus, it's in screwcap, which is always a relief. Plus plus, it's making me blurry and slightly less aware of the eleven hours of just-bearable discomfort that I'm enduring on the long, dreary flight from Newark to Honolulu. (5/03)

Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon California 2000 ($15) (Winterfest 2003): Simple and straightforward textbook California cabernet aromatics: warm dark cassis, cedar, undercurrent of graphite. A sip, and it's forward and juicy, rather low acidity, fleshy and ripe simple red cranberry-cassis flavors tinted with smokiness. Simple but decent and friendly, a bit disjointed but a big improvement over the previous grotesquerie. Built in a similar mold, but not so grotesquely out of proportion. (2/03)

Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon California 2001 ($14) (Boatloads I): Ripe, vanilla-cassis-smoke nose, smells straightforwardly Californian. This is cabernet sauvignon all right, lots of monolithic cassis fruit, compact and warmly velvety. The wooding is more overt than in the past few vintages and is slightly distracting, but all in all a pleasant, uncomplicatedly rich wine. [Buy again? Uh... erm... not sure... it's a bit pricey...] (8/04)

Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1990 ($30)(Journey to Queens): Change of pace after two bruisers--this wine is more aromatically open, with some smooth red cassis-cherry and oakchippy notes . A lighter style of cab, with some nice tartness and less weight in the mouth. Refreshingly crisp, brightly acidic and almost cranberry-juice tart. (10/30/99)

Groot Constantia Cabernet Sauvignon Constantia 1999 ($13) (All CNN Wines): Medium garnet. Smells lightly shoe-polishey, with green peppers and matte red currant fruit that is a little too tart and shrill. A medium-light wine with a watery midpalate and a general diffuse quality, it drops off a cliff on the finish, leaving a flurry of fine drying tannins. Drinkable in a pinch, but not very enjoyable. (11/11/01)

Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1994 ($30): Smoky cassis & oak nose, meaty texture, full, well-extracted cassis & more cassis; fairly crisp, firm tannins; smooth & well-integrated; nice dark cassis finish. Not complex, but nice & smooth with full flavors, a quintessential easy-drinking full-flavored cab. (3/99)

Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon California 2003 ($9) (Boatloads XI): Lightly smoky soft cassisberry aromatics, soft and squishy, watery and ripe. Yes, it's cabernet sauvignon, but sort of a cardboard cutout version, propped in the corner. Some wan varietal character but very little interest here. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1985 ($212) (Cellar Gems): Slightly browning dark garnet; fresh, slightly aquariumish hints to the nose (Oleg and Mike decide to call it 'seabreeze,' because Mike associates 'aquarium' with chlorine, whereas I, as a former fishmaster, don't), along with some nicely minty muted cassis. Nicely balanced wine--firm and crisp, but a bit disjointed--I get a bit of hollowness at first, then tartness. I mention this and Brian, who is singing its praises, gives me a snippy comment about it being not supposed to taste like Turley or Grange. I shake my fist at this silly oversimplification of my tasting preferences, resist the urge to unleash Lisa on him, and, in gentlemanly fashion, we agree to disagree. (10/14/99)

Hendry Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Block 8 1995 ($28): I've long been a fan of Hendry zins, and this cab follows the elegant house style fairly closely--velvety-smooth nose, forward, clear and rich, but far-from-lush cassis & smoke, hint of vanilla. A sip and some trim cab fruit emerges. This is a silky wine, its most striking feature to me is its balance; it's got a small amplitude, but within that scope it's a very nice, seamless package. I like it, although if you're looking to have your socks blown off, this won't do it. (10/99)

Cyril Hensche Cabernet Sauvignon Eden Valley 1991 (Spuds, We Hardly Knew Ye...): Medium-dark red color, bricking very slightly at the rim. It's calmly redfruity, strawberry-cassis, touch of oregano, high note of mintiness. Loosely wrapped and fleshy-warm, it's a wine with a general feathery quality around the edges. This sounds more interesting than it is, I suspect, because there's a lack of anything other than a simple redfruitiness to feather with. At any rate, it's pleasant and seems to be in a place where it's not going to get much pleasanter. (12/05)

Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon California 2001 ($14) (Boatloads V): Dark toast-laced cherry-cassis aromatics, hint of cedar and anise, straightforwardly California cabernetish. Medium acidity, dark supple fruit with a slight candied edge. There's some light fine tannins on the medium-short finish, which is more whimpery than bangish. I'm rather underwhelmed by the straightforward plainness at first, then, strangely, the wine starts to grow on me--what seemed plain at first comes over as a rather restrained classicity, the structure is what defines the wine, and my steak really seems improved by drinking this. I'm not much of a California cabernet drinker, but this seems a good baseline version for someone interested in a bottle with dinner, instead of a standalone cocktail. [Buy again? Actually, yes.] (10/05)

HRM Rex Goliath Giant 47-Pound Rooster Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast NV ($8) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Smells lightly vegetal, green herbs, watery cassis with a hint of pencil shavings. Thin, herbal and unimpressive. Further proof of Coad's Third Law of Vinodynamics: The Quality of Any Given Wine Has an Inverse Relationship to the Wackiness of Its Label. (5/03)

Joseph Mclaren Vale-Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 'Moda Amarone' 1997 ($35)(NYers Go Italian) I had brought this with the hope of horrifying Robert, but I had to settle for horrifying Kane, who acted as if someone had sprinkled crushed ants on his tongue when he tasted this, doing one of his patented spit-takes. Despite all the carryings-on, I found it interesting, a deep rich red color, some toasty wood notes float on the nose, but underneath is a dense core of rich ripe dark cassis and raspberry fruit--a bit dense and one-notey now, but I like the signs. No real sense of it being any kind of Amarone, though, just an especially dense, rich cab. Jayson and Kane brought curiosity-seekers in from other parts of the restaurant when they almost came to fisticuffs over whether the fruit in this was boysenberry or raspberry-tinged. (11/10/99)

Jones Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 ($50)(Bradcave): This wine is a deep, rich red, but the first aromatic impression is of oddly candied yeasty-smoky-dark cassis, almost an artificial fruit smell, layered with choco-smoky oak and hints of blueberry. Frankly, it smells counterfeit, like pasteurized processed cabernet food product. Other than that, this wine seems fairly generic, an upfront attack of not particularly big, but still monolithic cassis, berry and oak that drops away quickly into a dilute midpalate and a sharply tannic finish. I don't like it much, especially for a wine that apparently costs around $50 a bottle. Callahan, ever the apologist for this kind of wine, opines that it would make a decent $9 or $10 cab, but he's just being his usual sunny-Jim milquetoast self, because this wine, as the kids say, bites. Hard. (12/19/99)

Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley Artist Series 1992 ($50) (Return of the Jeebi):: Medium-dark ruby color. Smells pleasantly layered; cedar and tobacco hit your nose first, then ripe but muted brick-red cassis tinged with oregano. There's some interesting things going on, nasally speaking. A sip, and it has a meaty mouthfeel, chewy and slightly rounded, with quiet, restrained black and red fruit wrapped around a loose dark core. Some development is apparent, perhaps more than I'd expect in a wine this young--the edges are starting to feather off, not unpleasantly. A juicy cassis-and-cedar midpalate flows into a brief tarry finish that carries a trace of astringency, a slight bitterness. Nice balance and integration, a good package, with few seams showing before the finale, but I wouldn't hold on to any more for too long, especially with the scary clown painting by Henry Miller on the label. That clown still haunts my sweaty nightmares. (10/7/00)

Korbel Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1991 ($13) (Elegant Americans): Medium-dark ruby; light cassis nose, stony & a bit smoky; tastes a bit thin, a bit green, a bit generic. (9/99)

Lagarde Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 'Altas Cumbres' 2003 ($9) (Boatloads VII): Softy aromatic cassis-cedar, touch of green asparagus. Basic red wine, pleasant enough but quite characterless. Some aggressive glassy tannins on the finish, hard to find anything specific to complain about, just a general lack of anything good to hang your hat on. I don't know, competent but bland says it best. [Buy again? Not really, no.] (4/06)

La Loma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Wyatt' 2001 ($10) (Boatloads I): Wood. Generic red fruit. More wood. Smells like cedar chips, tastes like oak chips. Oops, there's some fruit too. Blech. Why ruin a cheap wine with all this wood flavoring? What's the point? [Buy again? No, no, no.] (8/04)

