Once, in a Michigan liquor store, I was shown a bottle of Champagne after asking for a Zinfandel recommendation. It got me thinking about how the shops in my own neighborhood would do when given a similar request. So, this week I decided to visit each of Shakopee’s seven liquor stores and ask for their best Cabernet Sauvignon for under $15.00. In each case, the shop employee not only suggested a bottle, but explained why I would like it. Well done, Shakopee wine stores! I purchased each of the recommendations and opened them at the same time for a head to head competition. I specifically asked for a Cabernet because so many on the market at that price have too much oak. During production, keeping the wine in oak barrels imparts the delicious character of the wood into the wine. Lately, however, there’s been a tendency to overuse oak, overwhelming everything else about the wine until it becomes boring and one dimensional. It leaves your mouth wanting something else, anything else, but oak. Let me explain it this way: remember when you were a kid at summer camp? Remember that one kid in your cabin who could belch longer than anyone? Remember how funny it was the first day? Remember how old the joke got by the end of the week? Exactly.
Of the seven recommended wines, here are my two favorites:
Balance 2005, Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.99): Recommended by Shakopee Wine Cellars. This wine has a big delicious nose with spice, dark ripe fruit, and chocolate flavors. It has a rich mouthfeel and a deep purple color. From Mendocino, Balance is a wine whose flavors are somewhat different than the typical Napa Cabernets. Tasting this was like taking a prune, rolling it Swiss Miss mix, and sprinkling it with cayenne pepper. It may sound a little odd but it’s delicious. I would love to try pairing this one with a few pounds of dark fudge sometime.
Louis Martini 2007 Sonoma County, Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.99): Recommended by MGM Liquors. Louis Martini has a less defined nose but it shows lighter fruit like red raspberries on the mid-palate. It is lighter in body and fruitier than many California Cabernets but still delivers some of the bigger, bolder flavors of coffee and tobacco. Its oak is light and tasteful. Because of its lighter body, it is probably more food friendly than many cabernets.