Julie Manet was an unusually intelligent and perceptive young woman. The only child of artists Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet, younger brother of Édouard Manet, Julie grew up at the center of the artistic world of her time. Her mother held frequent soirées, attended by more or less tout le monde. Berthe’s guests included Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. James Whistler stopped by a few times. Literary figures visited as well, including Stéphane Mallarmé, who gave young Julie a greyhound dog named Laërtes. Julie sat “at the big table” from an early age, listening attentively and charming everyone.
Julie kept a diary, recording her impressions of the artists and intellectuals around her. She began her journal in 1893, when she was about 15 years old, continuing until a few months before her marriage to Ernest Rouart in 1900. (Edgar Degas introduced the young couple.)
Julie was drawn and painted many times from her infancy onward. Her parents, her uncle Édouard, and Renoir all painted her. (Some of the paintings show her with Laërtes.) Whether through her charm or her beauty, Julie was a source of inspiration to the artists around her—a muse, as it were.
What exactly is a muse?
According to the dictionary, in modern parlance a muse is a “spirit regarded as inspiring a poet or other artist.” Many artists have been inspired by muses—Catullus by Lesbia; Dante by Beatrice; Berlioz by Harriet; Gauguin by Juliette, Teha’amana and Pahura; Picasso by five or six of his lovers.
But must the muse metaphor be restricted to describing artistic matters? What about wine? Are there wine muses? When a charming varietal inspires a winemaker to create something wonderful for the world’s drinkers, is this not also a muse relationship? Yes.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been described as the world’s “most renowned” varietal. Descended from the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon grows well in diverse terroirs, and it has a thick skin that imparts generous flavor, color and tannin to its wines. Surely, if a grape can be a muse, Cabernet Sauvignon is a likely candidate.
We tasted several Cabernet Sauvignon wines to see how winemakers have responded to this inspirational grape.
The Torres family has been making wine in Spain for five generations. The family’s headquarters and principal holdings are in the Penedès region of Catalonia.
Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon Penedès DO 2012 ($70) is the sort of wine that elicits extravagant prose—phrases like “abjectly delicious,” for example. A rich, glowing ruby color, the Mas La Plana offers an alluring bouquet of dark berries, red raspberries and herbs. Its flavor is redolent of blackberries, currants, red raspberries and plums. You may notice herbs and spices. This is an elegant and subtle wine that deserves extravagant praise.
Glenelly Estate is located on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg in the Stellenbosch region. Originally granted to a Huguenot in the late 17th century, the property was purchased in 1865 by a British family that ran it as a fruit farm for 138 years. In 2003, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing acquired the property. Madame de Lencquesaing had operated Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Bordeaux for 30 years, and she recognized the great potential of the South African terroir.
Glenelly Lady May Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 ($55) is a blend of 89 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Petit Verdot and one percent Cabernet Franc. Its violet hue and aromas of dark fruit, violets and yeast presage a complex flavor comprising blueberries, black raspberries and currants—with tenebrous nuances of espresso, bitter chocolate, slinky graphite and even tobacco. It’s wonderful.
The dry desert climate and difficult soil of Argentina’s Mendoza Province make it a great place to produce wine. Vines strain for nourishment in the parched, rocky earth. Growers control the amount of moisture available to their crops through drip irrigation, using runoff from melting snowcaps. Extreme diurnal variations in temperature in the thin mountain air benefit ripening fruit, fostering development of sugars by day and complementary acids by night.
Susana Balbo may have been the first woman in Argentina to earn an enology degree, which was awarded to her in 1981. She worked at several Argentine wineries and as a roving consultant before founding Susana Balbo wines in 1999. She releases wines under several labels—including Susana Balbo Signature and BenMarco.
Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($24) grows at an altitude of 1,120 meters in the Valle de Uco in Mendoza Province. The blend is 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and five percent Merlot. The Signature Cabernet is a deep garnet color, somewhat translucent near the rim. Its bouquet is unusual and intriguing, evoking memories of cherries, figs and mincemeat pie. The lively flavor includes elements of currants, blueberries and figs with inklings of coffee, tobacco and black pepper. The wine was aged in mostly new French oak for 13 months, but oak-related flavors are subtle, as is acidity. This delightful wine is downright fun to drink.
BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon Valle de Uco 2015 ($20) was grown in the Valle de Uco at an altitude of 1,150 meters. It comprises 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with five percent Cabernet Franc. The wine is a rich red, slightly darker than the color of a speeding fire truck at dusk. Its bouquet is dense and dark, with an air of solemnity. Its flavor is similarly dark, focused and fruity—plums, currants and blackberries—with intimations of dark chocolate, chocolate cake and espresso. It may remind you of expensive blueberry jam.
Julie Manet was painted many times by great artists. Despite being depicted in different settings, wearing different clothing, and with or without her dog, she is recognizable in all the portraits.
The wines we tasted are like that. Produced in diverse terroirs all over the world, they all evoke currants, black raspberries, plums, chocolate, coffee and even tobacco in unique and surprising ways. Yet they all are recognizably Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robert Calvert drinks and writes in Louisville. Questions or comments? Email Robert: RBCalvert@att.net.