Casa Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley (Chile) 2000 ($12) (Winterfest 2003): Medium dark to dark garnet, purpling lightly at the edges. Not much in the way of aromatics--some berry-cassis, hints of smoky-toastiness. A sip, and it's decent right off, a soft wash of dark red fruit, but quickly falls apart in the middle, splitting into disjointed charred flavors, turning somewhat astringent on the finish, with abrasive tannins. This used to be a pleasantly plush little burger wine, straighforwardly simple and velvety. It hasn't changed much, but the price has gone up and it's more noticeably marked by toastiness, the charred quality especially prevalent on what passes for a finish. This has been hanging with the wrong crowd: it's picked up some notions and is putting on airs. Time to let it go, time to come off the cheapie list. (2/03)

Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Mountain 1994 ($35) (Robin in the Big City): Dark garnet. Okay, at least this is wine-related matter. Nose of ripe cassis & smoke--rich and forward-smelling. Tastes smooth as well, cassis-plum fruit coming at me right up front until WHAM a wall of coarse tannins strip-mines my tonsils. Boy, that came out of the blue. Too tannic. Too too tannic. Give it a lot of time. Then give it some more. (2/7/00)

Leaping Horse VIneyards Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi 2001 ($4) (Boatloads III): Medium garnet. Smells of shoe polish, grapey redfruit, not much else. Tastes lightly sweet and oh so concocted, a plasticized wine in the Yellow Tail mold, plum-raspberry fruit, soft and squishily low-acid, just so fakey-fake-fake that it hardly seems wine related at all. Really kind of pisses me off, a stupid wine that makes me want to break things and rip up my winegeek license. [Buy again? Sure. NO I'M KIDDING I'D NEVER EVER EVER BUY THIS AGAIN.] (2/05)

Peter Lehman Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa 1994 ($15) (Nonoffensive Notes): Toasty vanilla-coconut notes emerge beguilingly from a lush straightforward cassis base. Plenty of rich, ripe, forward cassis fruit, it's all here at once right up front, a warm wave of chocolate-tinged fruit, with a good tight core and almost enough acidity to get by, plus some more sweet oak. Creamy and richly, simply fruity. (3/20/00)

Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1992 ($30) (Prodigal Hawaiians): Small nose. Kinda tangy. Some red fruit. This is roundly derided, but I find it less offensive than simply noninteresting. Kane likes it, however, and manages to give Lisa some of her own medicine. (1/12/00)

J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 'Seven Oaks' 2000 (magnum) ($16) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): The name isn't terribly promising, is it? Smells like nothing much at all, vague blackberry and black raspberry traces, touch of mintiness. Tastes smooth and rather neutrally redfruity. No finish except for some burnt-toast flavors (those seven oaks?). Medium-bodied, soft and simple, but inoffensive and genial. You could probably do a lot worse, a drinkable burger wine. (5/03)

Long Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1990 (Culling Me Softly): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells light and simple, red cassis with a touch of cedar. Tastes equally simple, a warm pool of round, low-acid cassis flavor. Still, there's a friendly straightforwardness to the simplicity here, and it's decent enough to sip, in a kind of honest, plodding way. (9/03)

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1970 (NJers): We briefly ponder the white snap-off plastic top that covers the cork on this wine, then move on. It's faded, gone bricky, turning to brown at the rim. The nose is earthy & leafy, with a haze of extremely muted, almost brown cassis fruit--pleasant and layered. Tastes soft and feathery, settles finely on the tongue like ash, but it's a bit limpid in the mouth, lacking grip. Interesting, but past its prime and fading, although it does win the Thunderbird Prize (just edging the Groom) by virtue of becoming Mike's favorite pour of the evening. (1/23/00)

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve 1973(Oddball Grapes): Medium ruby color, browning out from the core. Very earthy aromatics, leaves and brown sugar and shoyu hints, the fruit at the heart has a crushed-brick patina, and there are light hints of dried orange rind. Pomander-smelling. Tastes wan, very little overt fruit left, moist leafiness and earth and supporting acidity. Tired and dried out. Sentence fragments. Not quite dead, still has interest, but not very much fun to drink. Lesson one: don't attempt to age this cabernet sauvignon stuff. (7/27/03)

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 2001 ($14) (Boatloads IV): Clean ripe blackcurrant-cedar aromatics, foursquare California cabernet nose, with just a hint of gravel underneath. Good focus, dark cassis and smoke up front, compact and turning towards blackfruit in the middle, light buzz of tarry anise on the finish. Firm and ripe, but matte-textured and not candied. A firm. pleasant little cabernet, quite restrained (indeed, almost elegant) yet managing a quiet juiciness. The acidity is a bit shy, but just a bit--a relatively simple wine but a very well made one, balanced and poised. [Buy again? Yussir.] (6/05)

Lyndhurst Cabernet Sauvignon Barossa 2002 ($8) (Boatloads VII): Charcoal and plum-cassis aromas. Tastes jammy, bland and hot, spiky acidity and flabby fruit, like blackcurrant jam mixed with Sterno and aquarium charcoal. The ripeness is all, other than that there's nothing. [Buy again? Hell no.] (4/06)

Mas de Guiot Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah Vin de Pays du Gard 1999 ($10) (Drunken Hawaiian Holidays): Smells lightly yeasty, cherry candy and hints of wet dog. Very easygoing, low-acid and fleshy. The middle is a bit weak and there isn't much of a finish, but very open & likeable. Neither cabernet nor syrah dominates, a redder... no, no wait, cabernet dominates. There's a lot not to like here, vagueness, lack of characer, but I like it anyway. Pleasant to slurp, tangy red cab fruit suffused with syrah spiciness. (5/03)

Tried the old soldier, the bottle of McDowell Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1986 ($10) that Lisa picked up cheap from the corner store--unfortunately, it was DOA. Tantalized us with a very interesting old-Bordeaux aroma of earth, tea and leather, but absolutely no fruit left whatsoever. Nothing. Nada. Couldn't decide if it was actually "bad", i.e., oxidized or cooked, finally decided it wasn't, really. Not clearly madeirized or spit-outworthy, but not very pleasant to taste, kind of watery and bitter. But we decanted it and waited, and the bitterness ebbed a bit, leaving.... not much else. No pleasure here. (9/23/98)

Medrano Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza 'La Boca' 2002 ($3) (Boatloads I): Quiet, neutral aromatics. Some swirling brings out a touch of muted redfruit, a flicker of graphite, a suggestion of oregano. A sip, and it's not much more memorable to taste. Flat and wan and watery: the wine that wasn't there. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1978 (Birthday Engorgement): Medium dark ruby color, touch of brown at the rim. Smells of sweetly muted cassis and crushed brick laced with earth and cedar chest notes. Tastes supple, layered and expressive--firm at the core, velvety-skinned and feathered at the edges. Lovely medium bodied wine, purely Californian, firmly plush and elegant. I haven't had a new-release Mondavi wine in ages, do they still make them this good? (6/06)

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1991 (Culling Me Softly): Smells of lean blackfruit and minerals, hint of anise, cedar, a calm and collected aromatic package. Tastes solid and focused, straightforward blackfruit slides under my tongue, plumps out lightly in the middle and finishes quietly. An elegant wine of medium-small amplitude, pleasantly cohesive and balanced, in a good place now. (9/03)

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 1994 ($60) (Return to Kane Manor): Medium-dark garnet colored wine, smelling of soft plum-cassis, coffee and pizza herbs, a fairly quiet and nondemonstrative nose that makes you lean in and search a bit. Tastes gravelly-cassisfruity, some fairly ripe fruit that is a bit monolithic but not offputtingly so. I am ambivalent about this wine. It seems quite correct in a fairly friendly, accessible yet balanced style, but there's nothing much exciting about it, and it seems a bit sterile in its propriety. Still, it's very drinkable and goes down quite smoothly. (6/10/00)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 1985 ($85) (VS Eats at Joe's): Nice tangy blackfruity nose, hints of brick and cedar and smoke. Not bad by me, but John calls it a "three-note wine," to which I respond yes, but 'Wild Thing' did well with only three chords. Kane says it has some nice black fruit, whereupon John seems to become possessed by the cantankerous 3,000 year-old spirit of Joe Dressner, haranguing us that "sure, if you call a batch of prunes left hanging in the desert for thirty years 'fruit,' it does have some fruit," insisting that California hasn't made a decent cab since 1980 and so on, until we have to wrestle him to the floor and pour a Saint-Emilion down his throat, which seems to have a calming effect. (11/7/99)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 1985 (Culling Me Softly): M-DG. Dusty-smelling, dark gravelly blackfruit. Tastes dark and earthy up front, dries out and turns crunchy-brittle in the middle, with some spiky acidity, finishing with a swarm of aggressive tannins. Either over the hill or just not very good to begin with: it seems John Gilman was right about this wine. Well, except maybe the 'crushed ants' bit, I can't speak to that one way or another. (9/03)

