This statement is something I’ve been hearing for the better part of two decades as I’ve crisscrossed the country hosting wine festivals, gala dinners and gourmet tours. Just as surely as a gathering of men with nothing in common to talk about will land on sports, politics or sophomoric humor, when the topic of what I do for a living comes up, most men immediately start flexing their wine muscles by declaring their love for Cabernet Sauvignon—or, as so many say, “a good cab!” I’ve given this some thought, and have decided that the only explanation is because Cabernet is somehow seen as the Vladimir Putin of grapes. It’s tough. It’s powerful. It’s tannic. It poses for photos shirtless on a horse, and it doesn’t take any crap from Merlot—or any other grape, for that matter. Cabernet also makes wines that are happy to go mano-a-mano with big, manly cuts of red meat. At practically every single bachelor party I attend Cabernet plays co-host with giant steaks, followed by Bourbon, cigars and…well, you know. Never mind that.
But let me go on the record and say that I like a good Cab, too. No doubt it was a bottle of rich, round, supple Napa Valley Cabernet that once-and-for-all weaned me off the sweet Lambruscos of my Jersey-Italian youth. And while I’ve dabbled with plenty of other grapes since then, I recently fell in love with Cab all over again. I was researching Washington State reds, and came across the Cabernet Sauvignons that Greg Harrington makes at Gramercy Cellars; they have a purity and elegance that’s just stunning.
- The Best Napa Cabernets to Buy Now
- 10 Vintages of One of Napa Valley's Greatest Cabernets
- Splurge vs. Steal: California Cabernet Franc
As a guy who can figure out a way to pair red wines with just about everything on a plate, though, I do think Cabernet sometimes ends up too powerful. Left unchecked, Cabernet strides boastfully across the palate, ignoring all borders, seizing control of taste buds and salivary glands, suppressing acidity while simultaneously tightening its Putin-esque tannic grip. It’s futile to resist. And yet, there is hope. No, fellow men, I’m not going to tell you to start drinking more Pinot Noir; that would be like asking you to learn French. But dial back the manly rhetoric a bit. Try some juicy Rhône grapes, like Syrah and Grenache. While they can give Cabernet a run for its money with fruit, depth and power, the best examples deliver a lot more food-loving acidity. They’re more versatile—or, in political terms, a little less despotic. Though, it is sort of fun crying out “na zdorovye!” every time you make a toast, right?