Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s most planted wine grape. It produces inky, concentrated, and robust wines in almost every wine-producing country, and the finest Cabernet Sauvignons can age! Here’s all you need to know about the most-traveled red wine variety.
Origin Viticulture and Winemaking
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the authorized varieties for wine in Bordeaux, France, where the grape originated. The vigorous, late budding, mid-to-late ripening variety thrives in the region’s well-drained, gravelly soils. Of course, the grapevine is not exempt from damage from fungal diseases, such as Eutypa dieback, Esca, and powdery mildew; still, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most resistant vines worldwide.
Cabernet Sauvignon vines produce small, thick-skinned berries with astounding tannin concentration, and you can tell in the wine — Cabernet Sauvignon is not a shy varietal. In 1996, DNA specialists from UC Davis discovered Cabernet Sauvignon was born from the spontaneous crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc somewhere in the Gironde before the mid-eighteenth century. Grape growers, of course, soon found in the rich fruit the main ingredient to add structure and age-worthiness to their blends.
Cabernet Sauvignon eventually found its way to the New World, and it’s now championed in North and South America, South Africa, and Australia. Even European countries other than France found an excellent source of stand-alone varietal wines and in blends, from Spain’s age-worthy Ribera del Duero to Italy’s famous Super Tuscans.
Wine made with Cabernet Sauvignon is concentrated and intensely fragrant, making it ideal for extended aging. In fact, the grape is responsible for popularizing the use of barriques (225lt), the Bordelaise traditional wood barrel, across the globe.
Although there are young red wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, the best are often aged in oak barrels and are made to withstand the test of time. In many cases showing higher alcohol levels of up to 15% and a structured palate, Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape behind some of the boldest wines worldwide.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s Bouquet
Cabernet Sauvignon produces red wines with red and black fruit aromas. Blackberries, black cherries, and cassis (black currants) are not uncommon on the nose and palate. Cabernet Sauvignon, just like its parents, has distinctive herbaceousness from compounds commonly known as pyrazines. These aromatic molecules can be reminiscent of bell peppers, tobacco leaves or mint. And since wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon often spend time in oak, you can also expect vanilla, coffee, cacao, cedar, smoke, and baking spices.
Finally, as Cabernet Sauvignon ages, the wine gains tertiary aromas redolent of turned soil, leather, mushrooms, and truffles. Generally, Cabernet from cold climates is more herbal, while those from warm wine regions are fruit-forward.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s Taste
Cabernet’s distinctive feature on the palate is its rugged, often angular tannins, which can be overwhelming for the inexperienced. The wine comes with medium acidity and medium-to-high alcoholic warmth between 12-16%. Wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon are usually dry.
Cabernet Sauvignon FAQ
How to Serve Cabernet Sauvignon?
Like all other dry, full-bodied red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon is best enjoyed at room temperature, around 16°C (61°F). Although the most refined wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon can be enjoyed after several decades, most mid-tier and young Cabernets are best enjoyed between 3-5 years from vintage.
Glassware for Cabernet Sauvignon
Serving Cabernet Sauvignon in a large “Bordelaise” stemmed wine glass is customary, often with a large, chimney-shaped bowl to capture the wine’s bouquet. These wine glasses can have stunning capacities of up to 750ml (26oz), but 5-ounce pours are optimal to allow the wine taster to swirl and sniff the wine comfortably without warming the wine too much.
Should you Decant Cabernet Sauvignon?
There are two reasons one would want to decant a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend. One is to remove sediments that precipitated into the bottom of the bottle during extended storage. Two, to “open up” the wine and let it breathe, as the wine becomes more aromatic in contact with oxygen. Young Cabernet Sauvignon can also benefit from decanting, even if it doesn’t show deposits.
Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairings
Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold red wine with noticeable tannins and aromatic intensity. It is best enjoyed with fatty beef cuts, lamb, duck, goat, and game. Hearty stews, roasts, grilled meat, and meaty casseroles are also compatible with the Bordelaise variety.
How to Store Cabernet Sauvignon?
The ideal temperature for storing red wine for long periods is about 10°C (50F). Still, anywhere between 10-16°C (50-61°F) is acceptable. The ideal humidity should be around 50-70%. Keep wine away from direct light, heat sources, and vibration in a dark or dim-lit cellar or wine storage unit.
Dates for the diary:
August 30th is Cabernet Sauvignon day!
Cabernet Sauvignon’s Top Growing Regions:
Left Bank Bordeaux, France
Along with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon is a leading varietal in Bordeaux, the grape’s ancestral home. Cabernet Sauvignon is always blended with others to achieve complexity.
North Coast, California, USA
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted red varietal in California. It shows the most promise in Napa Valley, Sonoma, and several other AVAs or American Viticultural Areas in the region.
Chile’s central valleys have the right conditions for growing premium Cabernet Sauvignon. The best examples come from high-altitude vineyards, especially those overlooking Santiago in the Maipo and Puente Alto DOs.
South Australia, Australia
Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in warm South Australia. Although the grape is popular in the area, the finest examples come from Coonawarra. The region’s red soils, or “Terra Rossa,” are behind the wine’s great concentration. Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Shiraz elsewhere.
Margaret River, Australia
Margaret River, in Western Australia, is also a fantastic source of Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, as the region shares similarities with Bordeaux. Bordeaux-style blends predominate in the area, although mono-varietal examples exist.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stellenbosch and Paarl are two prestigious South African regions for red wine, and Cabernet Sauvignon plays a leading role along with Shiraz, Merlot and the country’s own Pinotage. South African Cabernet is often described as a middle ground between the old world and new world wine styles.
Fun facts about Cabernet Sauvignon:
Cabernet Sauvignon takes its name from its parents, Cabernet Franc, which most probably originated in Northern Spain, and Sauvignon Blanc found growing wild in the Loire Valley. Sauvignon comes from the term “Sauvage,” which means savage or wild.
The Judgment of Paris’ in 1976, a blind wine tasting competition between Californian and French red wines, proved Cabernet Sauvignon can produce extraordinary results anywhere. The American wines ranked higher than the French.
Cabernet Sauvignon contains high amounts of natural compounds called pyrazines. These appear on the nose as vegetal or herbal, making Cabernet wines taste “green” sometimes, especially if from cold regions or damp vintages.
One of the interesting similarities shared in Bordeaux’s variations is the presence of a fragrant compound that is also found in green bells (called methoxypyrazine).
Cabernet Sauvignon is the source of some of the most expensive wines in the world, but most wine made with the red grape is relatively well priced.
1600s: Cabernet Sauvignon was first mentioned in writing.
1976: Stags’ Leap Cabernet, from Napa Valley, defeated the top Bordelais Chateaux in the “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting competition, changing how we saw fine wine forever.
1997: Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered to be a child of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc by DNA researchers at UC Davis (Carole Meredith and John Bowers).
Want to expand your knowledge about wine? Try these books!
Anderson, Kym. 2013. “JANCIS ROBINSON, JULIA HARDING And JOSÉ VOUILLAMOZ: Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide To 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins And Flavours. Ecco (Harper Collins), New York, October 2012, Xxxvii + 1242 Pp., ISBN 978-0062206367 (Hardback), US$175.”. Journal Of Wine Economics 8 (1): 106-109. doi:10.1017/jwe.2013.9.