King Cabernet: Craig Suveg's Notes on the Making of High Maintenance
In great anticipation of our 2015 release of High Maintenance this weekend, I would like to share some of my thoughts and experience crafting old world style Cabernet Sauvignon.
One of the original six Bordeaux France varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
I believe the key to crafting Cabernet boils down to the art of restraint. John Saltmarsh, who has considerable experience pouring my wines at various events, has repeatedly described my Cabernet Sauvignon as a “feminine style” Cabernet. Given that John has traveled extensively through the Bordeaux region, I certainly take this as a compliment and consistent with an old world versus new world style Cabernet Sauvignon.
What is the secret to restraint? The answer, I think, is part physics and part chemistry. Cabernet Sauvignon has small berries and skins containing high levels of phenolic compounds, tannins and anthocyanins. While the equation may be rather simple: well stuffed skins + not much juice = BIG WINES, the solution of restraint becomes rather complicated.
The intensity that develops on the vine holds its promise of wines with great power, depth, structure and legendary longevity. However, Cabernet’s abundance of muscle raises the risk of simply over extracting resulting in wines which are unapproachable early.
I take Cabernet through primary fermentation a little differently than other varietals. I like slightly higher temperatures; peak temperatures 88-90 degrees F for at least 36-48 hours and reaching that peak sooner than later. In this way, the extraction by heat occurs early and the extraction through ethanol dominates later as opposed to having both factors bearing on the fruit simultaneously. Pressing at dryness, I often put my Cabernet through extended maceration; leaving the dry wine on the skins for 16-19 days in order to soften the tannins and hopefully make the wine approachable earlier.
I generally age Cabernet in French oak; both 114 and 225 liter barrels. However, our 2015 vintage was aged in a combination of 114 liter new medium toast French and 225 liter neutral medium toast Hungarian oak for 24 months and 30 months prior to release. Remember that small new barrels impart oak flavor and oak tannin to the wine at an accelerated rate than larger barrels since the ratio of surface contact to volume is higher. The result of aging in this manner created a multi-layered and complex 2015 vintage suitable for long aging.
Our 2015 High Maintenance Cabernet Sauvignon, named after where the barrels were racked, pairs exceptionally well with lamb, prime rib, sirloin, rib-eye and porterhouse steaks as well as Huntsman and Dutch Gouda cheeses.
I hope that you enjoy our 2015 High Maintenance as much as I enjoyed producing it.