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Deconstructing Isosceles: A Magic Blend of Cabernet

by Jim Gerakaris, CWE

2019 is truly a momentous year for Cabernet Sauvignon at JUSTIN. In addition to the release of PLATINUM Reserve and the 30th anniversary of our JUSTIN Cabernet Sauvignon, our 2016 ISOSCELES has the highest percentage of Cabernet in the blend since 2010. Cabernet sauvignon is known for its bold and outspoken character and is the main component of the ISOSCELES blend. Cabernet sauvignon, the anchor grape variety used in the blend, is an unchallenged “noble grape” variety, along with other noble varieties such as pinot noir and riesling. This “noble” designation has been earned by these varieties’ ability to produce clearly distinctive, quality wines for hundreds of vintages.

In Bordeaux, the region of cabernet’s origin, this late-ripening variety is on the edge of ripeness and maturity due to the region’s cooler, maritime climate. The practice of blending cabernet with earlier-ripening grape varieties like merlot and cabernet franc arose from cabernet being on the edge of its ability to ripen. This helped assure consistent quality in most vintages, giving their cabernet-based wines the complexity, balance and longevity for which they are legendary.

In California and especially in Paso Robles, our climate is well-suited to fully ripen and mature cabernet, producing outstanding varietal wines (wines made from just cabernet) without the help of other varieties.

The other advantage gained by blending cabernet is that when done carefully, it can produce wines that are greater than the sum of the components in complexity and balance. It’s a bit like taking a precious stone and cutting or polishing it to bring out added features that are not initially apparent. A skilled artisan can work magic with the right components.

While we make great Cabernet in Paso Robles vintage after vintage, its bold character can be transformed by adding merlot, a grape that typically shows a ripe blue fruit character (think ripe plum), to soften cabernet’s bold character, making the tannins a bit less pronounced and further complexing cabernet’s blackcurrant and black cherry fruit character. Blending can smooth a wine’s rough edges and add some elegance, but it can also inadvertently erase character. An overwhelming amount of care is required in the blending process, and in some circumstances another grape variety with other characteristics might be required.

Cabernet franc, a variety long-grown in Bordeaux, exhibits flavors of bright red fruit (think barely ripe raspberry or strawberry). Savory tobacco leaf adds an herbal, savory character to a blend and a clean feel to the palate that keeps the fruit from getting too ripe or jammy. For the ISOSCELES blend, cabernet franc is often the component that makes the biggest difference, even if it is only a minor component of the blend—a sort of secret weapon.

All this said, there are really two key components required to make an exceptional blend like ISOSCELES; availability of quality fruit, grown in conditions that bring out the best characteristics from each variety, and a winemaker who can recognize this character and has the skills to combine them in a way that produces an exceptional result. At JUSTIN we have both: the exceptional wine-growing region of Paso Robles, and Scott Shirley, who is responsible for every aspect of each vintage of ISOSCELES that you enjoy with each new release. Try our current 2016 vintage and experience for yourself why Cabernet Sauvignon is the mainstay of our ISOSCELES blend.