WINERIES IN Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have long argued that they could make good wine from the cabernet sauvignon grap. According to local winery experts, all that was needed to succeed was a good, well-drained vinyard, a benevolent mother nature who could provide a long, dry, sunny growing season, and a talented winemaker.
While there is no doubt that many East Coast wineries have succeeded admirable with white wines made Wine from such grapes as the chardonnay, seyve-villard (commonly called seyval blanc), riesling and sauvignon blanc, it has long been accepted wine law that the great red wine grape, cabernet sauvignon, can excel only in a few select regions of the world, most notably Bordeaux, France, and the Santa Cruz Mountains and Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties in California.
I recently tasted a number of locally made cabernet sauvignons, and while they are not likely to cause a tumble in sales of Cha teau Lafite Rothschild or Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons, four were good enough to merit serious attention. More important, the wines represent obvious evidence that interesting, complex, rich and flavorful wines can be made locally from the cabernet sauvignon grape.
While all four of these wines exhibited the classic personality traits of wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes--a black currant fruitiness and faint, herbaceous, ripe, fruity aromas--all differed in style, no doubt reflecting the individual climate and soil of the vineyards, as well as the style of vinification chosen by the winemaker.
Representing the big, full-bodied, tannic, rich and aggressive style typical of many California cabernet sauvignons was the 1980 Byrd Vineyards ($10 to $12). Made by Bret Byrd, the winery's owner, from his own hillside vineyards in Frederick County, Maryland, this very impressive, yet youthful wine, has deep, black currant, earthy flavors, good acidity and a heavy overlay of tannin. Of the four wines, the 1980 Byrd needs the most cellaring, yet seems to possess all the components to provide a memorable wine-tasting experience in five or six years.
Perhaps the best cabernet sauvignon for drinking now and over the next 4 to 5 years, is the 1980 Montbray. Ham Mowbray makes splendid, as well as this country's best, seyval blanc from his Carroll County vineyards in Maryland's Silver Run Valley, but his 1980 cabernet sauvignon must certainly be among his most noteworthy winemaking accomplishments. It currently displays a rich, savory, supple black currant fruitiness, a full blown, ripe, toasty, cedary, slightly herbaceous bouquet, and real depth and length on the palate. Furthermore, unlike many heavy, tannic, alcoholic California cabernet sauvignons that get a bit boring to drink by the second glassful, this wine is interesting to the last drop. It is available only at the winery for $10 a bottle.
Another well-made local cabernet sauvignon vinified in an easy-to-drink, supple style was the 1980 Meredyth ($8.99) produced from the winery's vineyards in Middleburg, Va. The big bouquet of this wine suggested a mature St. Emilion from France, as it offered a lot of complex, oaky, ripe, fruity notes. The flavors didn't quite live up to the bouquet's promise, and while they lacked the dimension and savory character of the Montbray, or toughness and muscle of the Byrd, this lighter weight cabernet sauvignon does offer plenty of clean, charming flowers.
Lastly, the 1981 Allegro Cabernet Sauvignon ($8.49) from York County, Pennsylvania, seemed to have all the depth and richness one expects from a cabernet, but like the 1980 Byrd, needs several years of bottle age to soften and develop. Allegro, owned by one of this area's most talented and conscientious young winemakers, John Crouch, produced a fine 1980 cabernet sauvignon, and a sensational 1980 merlot, both of which first alerted me to the possibilities of excellent red wines from East Coast wineries. While the 1981 may not be quite as successful as its two sibling predecessors, it does show fine dark ruby color, a rather closed-in bouquet, and relatively rich, black currant, fruity flavors, nicely complemented by toasty vanillin oak elements.
These four good cabernet sauvignons do not prove that local wineries will develop a national reputation for excellent red wine from this grape, but given talented winemaking, a good vineyard location, and a cooperative climate during the growing season, the cabernet sauvignon produced locally, can be fine enough to compete favorably with many California cabernet sauvignons and French bordeaux. While the local cabernets are not great values at the aforementioned prices, they are worth trying. If you're interested in trying these wines you are best advised to seek them at the wineries, as the distribution in Washington is very limited. WINE BRIEFS
Speaking of successful efforts by local wineries, Boordy Vineyards of Maryland, not known for producing top-flight wines, has just released a 1982 Sevyal Blanc ($3.99 to $4.99) that is the best wine I have tasted from Boordy. Crisp, dry and showing just a touch of barrel aging, this sevyal is one of the best on the market, and should make an ideal accompaniment to this fall's crop of oysters. It certainly is a step in the right direction for one of Maryland's oldest wineries.