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Classic Cabs

I don't let the temperature get in the way of enjoying wine. When the mercury taunts 100 degrees, I still find a way to enjoy big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon.

It's not much as a quaffer during our torturous Georgia summers, but, when paired with an evening with friends and a nicely matched meal, it's a must.

Last week, I had the joy of tasting for the first time Larkmead 2006, Napa Valley. This classically styled Cab heralds from the historic Larkmead Vineyard, one of the original "big four wineries" in Napa Valley alongside Beaulieu, Inglenook and Beringer. Although the smallest of the four, Larkmead has consistently produced a Cab that has captured the hearts of consumers and critics.

Winemaker Andy Smith, who took the post in 1999, has continued the legacy. He has an impressive pedigree, including time at Paul Hobbs, DuMol and Gemstone Vineyard. By his own definition he brings a Pinot Noir sensibility to Larkmead's blend of 96 percent Cabernet -- the rest being splashes of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

I liked the rich expression of this elegant grape. The fruit is all estate grown and carries with it character from these historic grounds. The wine opens subtly, but then stands and delivers with notes of licorice, black cherry. Cassis, a flavor characteristic of all Larkmead bottlings, brings home the first hints of the finish, which continues to linger -- as I would expect from this balanced wine. It is a benchmark among Napa Cabs.

At just over $50, this is not a wine for everyday -- but an exemplary wine for gifting or pouring with great friends over a perfect meal.

There are plenty of other good Cabernet options in low to mid price ranges. Here are some of my favorites:

Educated Guess 2006 Napa Valley: I tasted this wine at Ganem Package Shop's Rebel Room during a charity event -- then ran downstairs to buy a bottle of my own! The myriad of dark fruit and floral notes in this Pinot Noir come from the cool, windy Los Carneros appellation. Enticing aromas of blackberry and red cherry are woven in with floral notes. I enjoy the "bacony" smokiness from the nose. $20-$25.

Hawk Crest 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: This second label of Stags Leap Wine Cellars offers nice complexity -- with robust flavors of red currant, dark chocolate and walnuts. A long, vanilla finish makes this a great pairing for grilled beef dusted with spicy dry rub! $14.99.

Bommarito 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon: Another second label product of the big Whitehall Lane Vineyard, this is another example of the bramble berry flavors that can come from great Cabs -- even inexpensive examples. This one conjures up blackberry -- big, luscious, wild berries. Again, plenty of vanilla and sweet oak create an elegant finish. $17.99.

Cupcake 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: We leave Napa and pull this bargain from the California Central Coast appellation. Big fruit flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and plums characterize this wine. The finish is silky -- but still delivers Cab tendencies of toasted oak and vanilla. Want a treat? Enjoy this wine with honey drizzled baked brie.

Your retailer can secure any of the wines for you, and the last few are available in most Savannah package stores, as well as suburban locations like Coastal Beverage Warehouse in Pooler and the new Lawrel Hill Beverage near Berwick.