Wine Review: 2016 Buena Vista North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

17 10 2018

By Peter Vetsch

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]


A rare sighting.

The $25 California Cabernet Sauvignon is an endangered species nowadays; once a stalwart gateway drug for luring novice wine drinkers into a lifetime of vinous enlightenment, it has now been superseded in that endeavour by numerous other New World crowd-pleasers that are managing to offer similarly accessible and overt pleasure at wallet-friendlier prices.  The combination of rising land costs, fire- and drought-inspired production difficulties and the utter shredding of the Canadian dollar as compared to the US greenback on world currency markets has more or less eliminated California as a source of solid value wine in our market.  Buena Vista Winery is trying to change that, but with this series of factors arrayed against it, it’s fighting an uphill battle.

I have previously written about the remarkable, riotous, barely credible but actually true history of Buena Vista, the proud owner of the label “first commercial winery in California”.  It is well worth refreshing your memory about, but the Coles Notes version must at least mention:  (1) Agoston Haraszthy, who may have been the first Hungarian to emigrate to the United States, who founded the winery and who essentially crammed six lifetimes of zaniness and adventure into one shortened 19th century thrill ride; (2) 1857, the year Haraszthy founded Buena Vista, part of a major ambition to establish high-quality vitis vinifera grapes in hospitable California soils; (3) Nicaragua, where Haraszthy fled barely a decade after Buena Vista was first established, with angry and misled company investors potentially at his heels; and (4) alligators, which apparently ate him there.  Never a dull moment at Buena Vista in the 1850s and 60s.


The aforementioned California wine value struggles probably at least partially explain why this wine is bottled under a North Coast appellation.  The North Coast AVA is a massive catch-all region in California (much like the famed and gigantic South Eastern Australia appellation which encompasses almost everywhere you could possibly grow wine grapes in the country) whose scale is almost as large as Agoston Haraszthy’s legend.  It covers over 3 MILLION acres of planted vines located pretty much anywhere north of San Francisco, in a rough rectangle 100 miles long and 50 miles wide.  It engulfs six different counties (including the renowned Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino) and close to FIFTY more discrete and delineated sub-AVAs located within its massive umbrella.  It is home to over half of the wineries in California — 800 and counting.  So yeah, it’s big.  The point of using a North Coast AVA as opposed to a more particular designation is that it allows you as a producer to source grapes from anywhere within that 5,000 square-mile area and aggregate them under a single label, thus permitting you to blend grapes from more sought-after AVAs with others from less known or undesignated areas in a single bottling.


This kind of practice is almost necessary if you want to create a drinkable California Cabernet Sauvignon at an entry Canadian price level in 2018, which is what this wine strives to be.  It comes close to succeeding, although it is atypical of Cab in a few respects.  First, it is a strangely translucent ruby colour, only opaque at the very core, an unexpected feature from a dark and thick-skinned grape.  It is also clearly welterweight in style, not bringing the aromatic or tactile heft that Cali Cab tends to bring to mind.  Still, the confectionary and dark-fruited nose is plenty engaging and far from shy, launching out enthusiastic aromas of buffed-up kirsch, tangy blackcurrant Wine Gums, blackberry jam, cherry jelly beans and vanilla bean, grounded slightly by high-toned red apple.


Cork Rating:  3.5/10 (Sort of stubby and in need of some graphic drama. Or an alligator.)

The flavours continue to skew sweet on the palate, a sensation that I suspect is backed up by some small amount of residual sugar left in the wine.  The combination of a fairly meek structure (only measured levels of fine soft tannin and restrained acid) and overtly juicy watermelon, sultana and cherry Fruit Roll-Up primacy places it on the more cheerful, frivolous side of modern Cab, lighter and less dense but undeniably crushably delicious.  The enthusiastic fruit, smooth body, traces of minty leafiness and chocolate-laced oak give this North Coast many of the elements expected of a California Cabernet, even if these are not joined by the depth, boldness and presence that the grape often commands in this state.  The quest for those characteristics grows ever more expensive.

86+ points

$20 to $25 CDN



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