What’s with this “blackcurrant” thing often associated with tasting notes about cabernet sauvignon?

There is a reason many Americans are unfamiliar with blackcurrant and have never seen a blackcurrant bush: until recently it was illegal to grow blackcurrant in the United States. It remains illegal in many states; some states ban blackcurrants, but allow red or white currants. Go figure.

The ban grew from a disputed 19th century belief that blackcurrant bushes might carry or be a vector for a disease fatal to white pines. Freaked-out foresters persuaded feds to ban blackcurrant bushes in the early 20th century. The national ban was removed in 1966, but only recently have several states legalized blackcurrant cultivation.

Europeans, especially British children, are very familiar with the taste, thanks to Ribena, a popular sweetened blackcurrant soft drink.

Your most likely exposure to blackcurrant is from crème de cassis, a liqueur made from blackcurrant. “Cassis” is French for blackcurrant. Crème de cassis and sparkling wine make a Kir Royale, a delicious addition to any day.

Blackcurrant and cabernet sauvignon also are linked by geography. The major French production area for cab is Bordeaux, and Bordeaux is a major French production area for blackcurrant.

In tasting notes, blackcurrant usually references sweet acidity and rounded fruitiness with a tincture of tartness and a pinch of palate-cleansing astringency. One wag claims blackcurrant tastes like blackberry with pirate swagger. Garrrrr. Maybe so, matey.

Tasting notes:

  • Hayman & Hill Monterey County Meritage 2012: Jammy dark fruits, spice, chocolate, tinge of black currant; dusty tannins; smooth drinking Bordeaux-style blend at reasonable price. Similar to Kendall-Jackson Summation. $15
  • Sean Minor Napa Valley Cabernet 2011: Dry Bordeaux blend, but nicely ripe fruits give impression of sweetness; blackberry, black currant, plum, cherry; full body, genteel tannin, sweet oak; not complex, but tasty Napa Valley value. $20
  • Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2012: Polished, plush; black cherry, raspberry, black currant tang; tame tannin, good acidity. $28
  • Chateau Fonréaud Listrac-Médoc 2010: Superb Bordeaux value; tasty red and black fruits, blackcurrant, mint hint, chip of cedar, vanilla; clean, smooth, medium body, tame tannin, balanced, good structure; rounding into fruity-delicious after five years of bottle age. $45

Last round: Yes, I drink a lot of wine. When you meet my family, you will understand.