Château Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 1985 (Lou Turns the Worm): Medium ruby, bricking well in from the rim. Smells a bit funky, tree bark and crushed brick over quiet leafy-cassis. Tastes pleasant but a bit wan, placid in the middle and brief on the finish. This has shown better, but it's layered and pleasant, if faded. (10/05)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 1987 (Culling Me Softly): Robustly aromatic: dark earth, blackberry-cassis, smoke, tobacco, shoe polish. Equally rich in the piehole, matte, chewy gobfeel, layers of dark flavor. A big, rich wine, it comes right at me with a wave of dark smoky fruit, fills out and striates in the middle almost to the point of having to be wrestled under control, then finishes earthy and quite tannic. A Bruce L. WOW! (Licensed trademark used pursuant to intellectual property lease agreement with Bruce L. WOWbernetics, a Netherlands Antilles Limited Liability Holding Company.) (9/03)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley 1990 (Culling Me Softly): Smells dark, blackberry-blackcurrant laced with dust and toast. Tastes sweetly blackfruited, smooth and supple, good cohesiveness, nice balance, rich without being overdone, ably restrained. A charming wine that goes very well with Joe's spice-rubbed-and-stuffed pork. Someone (Joe? Luca?) dubs it "A good twenty-dollar wine!" and the cheers go up for California, land of my birth, home of reasonably priced alternatives to expensive imported wine. (9/03)

Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 1998 (Fear and Braising in New Jersey): I think I get the slightest hint of corkiness here, but can't find anyone else to agree with me--it's just this persistent cement note that I don't like, but I guess it'll pass muster. Still, I'm wary. Medium-dark to dark garnet color. Smells like foursquare California cabernet: blackcurrants, dark espresso streak, whiff of cedar, that cementy note up high. Tastes smooth and soft and velvety, a juicy wine without a lot of mouthgrab. Decent enough, although rather blander and squishier than I'd have expected from this producer. I don't know, I think there's something wrong with it, judgment withheld. (10/04)

Morro Bay Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2001 ($8) (Boatloads XI): Gentle soft cassis-jam aromatics, touch of cedar, touch of oregano. Tastes soft and squishy, ripe but watery little cabernet sauvignon, blackcurranty and rather bland. Inoffensive, kind of juicy but ultimately unsatisfying. [Buy again? Nope.] (11/07)

Napa Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve 2001 ($14) (Boatloads VIII): Can anyone tell me where this wine is from? Smells dark and ripe, cassis-blueberry laced with toast and licorice. Fleshy and chewy-textured wine, with some strangely spiky acidity burbling up in the middle, then disappearing. Broad and unsubtle, foursquare bullyboy Napa cabernet sauvignon, better than many and cheaper than most. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Navarro Correas Cabernet Sauvignon Mendoza (Argentina) Collecion Privada 2000 ($13) (Winterfest 2003): Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Smells clean and brisk and stony-fruity, light berry-cassis and gravel, not a whole lot going on but airy and lightly charming. A sip, and the taste follows the smells, gravelly red fruit, a bit of black olive emerging in the middle, clean and crisp. Actually, this is kind of good: the acidity is surprisingly pronounced, bracing really, and the easygoing fruit shows better as a result. Finishes smokily, charred hint, more black olive, then some slightly harsh glassy tannins. This is a quiet, restrained and straightforward wine that gives you a good crisp mouthful of cabernet. I had expected something more in the Californian model, but this is its own thing. (2/03)

Neptune Island Cabernet 80%-Merlot 20% South Eastern Australia 2005 ($7) (Boatloads XI): Everytime I see just 'cabernet' it's cabernet franc, so I'll assume that's the case here. But frankly, it makes very little difference, as there's no varietal character to speak of. Big purple jam-juice, plum and pomegranate and shoe polish. There's some poky acidity wandering through the plushness, but it's on its own. A big concoction, froot-punchy, bland and industrial. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($49.99)(Return to Kane Manor): Medium-dark garnet color, and here's that generic big 90s Calcab nose that was missing from the Mondavi--blueberry pie-oak and smoky-toasty oak and cassis and vanilla-oak, smoky and richly generic smelling. Tastes rich and ripe and lush and candied, a rounded creamy-red fruit wave, quite upfront and rich and obvious, a wine that wears everything on its sleeve, a slow-pitch softball of a wine. (6/10/00)

Robert Pecota Cabernet Sauvignon Kara's Vineyard Napa 1994 ($20) (St. Andrew): Deep and dark, with purply-garnet hints at the rim. Pronounced cedar on the nose, along with some nice rich blackcurranty fruit. In the mouth a rich, flavorful cab, more blackcurrants, turning slightly candied and licoricey on the finish, which isn't quite choked off by some gritty tannins. I could do without the cedar, and Lisa calls it "a bit pushy," but I find it a very decent, rich cab that goes very nicely with dead, seared cow bits. (1/15/00)

Robert Pecota Cabernet Sauvignon Kara's Vineyard 1994 ($20) (Summer Mishmash): Medium-dark garnet color. Broad, aromatics, plum-cassis and marinara sauce laced with cedar and smoke, bit of baking chocolate. Bright and crisp, someone is carrying on about "bags of overpowering acidity," but they must be wasted because it has merely good, firm structure, nothing more. Actually, it's more tannic than acidic, but that's another quibble. At any rate, it's a pleasant, straightforward cab with a bit of complexity and a firm backbone. It's a little insistent, and there's a coppery tang on the finish that I'm not crazy about, but overall a solid M+. (4/03)

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 707 1996 ($70)(Manuel and Josie): Deep inky-dark color, with some distracting coconutty notes on the nose amidst rich cassis and dark earthy tarriness, with stony graphite undertones and traces of dusty oregano. Tight, concentrated & creamy-rich, a young-seeming wine with fruit that seems fresh and not jammy (as I'd perhaps anticipated) and some nice crispness, this is well balanced for such a big wine, but it needs years to sleep. (4/23/00)

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 407 1993 ($20): Dense, matte purply-red. Creamy oak & rich plum/cassis nose with spicy hints of pepper & clove. Fairly dense, nice concentration, although somewhat muted in the mouth, again, flavors more of plum than cassis, with dark, smoky undertones--seems more restrained than I'd have thought, less jammy. Nice, crisp, tangy feel in the mouth; sweet, dark finish with some firm tannins peeking through, but not intrusively so. (5/9/99)

Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia Bin 407 2001 ($25) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Smells Coppertoney, coconut oil over dark plum-cassis. Tastes thick, cassis jam spread on toast, turning strangely austere in the midpalate. The acidity is a bit spiky, there's an overall clumsiness to this wine, thickset and squat cabernet sauvignon. Me no likey. (3/06)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Backus Vineyard 1985 (magnum): Medium-dark garnet, another young-looking wine; rich, smooth nose of earthy cassis, chocolate, pizza herbs & a light mintiness. In the mouth simpler than the La Mission we had with it (well, duh), medium-rich muted cassis and light espresso flavors, turning a bit tarry on the finish. A rich, nicely balanced stately cab. (9/99)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Backus Vineyard 1992 ($25): Medium matte garnet; soft plum/cassis nose with a hint of mintyness; in the mouth medium-bodied--crisp, with brisk acidity & muted fruit that needs some air & time to emerge. Bit of hollowness in the midpalate, small in scale and amplitude, fairly light but tangy; some very light sandy tannins. Pleasant, but didn't make a big impression. Lighter than I'd have expected. (7/31/99)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($20): Dark, rich red; sweet, soft cassis & sweet dark oak nose. Very soft and round on the palate, with low acidity. Rich, round cassis flavors; ripe & smooth, with some light sandy tannins and oak emerging through the fruit on the finish. A nice, full-flavored wine for easy drinking, but to my tastes a little lacking in structure--the words 'round' and 'soft' kept floating into my mind unbidden. (4/29/99)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 1979 ($65): Slightly murky matte garnet, still looks fairly young, only a slight bricking at the rim; pretty, rich nose--plenty of smoky cassis here, along with hints of tar and oregano, delicate yet rich and beguiling. This is a beauty to taste, full of feathery, mineral-tinged smoky good cabernet fruit, clear and crisp and layered. Light-feeling in the mouth, well balanced with nice crispness, it settles slowly on my palate in soft waves of flavors leading up to a long, slow finish. Beautiful, really nice. (1/29/00)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 1979 ($65) (15 Fox Place): Medium muddy ruby color, bricking a little at the rim. Smells warm and velvety, light oregano and sod over a base of muted cassis-berry, dark earthy minerality underneath. Tastes wonderfully complex, a firm core of quietly ripe fruit feathering out to leathery-mineral edges. Not a big wine--there's an easygoing lightness to the mouthfeel--but one that just caresses your tongue with layers of satiny flavor and finishes lingeringly. Great California wine, and Dressner waxes lyrical. "This wine, you should spend an evening with it, all night, just spend the night with it. It's California all the way, but it's delicious." Sadly, this is Oleg's last bottle. (3/22/04)

Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Joseph Phelps Vineyards 1973 (Young Turk Meets Old Guard): Oh. Oh, that's nice. Smells layered and fascinating, a blend of black olive, cedar, oregano and bricky muted cassis, with just a touch of mintiness way up in the noseheights. Gentle tasting, faded but quite expressive, small-scaled and pretty, it hasn't the focus or tensile strength of the late 70s Eiseles, but it's subtly seductive at thirty-odd years of age. Great balance, nice sense of restraint, looks like they used to make wines to last in California, back in the pre-gobfest era. (12/05)

Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 1996 ($40): Our second anniversary wine. Medium-dark ruby red; dusty cassis on the nose, rich red cassisfruit/black cherry notes. In the mouth more nice dustiness, crisp, medium-dense body, pure cassisfruit flavors with some slight tarriness; rich, fleshy and darkly fruity, very good with bison steak. (8/17/99)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1994 ($20)(Journey to Queens): My notes begin "see TNs for '95, '96, '97..." In fact, this wine is more like the '95 than the ever-so-slightly larger-scaled '96 and '97, but really the flavor profile is almost identical, even now at different ages. I do like these wines, though--this is dark and rich, with some vanilla oakiness and some dense, concentrated red & black fruit, some nice crisp acidity and big tannins. My mother's favorite cab, so who am I to knock it? (10/30/99)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($24): Deep, deep ruby-purple, almost black. Rich, oily nose of blackberry essence, vanilla & dark cassis, with just a tiny touch of mossiness. On the palate velvety & smooth, juicy, concentrated & rich; crisp tannins & nice satisfying finish. Fairly low acidity, sound integration. Firm tannins emerge as it warms in the glass. A very rich glassful. (11/11/98)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 ($30): Deep, inky red in the glass with only a hint of purple--almost opaque; rich, ripe nose of dark cassis & creamy oak, aromatically opulent, rich & sweet. Thick cassis flavors, full-bodied, enough nice acidity to balance all that creamy fruit; nice, bracing mouthfeel. Cedary notes emerge as the wine warms, along with tarry, licorice tones. Tannins are present, but subtle. A very nice, mouthfilling wine. Another winner from Pride. Probably not such great QPR anymore at that price, but very rich & tasty nonetheless. (6/3/99)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 ($30) (Misplaced Weekend I): Dark garnet color. Smells creamy and ripe--cassis and toasted vanilla, smoke and licorice underneath. It's a hefty wine, velvety and dense. There's sufficient structure to support the richness, plenty of ripe red fruit and a boatload of oak. The rough edges of a few years back have been herded back into the glossy red fold. These are the folks that have mastered the Beringerian skill of making every grape taste the same, but their particular house treatment suits cabernet sauvignon best. This wine is holding up better than the '94 and '95 did at the same age. It's not going to get any better, but it might hold at a nice plateau for a few more years before it cracks up. Very decent new-wave style California cabernet, not for the oak-averse. Thunderbird Prize, goes very well with crunchy celery root. (5/2/04)

Pride Mountain Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1997 ($35): See TNs for 1994-1996. How do they keep making the same wine? A bit rougher and rowdier, but I suspect that's youth talking. (9/29/99)

Prospero Winery Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($10) (Boatloads V): I'm a little less enamored of this than I am of the zinfandel--candied vanilla-laced blackcurrant aromatics, the touch of sweetness in the creamy-textured middle is more distracting and less easily let slide. Simply fruited and rather blowsy, in a similar mold to the zin, but the cabernet flavors seem clumsy when done up in the same outfit. NAKED CHICK ON LABEL! [Buy again? Nah.] (10/05)

Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Vintner's Blend' 2003 ($9) (Boatloads VIII): Aromatically inert, wan hints of cherry and blackcurrant, smells sort of stripped-down. Tastes ripe and watery, more flavor than the aromatics would suggest, but very generic. There's some nice juiciness right up front, but it gets dilute in the middle and turns roughly tannic on the finish. Has some pleasant ripe fruit and decent acidity, but very little character. [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Red Knot Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale 2004 ($11) (Boatloads VI): Medium-dark garnet color, purple highlights. Smells ripely plum-berry-cassised, but there are hints of cedar and oregano to add a bit of complexity. Richly flavored and with substantial midpalate heft, it's just shy of jammy, but there again are some earthy-spicy flavors to take the edge off, as well as some firm acidity and slightly aggressive tannins. Bold wine, at first it's a bit overpowering, but it settles and calms in the middle, the shiny fruit turning towards matteness, the structure rising to the fore slowly but steadily. Quite pleasant, a dense, imposing youngster that I like very much, a chewy wine that fights back in my mouth, like good bread. STRANGE RED TWIST-TIE TOP WITH A RUBBER STOPPER! [Buy again? Definitely.] (12/05)

Red Knot Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale 2005 ($9) (Boatloads XI): Big dark ripe cassis-smoke-graphite-cedar aromatics. Rich and ripe tasting, creamy-smoky middle, decent supporting acidity, a bit more on the confected side than I remember the '04 being, but still does a credible impersonation of a gobby-pointy kind of wine. Large-framed, with a bull-in-a-china-shop feelingto it, it's broad and ripe and oaky, with decent acidity and some scratchy tannins for mouthgrapple. Scratches a certain itch, you know? But avoid if oak-averse. STRANGE RED TWIST-TIE TOP WITH A RUBBER STOPPER! [Buy again? Yup.] (11/07)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California Jimsomare 1993 (Unclear Identities): Hey, it's California! Ripe cassis, bell pepper hints, a dollop of vanilla-coconut. Ripe tasting as well, soothing and warmly rich, chewy-textured and robust, with just enough structure. C'mon, it's ripe meaty cabernet with a bit of complexity, what's the problem? I think I'm the only one who likes it, I'm not sure how my colleagues went so far wrong, they've turned into Old World zealots! (8/8/04)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1976 (Casus Bello): Muddy ruby color, ambering at the rim. This is more faded than the '80; smells of dried pizza herbs and earth over a base of bricky muted cassis, in the same mold as the first--feebler, but still kicking. The fruit that is holding nicely around the spine of the '80 is starting to fall away in the '76, leaving a wintry branch of acidity with only a sparse coating of leaves. It's ebbing, but still there's a prettiness and a pathos to it that is appealing. (4/02)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1980 (100% cabernet sauvignon) (Casus Bello): Hey, this smells lovely, quiet muted cassis laced with cedar and light herbiness, eventually a trace of menthol flares up sparklike. A sip, and it's soft and lean and expressive, seems fully resolved. Delicate and warm in the piehole, a quiet wine that turns silky in the middle and flows lithely into a long sweet finish. It's in a very good place now, almost no tannin left but enough acidity to give the pleasingly decayed fruit some mouthgrab. Surprisingly elegant, a wine that speaks quietly and low but leaves no doubt that it means what it says. (4/02)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1981 ($75) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Leafy, old tobacco aromas. Faded red fruit and tea flavors, watery old cassis and muted brick. DOA, no pulse here. Call it, Doctor Lisa. (11/05)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California Monte Bello 1985 (93% cabernet sauvignon, 7% merlot)(Casus Bello): Smooth and mellow to smell, leather and the bowl of an old pipe wrapped soothingly in a noseblanket of sweetly muted red berry and plummy cassis. Tastes soothingly resolved and easygoing, a friendly fleshy-seeming wine that just washes my gob with layers of sleepy fruit that lingers tangily. Very nice, slightly dreamy cabernet that ought to be consumed sooner rather than later. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1986 ($50): Medium ruby, browning a bit at the rim and throughout; I immediately think older Bordeaux nose--cassis, tomato sauce--rich & smooth, light green note flickers in & out (oregano?); in the mouth not as big or lush as the nose would suggest--medium-bodied, muted cherry/cassis up front, crisp, tangy & fairly simple. Subtle hints of tarry earthiness; very light traces of tannin, very nice sweet/dark finish. A pleasant, crisp wine with some nice simple flavors and very decent crispness, but not a lot of complexity or oomph. (6/99)

Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello 1987 (92% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot, 3% cabernet franc) (11.7%) (Backlash!): Sweet old-chest cedar and cement dust in a quiet dusty-cassis base, light brown-herby streak to the muted red aromatics, maybe a touch of anise. Seems quite resolved, a low-key medium-crisp wine with good balance but hardly a whisper of tannin left. There's a certain fleshy languor here, a relaxed quality that gives the velvety midpalate a slightly vague sense, but there's a pleasant little bricky-tarry rally at the end that helps snap things back into focus. Not bad for proprietary wine, and I like it very much, although it seems to be just slightly past peak. (9/05)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1988 ($80)(Cellar Gems): Nose of cassis & lhints of dark green bean & smoke, some nice earthy-funkiness--yet another beautifully balanced wine with a rich complex midsection that mingles the dark fruit with earthy notes and segues into a long, darkly fruity finish. Craig immediately and firmly declares this the wine of the night. I'd still go with the Tertre-Roteboeuf, but it's close. (10/14/99)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1990 (Sleeping Cats): This has neither the focus nor the fickleness of the Angelus, but it's just as satisfying in a more sedate, spread-out way. Smells dark and rich, hints of pencil shavings and dried herbs over plum-blackberry fruit, the red aromatics in retreat tonight. Tastes quite complete, medium-crisp, loosely knit after the more intense Angelus, but the lack of focus gives it a warmth and amiability that the kids go nuts over. A crowd pleaser. (9/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1990 ($60)(Joao/Kansas): Medium to medium-dark garnet. Dark rich cassis & graphite, with a clear herbal oregano-olive streak that puts Kane momentarily off his beet-stuffed ravioli. Silky-rich, supple and balanced, with cedary high notes and a minerally bass line. This wine is a bit sharp now, still has some rough edges, some gritty tannins, but it's a beauty, with a long and distinguished future ahead of it. My favorite of the night so far, and the winner of the Thunderbird Prize. (3/2/00)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1991 (85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot, 5% petit verdot)(.375 ml.)(Casus Bello): No fooling around here kids, this takes the rich smelliness of the '96 up a notch--bitter chocolate and tobacco, low tarry notes, deep cassis-blackberry fruit that I just want to keep swirling and smelling. In the piehole it's still quite young, a broad meaty wash of black olive and smoky red-black fruit comes at you, then deepens and broadens in the midpalate, the dark notes turning towards tarriness and the red fruit feathering out lingeringly on the finish and squabbling with some fine glassy tannins. A striking wine, head and shoulders above the field even in its youth. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1993 ($60)(Scraps): Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Quiet, soft nose, cedar and tobacco with a hint of coconut over dark cassis, aromatically shy. A small-scale Monte Bello California proprietary wine, balanced and pleasant but lacking in oomph and mouthgrab. Medium-weight stuff that comes off in the piehole as rather dilute, lacking in sustain. I've rarely been disappointed by a Monte Bello California proprietary wine, but this is an exception. (3/01)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1994 (73% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, 9% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc)(Casus Bello): Quietly redblack-fruity to smell with tarry and earthy hints, aromatically small but promisingly velvety in my nose. Nice blackfruity surge of fruit up front, but there is a lack of acidic grab in the midpalate, an out-of-focus quality that doesn't detract but doesn't delight either. All in all, it seems much like a lighter, more elegant version of the 1996. Competent, well made, uninspiring. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1995 (69% cab, 18% merlot, 10% petit verdot, 3% franc)($63): Deep matte garnet color; fairly bright whiff of spicy red cassis fruit hits your nose first, followed by darker accents of smoke and rich tobacco, dark brown herby hints. A taste, and there's some good tart black and red fruit, medium-rich, still a bit young and rough around the edges. Plenty of acidity gives a bit of sharpness to the mouthfeel in combination with the tartness of the fruit. Fairly dense, but not a huge or unbalanced wine--more compact and rich. Finishes a bit short, with some husky rough tannins, but still a pleasure to drink. I won't be opening any more for several years at least, though, as it's in need of plenty of rest. (2/14/00)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1995 (69% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 10% petit verdot, 3% cabernet franc) (Casus Bello): First nosage gives you a hint of earthy funkiness that none of the other wines possess, but then there's that dark red fruit welling up, lighter this time, and tinged with tobacco and green herbs. Tastes tangy but rather weak in the middle, showing very little stuffing, finishing with a sharp espresso note and a flurry of tannins. This wine has closed down since I last tasted it a year or two ago. It seems awkward, centrally vague and generally chunky, at odds with itself. This needs rest and recuperation. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1996 (80% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 9% petit verdot)(Casus Bello): The verdotistas grumble that it was 'gutless' to bring the percentage back down to 9%, but I don't buy it for a minute--this is a rich young thoroughbred with a great backbone despite the reduced verdotishness. The darkest and most concentrated of the youngsters, the nose is darkly redblack and espresso-plummy, not effusive but straightforward and rich. Tastes weighty and straightforward as well, with a meaty first impression that is followed by a muscular middle and a warm toasty finish with a bucketful of sandy tannins. Acidity is firm, good mouthgrab, a fairly intense foursquare young wine. Plenty of potential here, give it a decade or two. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1997 ($60)(Quiz Show II): Plenty of stuff going on here, I swirl a bit and my glass happily gives up tobacco, cedar and black olive hints in a medium-dark cassis base. I'm a bit surprised at how readily this youngster yields up its nosal delights, but I'll take it for $500, Alex. Tastes smooth, silky, medium-weight and, although a bit tight, still friendly and full of flavor, at least until some fine tannins swoop in and strangle the finish. Quite delicious, peculiarly friendly, roundly acclaimed, and the quick winner of the Thunderbird Prize. (4/15/00)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1997 ($60) (84% cabernet sauvignon, 13% gamay, 3% baco noir): When I last had this wine a couple of years ago I was surprised by its openness. Now I am again surprised by its openness. Will I ever learn? Here's a crisp, spicy package of smells--sweet cassis, light cedar and vanilla, traces of tobacco, a high note of mintiness. Tastes quite approachable, looser and less brooding than the 1996, a middleweight wine with good balance and some very pleasant character. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1998 ($60) (Viva Mexico!): Deep garnet-purple color. A pool of primary cassis with overtones of toasted coconut-vanilla, anise and smokiness (the anise and smoke do indeed give a bit of a smoked sausage impression), with a spicy-nutmeg hint emerging with air. Big-smelling and somewhat startling, the wine tastes big and dense and cassis-soupy, well oaked and very primary, purple and young. (3/01)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1998 ($60) (70% cabernet sauvignon, 24% merlot, 5% petit verdot, 1% cabernet franc)(Casus Bello): Smells of graphite, tobacco and oregano in a base of quiet berry-cassis. With air a light note of fennel makes its presence known, and the toasty notes that are quiet at first begin to assert themselves more forcefully. The wine is lean and rather hard--the aforementioned center is firm but ungiving, and sandy dry tannins smother the finish. This wine, without the fleshy cushion of fruit that most of the others have, is in need of more than the usual amount of time to soften and ease up. The quality of the material comes through, but it's a leaner, tougher expression than most. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 1999 ($60) (72% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot, 2% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot) ($60) (Casus Bello): Big ripe blackberry-cassis nose, lots of smoky cedar and vanilla, underlying mineral notes. Smells big and young and oaky. A sip, and there's a dark thrust of hard black fruit sliding into my piehole, spreading out and turning from blackberry towards raspberry redness. The acidic core is sturdy and flexible, the dense fruit seems carved in stone and runs parallel with a generous dollop of smoky oak, finishing with some charcoalish astringency and serious tannin. Quite a young beast here, rich and muscular, very impressive. It's hard to compare it with the others out of context, but it certainly has the concentration of fruit of the 1996, as well as great balance. Very promising, borderline exciting stuff. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 2000 ($65) (NEVER Say 'Spit'): Rich and concentrated, well oaked but not clumsily so. Not as brawny as the '99, more balance, chewy in the middle with a silky veneer. A fine followup to the robust 1999 and the sucky 1998. It was the late Creighton Churchill who first called Monte Bello the "Latour of California," and the past couple of years have driven that point well home in my mind. Rich, powerfully structured and built to last, a foursquare cabernet of great grace and puissance (yes, I finally bought that thesaurus). (4/03)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 2001 ($65) (15 Fox Place): Dark cassis-berry nose laced with gravel, graphite and veins of vanilla and toastiness. There's some obvious oak, but there's also dark chewy fruit, firm acidity and quiet strength. Not a huge wine, but a well-defined and balanced one with enough velvety skin that I don't feel like a cradle-robber. Camblor calls it "cakey"; what that means, I'm not sure. After the semi-gonzo Priorats it seems almost classic, the soul of restraint. (3/22/04)

