Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine 2016, Livermore Valley
M ost of the world’s greatest red wines are made from four grape varieties considered classic: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and syrah. Of those, the most versatile and most familiar to wine drinkers is cabernet sauvignon.
It is grown all over the world in a wide variety of styles. Some cabs are bold, some are soft and mellow. Some can be harsh in their youth and mellow into super stars with a few years of aging.
If you are among the small group of wine drinkers who don’t know much about cabernet sauvignon, now is a good time to explore because August 30 is International Cabernet Day.
Many of the most sought-after cabs come from the Medoc region of Bordeaux, but now world-class cabs are being made in California, where it is the most widely planted red grape. The winery responsible for most of those cabernet grapes is Concannon Vineyards.
Founder James Concannon imported cabernet vines from Chateaux Margaux and began his winery in 1893 in the Livermore Valley. He became one of the first winemakers in California to produce cabernet sauvignon.
Then in 1965 his grandson, Jim Concannon worked with UC Davis to develop virus-resistant vines known as Clones 7, 8 and 11. Today an estimated 80 percent of California cabernet sauvignon vines are Concannon Clones.
The Conannon Clones are so widely planted not just because they are virus-resistant, but because they produce delicious wines.
Two great examples of that are the Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine ($44-46) and the Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($18-20).
These wines offer a real dilemma. I like to find wines in the $20-30 range because you can find some outstanding wines at that price. The Concannon cab from Paso Robles is one of those great finds.
I am a big fan of Paso Robles, where the soil and climate produce incredible wines. The Concannon cab is full of rich aromas and intense flavors of plum and red cherry, laced with vanilla and spice. It is made of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent petite sirah and five percent cabernet franc.
The grapes were harvested and cold soaked at night to provide additional color and tannin extraction. Upright pumpover tanks help produce a fragrant, fruit forward wine. After fermentation the wine spent eight months in American oak barrels, 40 percent new.
The real star at Concannon, however, is the Mother Vine cab. It is an over-the-top incredible wine, with rich full flavor mellowed by smooth tannins. The first sniff of the glass almost overwhelms you with aromas of blueberry, ripe red fruit and cassis.
This smells like a great wine, and the first sip removes any doubts. It has a rich, silky mouthfeel with flavors of red fruit, raspberry and vanilla that lead to a long, pleasant finish. We don’t drink $45 wines every night, but I could make an exception for this one.
It is composed mostly of cab grapes from the vines of the very first planting brought over from Bordeaux with additional grapes from other estate blocks. It is 86 percent cabernet sauvignon, nine percent petite sirah and five percent malbec. After fermentation it spent 20 months in American and French oak.
Only 608 cases of this wine were made compared to 45,000 cases of the Paso Robles cab, so you are more likely to find the Paso cab. If you can find the Mother Vine it is worth it, but the Paso cab is one you could cellar for years and not break the bank.
So pop open a cab this weekend, and if you can find a Concannon wine you will be in cab heaven. Even if you drink another cab, offer a toast to Concannon for developing the clones so many grape growers have planted.
Winery: James Concannon and his wife Ellen founded Concannon Vineyards when they moved to the Livermore Valley in 1883. It was among the first California wineries to produce Bordeaux blends.
The winery also introduced petite sirah to America in 1961. It is known for its Bordeaux blends and its Rhone style blends.
The family practices sustainable farming and green technology. It is part of the Conservancy winegrowers who have placed their land in a legal trust to protect the land against development.
When James Concannon founded the winery, the California wine industry was young and winemakers were exploring which varietals were best suited to the region.
Concannon went to Bordeaux to learn about winemaking and vineyard management.
He brought back cabernet sauvignon cuttings for planting in California. His first wine made primarily from cabernet sauvignon was bottled in 1886. An infestation of the root louse phylloxera destroyed those vines in the 1890s.
Concannon returned to Bordeaux and brought back the healthiest, phylloxera-resistant Bordeaux varietals. Those plants are still producing grapes today in Livermore Valley.
Two generations later Jim Concannon worked with the University of California at Davis to develop cab clones that were resistant to phylloxera. The development of these clones is considered Concannon’s greatest contribution to the California wine industry.
Fourth generation vintner John Concannon continues to produce cabs in several price ranges, including reserve, heritage and selected vineyards. The winery also produces many other varietals at a wide range of prices.
The winery offers tours and tastings daily (except for holidays) at its beautiful estate in Livermore.
Goes with: We had the Mother Vine cab with vegetable beef soup, something I have been eating all my life. I liked the juxtaposition of a peasant’s meal with a king’s wine. The Mother Vine cab elevated the whole meal.
My wife Teri is generally a white wine lover, but even she raved about how good this wine was. The wine kept getting better with each sip as it opened up. The complex fruit flavors were a great complement to the rich, savory soup with its many vegetable flavors.
We had the Paso Robles cab with grilled chicken served with barbecue sauce and potatoes cooked on the grill. This was another great combination. The powerful cab matched the barbecue sauce, but didn’t overwhelm the chicken.
We had another bottle of the Paso Robles cab with lasagna, and that may have been an even better match. The rich tomato flavor and tasty cheese really made the plum and cherry flavors in the wine pop out. We added a tossed salad and had a feast.
Both wines would pair well with steaks, rosemary leg of lamb, grilled lamb chops, hearty soups and stews and a wide variety of cheese.
If you have questions about wine you can email Dennis Sodomka at email@example.com
Concannon Cabernet Sauvignon Mother Vine 2016, Livermore Valley