What Should Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?

Posted on: August 6th, 2015 by

Seems like a pretty basic question, huh? An iconic and omnipresent red wine grape like Cabernet Sauvignon should be pretty easy to identify taste-wise.

Yet both winemaker and wine drinker have a wide variety of ideas on what Cabernet Sauvignon should give you in the glass and in your drinking hole. Taste is subjective, after all. So let me insert “I think” between the “what” and the “should”.

Well, that’s really presumptuous to make myself the arbiter of Cabernet Sauvignon taste. Who cares what a pasty, balding, melancholy blogger thinks? I am not 100 points. How about this instead:

What I WANT Cabernet Sauvignon To Taste Like

There, that’s cool. Let’s proceed. First, a short stroll through some fascinating white wines to get to my opinion about Cabernet.

stony hill vineyard

Stony Hill Vineyard, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley (Photo courtesy of the winery)

I was recently invited to have lunch with Sarah McCrea, whose family owns Stony Hill Vineyard in Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain District. (She’s Sales and Marketing Directory, BTW.) You want to talk about some old-school Napa, the McCrea family began planting grapes in 1947. And the style of the wines? Very laid-back.

I started off trying the 2103 White Riesling. Dry, it reminded me of Australian Rieslings (which I love) with a little more funk and richness.

Stony Hill is best known for age-worthy Chardonnay. And my sampling of the 2012 and 2010 did not disappoint. Notes on the 2012 oscillated from “very nice” to “so good” to “perfect!“. (The latter exclamation also describes the amount of oak used.) The 2010 was more developed (duh) with a touch of nutty caramel flavor. And after being open for a while, the zip on the finish really developed and I became torn between which vintage I preferred. (This is the best kind of wine writer anguish.)

But what about the Cabernet Sauvignon? Well, it was the 2011 (from a cool vintage, BTW, which generally results in more restrained wines), and I loved it. Now, let’s get back to the taste of Cabernet Sauvignon. I want there to be some olive, some herbs, some mint. There’s gotta be some green in there. And the 2011 Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon did not disappoint. Not clubbed with oak nor alcohol, it reminded me of all the things I love about Napa Cabernet. (Also, low booze level: 13.2% alcohol.) I was surprised that Stony Hill’s first commercial release of their Cab was the 2009. It tasted like they’ve been doing it forever. And in a world of triple-digit prices for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, $60 for a bottle of Stony Hill is an outstanding deal.

Though I haven’t visited Stony Hill, Spring Mountain is an awesome spot. The next time you’re in Napa and need a break from the valley floor, head upward. And if you could also swing a stop at Smith-Madrone and Cain, your wine life would be considerable enriched.

Also a shout-out to Goldfinch Tavern at the Four Seasons for accommodating a bottle-strewn table and for a couple comped appetizers. If you go there and they still have the hamachi crudo with olives, horseradish, red onion, and chervil, GET THAT. 

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2 Responses

  1. You “need” a little green? Even if everything else is there? Some winemakers certainly seem to see it almost as a fault….

    Great job as always–I need to get there at some point.

    • Jameson Fink says:


      Thank you for the kudos. Yes, I need the green. Not from under-ripeness, but from what I think makes Cab, well, Cab. But I know that other winemakers (and drinkers) would disagree. Possibly mightily.


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