Some would say that Cabernet Sauvignon is the noblest varietal of them all. Still others would argue in favor of Pinot Noir. These are the two staple grape varietals of Bordeaux and Burgundy, France, respectively. Rather than get into an argument where wine-geeks are throwing four-syllable words around, let us just accept that both are steeped in history and tradition. Both could also, easily, claim to be the noblest of all wines.
Cabernet is the main wine grape of Bordeaux. It is the backbone of this region and known for its deep rich berry flavors, complexity and a spiciness that can range from mild pepper to cinnamon. It also makes some of the longest-lived wines in the world. Case in point: Some Bordeaux produced over 100 years ago were tasted in recent years, and pronounced “still drinkable” to “exceptional.” Worthy of note here is Chateau Margaux 1771 (yes, that’s not a typo). It was tasted a few years ago and received a rating of 99 out of 100 points. Folks, that’s impressive! Don’t try to buy one though. It would cost all your children and many house payments. That’s assuming you could find someone who was willing to part with it so you could impress the boss at dinner.
Cabernet is grown all over the world, from France to South America, from the U.S. to Australia, and Eastern Europe. They may be growing it in China too. I know they grow Chardonnay there. It comes in a variety of styles and price points from $3.99 to over $9000 a bottle (that’s not a typo either). Style-wise, with Cabernet, you get what you pay for. There are some excellent values along the way though. I like to look to California and South America for my values in Cabernet. The problem with California is that the prices have been starting to climb in recent years. I would get them now even the expensive ones before they get outrageous. Then turn to Southern France who is starting to lead the charge for value wines
Pinot’s hold on the wine world is almost of mythological proportions. It is the single most cloned grape in the world, topping 600 different clones and varietals in its family. Everybody wants a piece of the action. Secondly, its histories are many (yes, histories.. plural). One history claims that the Roman soldiers planted it in Gaul during the wars there. There are living vines in Burgundy the soldiers did plant and wine is still produced form them, today. Another history says that the Romans originally got it from the Burgundians when they pushed them out of the Rhein River Valley and west into Gaul. Two things are certain. One; the Burgundians and the Romans never really got along, and two; both peoples recognized the quality of Pinot.
Pinot Noir is a most temperamental varietal and harder to get right. It seems to be quite unforgiving. If grown or produced improperly, its problems will show more readily than with many other wines. It’s sort of like a bad child. If it could stamp its foot and throw a tantrum, it would. I’m reminded of the old poem “there was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.” If you don’t remember the poem, ask your mother. Incidentally, have you called her recently?
The red wines of Burgundy can range in style from lush and fruity, soft and supple, to bright fruit, high acid and a crisp finish. It can exhibit a layered complexity where the flavors change in your mouth, to everything all at once. Look for notes of cherry, spice, pepper, or even leather. It’s one of the most versatile wines you’ll find, and can be drunk with everything from lamb to fish. For lamb, the older Burgundies, with depth and complexity work best. For fish, a young, crisp, bright-fruited Pinot is your best bet if you want to question the authority of “red wine for meat, white wine for fish.”
You can spend a lifetime just experimenting with Pinot or Cabernet, and never leave either family. This might not make you an expert, but half the fun in getting there is the trip itself, as my father used to say. I’ve given you just enough, here, to make you dangerous in any wine department, and to make you look well – studied in front of your brother – in – law. The rest is up to you. Happy drinking.