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello California 2001 ($65) (Guess Who's Coming to Guzzle): Star Chick Sommelier Vanessa Treviño Boyd is convinced I'm trying to poison her with high-octane Aussie shiraz. She squinches up her face and moans about overextraction, but it turns out that she's just a delicate flower, too girly-fragile for this quintessentially all-American wine. Jeez, it's the Fourth of July, can't I squeeze ONE non-Frenchie into the lineup without all the eurocarps coming out to leap and play? Carp, carp, carp. Anyway, yes there's a good whiff of vanilla-coconut, but there's dark rich cassis-blackberry fruit underneath, and ever farther down there's a good gravelly-smoky baseline. Not a brawny wine like the '99, more along the lines of the middleweight '00. It's dark and chewy and a bit awkward now, but has good balance and definition for such a big baby. This I predict: leave it alone for a decade or so, it'll shed the shirazzy phase like a badger sheds its chrysalis. (7/4/04)

Ridge Vineyards California Monte Bello 2002 ($65) (74% cabernet sauvignon, 18% merlot, 8% petit verdot) (13.3%) (Backlash!): Mostly missing the usual 'Draper Cologne' American oak aromas; this is the least wood-marked young Monte Bello that I can recall (I've only been drinking them at release since the '95, so take that for what it's worth). Lots of quiet cassis and new-turned-sod aromatics. The wine isn't a bruiser in the mold of the '96 or the '99, it's actually rather small-scaled and has a certain purity of fruit that I find unusual in a toddler Monte Bello. The finish is a bit closed down by a gaggle of glassy tannins, but there's some licoricey persistence, if not great length. The texture is pleasantly matte, there's nothing glossy here, it's just past mediumweight, on the small size for a MB, but very appealing, like appeal of the run-on sentence. It's not focused like a laser, exactly, but the sense of midpalate spread comes off as amiable fleshiness rather than lack of focus. Nice wine; I'd guess it to be a midterm ager, maybe not one for the ages but a charming youngster nonetheless. (9/05)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains 1990 (Casus Bello): Big ripe meaty-red nose, sweet cassis underlaid with graphite and laced throughout with oregano. Good character, a little herby but herby's okay. Seems a little older than the '85 just tasted, but has much of the same warmth, although not the same density or sustain, a little loosey-goosey. Apart from seeming older than its years, it's showing very well; indeed, just as well as some of the Monte Bellos. (3/02)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Santa Cruz Mountains 1995 ($22). Rich, jammy nose of cassis, berries and sweet oak and cedar with a touch of green olives; similar in character but not flavor to one of the big zins. Medium to full-bodied, nice concentration. Fairly low acidity, round mouthfeel, slightly watery in the midpalate, but good, smooth integration otherwise. Sweet cedary taste flares up in the finish, which has a nice medium length. All in all a very nice wine, although I have very little love for green vegetable notes in my cabs, and the slight but persistent whiff of olives put me off a bit. Certainly a good value at the price. One curious thing--the label just says "Cabernet". Obviously it isn't cabernet franc, but it did strike me as odd. (12/98)

Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon California Jimsomare 1991 (Walt Begs for Mercy): Smells warmly of cassis and bricks, hints of black olive and licorice. Tastes soft and fleshy, fairly low acid but meaty and flavorful, with some nicely integrated cedar-smoky oak, another Kane wine all the way, but one that is flavorful, easy and amiable. Drink 'em if you got 'em. (5/01)

Rosemount Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra Show Reserve 1992 ($17) (Walt Begs for Mercy): Deep garnet color. Smells nice, cassis, gravel and a hint of dark chocolate. Tastes rich at first, with a nice rush of warm fruit, but the midpalate goes limp as the fruit falls away and dissolves into tarry woodiness. Some spiky acidity takes a swipe at my tongue as the flavors attempt but fail to segue into a finish--it falls down well short of the finish line. I keep waiting for the wine to show some reserve, but it never does. Perhaps a labelling error? (5/01)

Rosenblum Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley George Hendry Vineyard Reserve 1991 (Culling Me Softly): Smells ripe and warm, berry-cassis infused with dark pipe tobacco and a trace of cedar. A sip, and juicy red fruit washes over my tongue and sets up camp near my uvula, expanding fleshily in the velvety-redfruity middle and ebbing away reluctantly into a lightly tobaccoed finish. Medium acidity, but lots of plush fruit gives it an initial impression of squishiness. Camblor posits that it's "soft, in a macho sort of way..." which sounds about right. It's so cheerful and giving that thoughts of a lack of focus go right out the window. Very nice wine, echt-Calcab. (9/03)

Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 ($30): A big, rough, pine and cedar-closet vino. It could probably keep moths away all by itself. Deep purple, almost opaque, with a rim of brown around the edge, heavy flavors of wood and tough tannins make me think this will be better integrated in a year or two or five. Lots of nice, rich cassis and blackberry flavors, but just overwhelmed right now by the pine and oak tastes. Like licking the inside of a barrel. It makes me curious to get another one and lay it down for awhile, just to see what emerges from all these big tannins mellowing out. As I said, there is a good, whopping dose of fruit, but I think it would be a race to see who caved first, the fruit or the tannins. I initially thought that I would just cross this one off my list, but I admit to being a little more intrigued now. Maybe I'll try and get another and put it down for a few years and see it it can be civilized. (10/98)

Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($30) (Misplaced Weekend I): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells very cedary, dark and dusty-earthy. Just as oaky as the Pride but leaner: instead of toasty, vanilla-creamy oak, it's cedary, raspy oak. "Like licking a cedar chest," I opine. [Side note: I went back and checked my old notes to see if when I'd had this last, and in a note from 1998 I used the phrase "Like licking the inside of a barrel." Moral: if you're going to overoak your wine, go for the expensive barrels.] This isn't aging very well; the firm fruit of youth has faded, leaving only the carpentry to come to the fore. (5/2/04)

Sagelands Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 'Four Corners' 2002 ($9) (Boatloads IX): Ripe creamy creme-de-cassis aromatics laced with cedar chip and coconut cream. Tastes creamy-rich and lightly jammy, with good structure; firm acidity buoys up the fleshy ripeness. Has the air of a lean Penfold's cabernet, with a clear sense of manufacture about it, but lots of good richness and even a sense of balance. Ripe, fleshy balance, but balance still. Pretty decent for fans of the style. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

