"One of the things that’s always been a point of pride with Souverain wines is they deliver immense value, in the sense that you might think they are quite a bit more expensive than they are."
This is Ed Killian, winemaker at Souverain, the venerable Alexander Valley winery, and his observation served to confirm my initial impressions of the week’s Wine of the Week, the Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($17)—that it’s not only a terrific California cab, but terrific value too.
It has real personality. There are your typical, succulent, California dark-berry fruit flavors but they are balanced by a zesty acidity and remind me more of fresh fruit than the sticky stewed variety. There’s also an intriguing mushroomy earthiness that’s rare in a wine at this price.
I asked Killian if this was the result of a conscious decision to buck the trend, so prevalent in California, to make big, overripe wines?
"It’s a conscious decision to try to make it in such a way that it’s not herbal and that the fruit is fully ripe, but on the other hand it hasn’t fallen over that line of being confectionery. Pushing ripeness has become, as you might say, a little popular in certain places in California."
IN A CORPORATE EMBRACE
It’s not impossible to find California cabs with this sort of Bordeaux-like earthiness and restraint, but they are usually from smaller, privately owned wineries that make distinctive wines for niche markets.
So this presents another surprise about Souverain—it’s not exactly the sort of family-owned winery described above. Quite the reverse. Souverain is one of many holdings of Treasury Wine Estates, itself recently spun off from the giant Australian beer company, Fosters.
Such wineries are usually subject to the dictates of corporate suits who tend to call forth focus-group-driven wines crafted to appeal to the largest possible number of consumers. They are not bad wines, just not that interesting.
GOING ITS OWN WAY
But Souverain has been lucky. "Fortunately, they kind of leave us alone when it comes to the winemaking side of things," Killian tells me of the various owners Souverain has answered to during his 19-year tenure.
And constant changes in ownership are not good for a winery. Each new regime wants to impose its own image on the label, and in all the chopping and changing, the brand tends to lose its identity and winds up competing on price alone on supermarket shelves.
But somehow—perhaps it’s Killian’s wise stewardship—Souverain seems to survive intact and whole, it’s reputation for both quality and value unaffected by the corporate upheavals swirling around it. One thing I do know, it continues to produce a delectable cab at an extremely reasonable price.
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When to Drink: Now and for the next five to 10 years
Breathing/Decanting: An hour’s breathing essential
Food Pairing: All red meats, especially roast beef and lamb
Grapes: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Alexander Valley
Region: Sonoma Valley