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On massive Cabernet Sauvignons

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Review: Steven Kent 2018 The Lineage Cabernet Sauvignon (Livermore Valley): $125.

Right off the bat, this 100% Cabernet tastes important. Flashy. Balanced, elegant. Pinpoint Cabernet character. Very rich, tannic and full-bodied, almost a food group in itself. Masses of blackberries and currants, new French oak, and an inviting olivaceous character.

EVOLUTION IN THE GLASS. The wine maintains interest through the first hour. In fact, it barely changes, in the way of a fine, youthful Cabernet. Chewy, soft, complex, no flaws.

NEXT NIGHT: Quite unchanged. Still rich, sweet, unctuous, balanced, delicious.

DISCUSSION: What is the role of a wine like this in modern life? The price alone makes it difficult for the average person to buy, but that’s true of many great wines, so while it may be sad, it’s reality. Then there is the enormity of the wine itself. I try to come up with metaphors and one that recurs is that this wine is like an expensive vacation to a tropical rain forest where everything is fantastically exotic. You go to, say, the Oso Peninsula in Costa Rica and are mesmerized by the fabulosity of the jungle, with its verdant plants, screeching parrots, psychedelic butterflies and colorful flowers. There is wonderment at every step.

But would you want to live there? Could you? Same with this wine. It’s a destination, an expensive pleasure dome for those looking for vinous adventure who can afford the journey. This is not to put the wine down; I could say the same about Sassacaia or Harlan or Petrus, for that matter. But it is to put things into perspective.

There’s more. The fact is that there are other wines like this Cabernet in California, and some cost quite a bit more. I don’t taste widely anymore, but I do keep up with wine reviews by critics, and I know that a 97-point Cabernet is hardly a rarity.

What this breaks down to, for me, are a couple things. One, which from a historical standpoint is important, is that Steven Kent continues to be the maestro of the Livermore Valley. If anyone else comes close, please tell me. He is presenting Bordeaux-style wines that rival anything from Napa Valley or Sonoma County or Paso Robles—the three great Cabernet regions of California. That, surely, is an accomplishment, given Livermore’s placement in the necklace of jewels ringing San Francisco Bay, and its under-performance of the last several decades relative to those other areas.

Another aspect of interest is the wine’s ageability. Consumers have grown used to the idea that an expensive Bordeaux-style wine must necessarily benefit from, if not require, bottle aging. That may be true of a Medoc First Growth or certain Italian Cabernets, but it was never true for California, and I admit to having peddled that line in my day, not consciously as a lie, but because I believed it. But in recent decades vintners have learned how to make even a 100% Cabernet lush and drinkable on release.

So is the 2018 The Premier ageable? I’m now reluctant to issue authoritative pronouncements, because I’ve tasted so many wines I thought were ageable that sucked. Anyway I suspect most people who buy the wine (and there were only a little more than 2,000 bottles produced) are not going to stick it in the cellar for long. Nor should they; as I’ve said, the sheer richness and opulence make it instantly loveable.

I suppose most bottles will be sold in restaurants, especially steak houses. If you’re willing to drop a lot of money, you’ll find a spectacular Cabernet to pair with that steak. It will not pall during a long meal as it warms and breathes in the (hopefully) big glass. With each sip you’ll discover new nuances. You’ll talk about the wine to your friends afterwards. It will reinvent your conception of Livermore Valley. But you might find yourself afterwards craving something lighter, crisper, more delicate and lower in alcohol. After all, you can’t live in the rain forest for very long.

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