San Andrés Cabernet Sauvignon Lontué Valley (Chile) 2003 ($3) (Boatloads I): Fruit-punchy cherry-berry aromas, hey it's cabernet nouveau! Tastes like it smells, with maybe a hint of oregano herbiness and some traces of cedar & graphite. Light, watery and slightly candied: cabernet fruit punch. Not entirely disagreeable, I guess, if that's what you're looking for. But why? [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Scott-Clark Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Unwooded Bin 747 Central Coast 2000 (tank sample) (The Longest Night): Medium to medium-light garnet color. Quiet hints of red cassis and oregano, clean and pretty and bright-smelling. Not terribly complex, but quite present and accounted for, nasally speaking. I always applaud these folks for their unwooded chardonnay, now this is an even rarer bird, an unwooded cabernet. The nose is juicy, not a lot of richness, just a friendly-fruity quality with the beginnings of complexity, and I'm not nearly as bothered by the flashes of volatile acidity as Andrew is, as I remember the pinot being volatile a year ago and not tonight. Tastes light and fresh, not a lot of weight or density but good balance, nice crispness and cohesion. I'm curious to note a tarry quality that I usually mentally associate with toasted barrels to be quite noticeable here in this sample, which apparently sees no wood anywhere along the line. If this, like the pinot, gains weight with time, it should be quite compelling. (12/31/00)

Scott-Clark Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon California 'Bonnet' 2000 ($35) (Winterfest 2003): Sweetly candied nose, fruit punch or cotton candy streak in the dark cherry-Nyquil fruit, hint of volatility. Boy, is this wine in a weird phase--there is an odd old-fruit-salad note in the nose, like canned fruit that wasn't supposed to ferment but did anyway. It's soft and quaffable with interesting hints of tea in the middle and licorice on the finish, but it has a medicinal tang and lacks concentration. This high-octane wackiness is the flip side to the 'minimal process' philosophy that makes Scott-Clark wines such a crapshoot ("Coturri for the new millennium!"). Sure, this is unfiltered, unfined, unenzymed, natural yeast fermented and sees no new wood, but it's also a truly gonzo wine right now that's almost as offputting as the Bryant (Lisa thinks it's even more offputting than the Bryant). Cross fingers, hold. (2/03)

Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 1996 ($$$$) (Scraps): is an ogre, a hugely fruity, hugely oaky beast that inspires a quiet 'yeep' upon first sniffage. Muddy dark purply-garnet color. Taxonomically classified as vitis cultifera, the fruit hasn't the glossy candied quality that often turns me off to some of its culty brethren, nor does it have the ticklish complexity of Lisa's pet Harlan Estate proprietary wines nor the focus and purity of Shafer or Araujo cabernets at their best; it's quite simply an unreconstructed bigass hootie of a wine, brawny and slightly startling. I hear a rustle, and see Lisa eyeing me sleepily from the couch. She cuts right to the chase: "What do they do to grapes to get them to taste like this?" My response: "I haven't the faintest idea." Rough grained and rich, with a light hint of dill and undercurrents of graphite and cedar fronting a wall of dark brickdust-textured cassis, it actually has a curious kind of balance, in the sense that everything is on a very large scale and all the elements are oversized and slightly freakish, an NFL linebacker in tights and toe shoes. A great big, matte-textured, meaty-oaky redfruity wine that impresses with sheer heft and density but, apart from being just plain odd, is way too young to drink now, although I do keep sipping out of sideshow curiosity. Will it ever smooth out, or will its overblown pieces just collapse under their own weight? Slightly larger and more sandy-tannic than the 1995, which it resembles in most other respects. The specter of gigantism rears its outsized head, but I actually grow to enjoy it (as witnessed by my persistent Turleyphilia I have a weakness for bigass hooties). It is certainly a good match with Tombstone pepperoni pizza--the tangy tomato sauce helps mute the disjointedness. (3/01)

Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 1994 ($75) (Cult Madness): Silky and rich-smelling, a sweetly aromatic wine. Smaller in amplitude than the Harlan and without the long, long finish, but rich and seductively blackfruity with nice hints of espresso and minerals. Pretty blackcurrant fruit laced with balanced smoky oak that goes down oh so smoothly. Rich and promising, a siren of a wine that wins you over with finesse and matches beautifully with the braised short ribs with farro, rutabaga & pickled horseradish that we're having now. I will say 'silky' again, because that's my strongest impression, although that word doesn't quite do proper credit to the tensile strength of the black fruit. I think this is my favorite of the cabs, although it's a photo finish with the Harlan. (2/8/00)

Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select 1995 ($100) (Cult Madness): A bit bigger than the 94, a bit less finesse, a bit chunkier and not quite so smoothly aromatic. Still, despite the rough edges, very rich and full-flavored with lots of the same kind of dark coffee-and-mineral blackcurrant fruit. There's a bit of creamy oak vanillin noticeable and some rough tannins. Pales a bit next to its smoother older sibling. (2/8/00)

Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon California 2000 ($3) (Boatloads I): Smells markedly woodchippier than the other two, darker and less fruit-punchy and noticeably larger. Simple cassis-cherry laced with smoky woodiness, a smallscale approximation of the ever-popular fruit-and-wood bomb that the kids go crazy for. Yes, I can see why this was a success: it's like a little girl wearing Mom's fancy gown and jewelry, but it pushes the buttons that pointy people like to have pushed. Drinkable, but simple, bland and concocted-tasting, Velveetaª wine. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($22): Musky nose of cassis with a touch of grapiness--very light oak note. Smooth and integrated; muted cassis flavors, light but firm tannins, light tarry note in midpalate lasts throught the finish. Tannins turn gritty on end. Not bad, but lacks character--fruit is stripped of personality and vibrancy. Not very good QPR--I've seen it for up to $27.99 around here. (1/15/99)

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 1993 ($45): Woof! Lush, ripe, oaky, cassis fruit-bomb nose--medium-dark garnet with a touch of brownishness; oak-barrel aromas; in the mouth dark & velvety, crisp acidity gives nice balance, light fine tannins; bit of a lemon-rind quality to the midpalate, bit of zing; the wine is very rich but its crispness gives it a nice lightness that makes it friendly. An unsubtle but rich and friendly wine--long cassis flavors echo around in your mouth on the finish. A little simple, but rich & velvety. Delightful with Jamaican-style blackened prime rib--the woodyness matches the smoky blackened meat nicely. (5/99)

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Reserve 1991($35): Dark, impermeable purply-red; concentrated cassis on the nose, bit o'cocoa. Medium-crisp, clean, rich cab that seems a bit generic.

Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1988 ($52)(I Get the Shakes): Medium-dark garnet color, slight browning at the rim. Hints of alcohol amidst the cedar and somewhat generic cassis, a lightly aromatic wine. Tastes bigger, rich and crisp and a bit lean and earthy, more slightly faded cassis, more cedar, racy and well-honed with some stern tannins remaining. A bit hard, a bit pooped, but decent. I'd drink any more up soon. (6/6/00)

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1995 ($24.99): Rich medium dark ruby-red; interestingly bright nose of cassis/candied black cherry, smokiness & light hints of green olive & menthol. In the mouth the first thing that struck me is some very bright acidity--the wine got its teeth into my palate in an assertive fashion, no wimpy wine here. Lagging a bit behind is some medium-weight smoky dark cassis fruit, which segues into a sort of a one-note finish, but it's a nice note. I like this for its friendly simplicity, upfront fruit, nice Napa cab. (6/27/99)

Station Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004 ($10) (Boatloads XI): Rather shy dark blackcurrant aromatics with a touch of gravel and Coppertone. Medium-lowish acidity, creamy dark cassisfruit that has very little in the way of mouthgrab but has a friendly puppyish fruitiness. Foursquare California-style cabernet sauvignon meant for quaffing, reminiscent of the day when we used to think of this as the cheap alternative to pricey French wine. Not the most finely honed wine, but friendly and ripe and flavorful. Good stuff for ten bucks, a nice find. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/07)

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cepages 1994 ($20)(Swedes Invade): Medium-dark garnet. Smoky oak, slightly candied monolithic blackberry-cassis fruit. Well balanced, fairly rich and forward, with a lesser dosage of overt oakiness than this year's version. Of the last few years of this wine, I think this is the best. Decent simple cab, glad I have a few left at home to have with burgers. (3/24/00)

