Fab Cabs 

For one taster at least, white-trash Aussie beats a Napa legend.

When last we saw the Beer Guys, they had somewhat reluctantly joined us for a pre-New Year's Eve sparkling-wine tasting. Apparently we created a monster: Beer Guy #2 was recently spotted on the veranda of a stately Southern home, sipping what looked suspiciously like a white-wine spritzer. "It's called a Pile Driver!" he insisted. We're not buying it.

Luckily we still have Beer Guy #1 to speak the truth for the twelve-pack set. He and his Pinot-loving companion joined us for a blind tasting of three bargain Cabernets and Cab blends from southeastern Australia, where the grape is so ubiquitous that it's starting to rival that Aussie fave, Shiraz. Our wily Token Winemaker brought in a fourth wine, for kicks. We knew only that it was a Cab from California.

Pinot Lover's favorite was the 2004 Cabernet Merlot from Rosemount Estate ($9.99). She praised its intense bouquet and strong flavors, and imagined it as an accompaniment to a celebratory dinner featuring lamb or steak. I found the Rosemount's grapey flavor almost overwhelming, but could still see enjoying a glass on its own. Token Winemaker smelled wet leather and praised its ripe but dry flavors of fruit and oak. Beer Guy could see drinking it with his boss.

We all noted a big aroma and intense berry-ness in the Lindemans Bin 45 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($4.99). Beer Guy in particular was a fan, calling it versatile, pleasant, and pairable with everything from tofu to "steak on the barbie." For me it was reminiscent of a favorite college-era jug wine, and I could see it as a good companion for a hearty meal.

The 2004 Black Swan Shiraz Cabernet ($5) brought to mind a far less pleasant memory: that of a supermarket magnum of Vendange, that wine-list bargain especially popular in the '90s. Beer Guy and I agreed that the Black Swan was a little light for a Cab and had an overly tart aftertaste.

Pinot Lover dissed the Black Swan, too, bemoaning its lack of fullness and dismissing it as a "white-trash Cab." Still, she preferred it to our California mystery wine, which she found too sharply flavored and alcoholic. I thought the Cali pick tasted plummy and expensive, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Token Winemaker waxed poetic about cedar pencil shavings, sweet French oak, a "beautiful Cab aroma," and a delicate balance — but he was at an unfair advantage, knowing that what he'd slipped in was actually a 2000 Opus One ($139-$165), that quintessential Napa Cab produced jointly by two legendary houses, Mondavi and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

We may have created another monster, what with Beer Guy #1 gushing about the Opus One's "rawly welcoming" taste. Perhaps in our next installment we'll find him in a smoking jacket, popping the cork on a '61 Margaux while his steaks grill on the barbie.

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