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cepages 1995 (Beaucoin Revisited): Broad, oaky and simple, candied plum-cassis-blackberry fruit that's starting to show cracks, leaving only wood flavors behind: coffee, semisweet chocolate, toast. Not terrible, just jammy-oaky and obvious, a decent burger cab if you don't mind wood in your meat. (3/7/04)

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County Cinq Cepages 1996 ($27) (Robin in the Big City): Color of the Year: Dark garnet. Nose of the Year: Candied dark cassis/blackberry & smoky oak. Taste of the Year: Round, fleshy, forward candied plum/blackberry/cassis fruit, bit light on backbone but enough decent acidity to get by, slightly artificial candy-fruity-yeasty flavors, finish is medium-short but dark and ripe. Not a bad $15-20 cab, although a bit redolent of winemaking for my tastes. I don't think I'd buy much of this at $15-20, but I can see how it could be popular, as it's fairly sturdy and clean and the fruit handles the oak pretty well, although it's also fairly characterless. (2/7/00)

Château St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 1999 ($20) (Winterfest 2003): Smells of toasty well-wooded blackberry-cassis, quiet graphite streak underneath, hints of black pepper amidst the toastiness. A sip, and there's a friendly glossyfruity rush right up front that keeps on truckin' through a shinily diffuse midpalate but fades on the woody-charred finish. Simple, candied stuff that's nevertheless quite agreeable and fruitily flavorful. These guys used to have a decent $17 cab that everyone suddenly decided they wanted to pay $60 for, so I guess this is meant to fill the niche. (Maybe next year the $60 one will be $120 and this one will be $60? California's cool that way.) (2/03)

Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Reserve 1987 (Summer Mishmash): Medium dead red, bricking just a hair at the rim. Muted berry-cassis, touch of cedar, touch of oregano, smells very quiet. Tastes fleshy and fully resolved, no tannin remaining. There's dark fruit that's faded but still tasty enough. But the flavors are fairly nondescript; because it was Greg's bottle I had half-expected something that screamed ITALIAN. I guess that it's an older merlot, when pressed for a vintage, I say 1982. (4/03)

Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County 1998 ($17) (Winterfest 2003): Medium dark garnet. Smells like a woodshop, sawdust over a base of plum and cassis, light hint of volatility. The fruit has a dried-out quality, acidity sticks out and the the wood seems to have sucked the life out of the fruit, which is plummy and smoked. Drying tannins on the finish. Not technically undrinkable, but not particularly good either, recognizable varietal character, but joyless and stern. (2/03)

Sylvin Farms Cabernet Sauvignon Atlantic County 1995 ($20)(Cape Mayhem): Smells of sawdust, rust and pine resin over a base of lean red cassis-raspberry. With air, though, the off-aromas dissipate somewhat--the piney notes resolve into more of a pleasant herbal streak and the red fruit plumps up in a first rush of muted cassis that carries briefly into the middle, then fades into tartness and tannins. It's drinkable, if a bit thin, and at least recognizable as cabernet sauvignon. (5/27/01)

Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002. ($10/1L) (Boatloads I): Speaking of Jo‘l Gott, the Liberators of World Class Wine have done it again, this time with a Napa cabernet. Smells grapey and dark, plum-blackberry and shoe polish notes. Tastes like it smells, loosely wrapped, ripe and simple, with just enought acidity to get by and a little roughness on the finish. Not quite the berrylicious bargain that the zinfandel is, but simply fruity and likeable. I can't help liking the jugs, they just tickle me. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Maybe one or two, just to support jug awareness.] (8/04)

Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon California 2003 ($11) (Boatloads VI): Smells quietly cherry-grapey, simple Kool-Adey aromatics. Tastes soft and plum-cherried, loosely wrapped and rather watery. Gulpable in an inoffensive airline-wine fashion, even has a sort of bland amiability, but all in all not one to revisit. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? No.] (12/05)

Thunder Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Bates Ranch Santa Cruz Mountains 1996 ($50) (Elegant Americans): Dark and dense; something odd here with the nose--nice herby cassis aromas, but also a strong sulfury/gunpowdery note. Callahan sniffs my glass and pronounces it contaminated by the wines that came before. I try Kane's and get pretty much the same thing. Seems like some nice rich cab fruit underneath it, so I set it down to see if it'll blow off. Then the waiter takes it. (9/99)

Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon California 2002 ($10) (Boatloads IV): More of the same, smells of ripe plum, cassis and shoe polish. Loose, jammy-ripe and just slightly sweet, but the fun is trickling out at the corners and the wine is just rather jammy-bloated and lacking in spine, focus and character. Candyfruity and hollow, a step up from airline wine, but only just. Stick with the 'shiraz' if you're looking for a jammy party wine. SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Nope.] (6/05)

Vichon Cabernet Sauvignon Fay Vineyard 1980 (NJers): The cork has disintegrated, and Lisa of the Magic Fingers is called in to deal with the situation. After a brief struggle, the cork gives up--it knows it's outgunned. Muddier color than the Martini, but there's a bit more red to the core. Fairly light nose, dark red muted cassis, some earth, not too much there. Got a bit more oomph in the mouth, though, more acidity, more spine. A fairly light wine, this too is fading, and, although it's not as complex as the Martini, has better grip in the mouth. (1/23/00)

Villa del Lago Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2001 (Muscajeeb): Smells of light cherry-berry fruit with hints of cedar and a fruit-punchy patina, almost a cotton candy thing going on. Cabernet nouveau? Tastes more serious than it smells: nice warm black cherry fruit that is loosely wrapped and, while lacking concentration, has a juicily friendly quality to it. With air it gains some weight but it's never going to be a bruiser and the sense of dilution persists until the quiet finish, which is only lightly jostled by a hint of fine tannins. Straightforward and honest, in terms of Napa cabernet this is a unusually light and food-friendly wine, so I'll give it credit for that and won't carp further about any perceived lack of distinct character (at least until I'm sure the check isn't going to clear). (11/10/02)

Villa del Lago Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002 (Eve of Chenin/Day of Satan): Smells like... hmmm... it's an odd one... are you ready? Here we go: Beet Fruit Punch. Bigger and weightier than last year's version, although mostly in an odd way. I want to go back to it later, but circumstances intrude. (12/31/03)

Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Diamond Mountain 1995 ($40) (Swedes Invade): Medium -dark garnet. Tight nose, hints of black fruit, maybe a hint of chocolate-covered oregano. Can't get much nasal action going here, so I taste it. Big and rough and tight, some big dark cran-cassis fruit comes right at you like a linebacker, but it's hard and unyielding, fades in midfield and is soon brought down by a swarm of defensive tannins. (3/24/00)

Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon Clare Valley 2001 ($13) (Boatloads VI): Dark garnet color, smells ripely red and Coppertoney, blackcurrant jam laced with vanilla and coconut. Broad-beamed and muscular, densely cassised, oaky and robustly simple. The mouthfeel is creamy at first, gets interestingly matte in the middle, lets you know its passing through. It hasn't an ounce of subtlety, but sometimes a big dumb oaky cab hits the spot, and this delivers the goods. [Buy again? Yup.] (12/05)

Alice White Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz South Eastern Australia 2003 ($6) (Boatloads III): Plum jam and cherry candy on the nose, hint of mintiness, some licorice in there as well. Tastes squishy and indistinct, but composed and friendly. The acidity is medium-low but doesn't really seem futzed with too much, the fruit is loose and soft and simple, finishes with a brief tar-jam hum and some light fine tannins. Simple and gluggable, a decent little cocktail wine for nongeeks, competent industrial product. FAKE GREEN CORK! [Buy again? Yes, I think so. Or maybe not.] (2/05)

Windtree Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2000 ($10) (Boatloads V): Smoky cedar-cassis aromatics, whiff of dill, dark and ripe smelling. Creamy-smoky tasting, simple but flavorful, pleasantly cassised, foursquare cabernet. Not complex or arresting, but a pretty decent, balanced cab for ten bucks. [Buy again? Sure.] (10/05)

Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Old Vines 1995 ($40)(Viva Mexico!): There's a light herby streak in the nose that puts herb-haters off (Kane makes a face via his PC), but I don't mind. A little candied, a little hot on the finish, but overall pretty good cabernet, crisp and racy, full-flavored and rich but with a nice lean, grabby mouthfeel. (3/01)

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