A Guide to Cabernet Sauvignon
When most people think of red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon is the first grape that comes to mind. Known as the King of Red Wine, this full bodied, dark, concentrated wine is the most popular red wine grape grown on the planet. Thriving in both warm and cool climates, you’ll be able to find a delectable Cab – what it’s most often referred as – no matter where you are in the world.
To best understand this wine, let’s start with understanding the grape itself. Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural descendant of the red grape Cabernet Franc and the white grape Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Sauvignon is a very small berry – it’s one of the smallest grapes out of the 3,000 grape varieties used to make wine. Because of this, there is a greater ratio of skin to pulp than for most other grapes. The skin of Cabernet Sauvignon is thick and deep purple in color.
Color is one of the dead giveaways of Cabernet Sauvignon wine. Cabernet is firmly planted in the dark, rich, ruby end of the wine spectrum. A wine gets its color from the skin of the grapes, so combine the thick, dark skin with the high skin to pulp ratio, and out emerges a beautiful, inky, dark wine.
Aromas & Flavors
Cabernet Sauvignon wines will taste very different depending on where the grapes are grown. A warm climate will produce a wine with ripe fruit notes: blackberry, black currant, plum, and black cherry. In cooler climates, the flavor profile tends to lean more herbaceous, with notes of mint, eucalyptus, tomato leaf, leather, and earth. Cabernet is nearly always aged in oak barrels, so depending on the type of oak used, you will pick up tones of cedar, tobacco, smoke, vanilla, coconut, and baking spices. Other common Cabernet notes are violets, roses, mushrooms, and bell peppers.
Cabernet is a very powerful and intense wine due to the grape’s inherent characteristics. Winemakers will age Cabernet in oak barrels for 1 – 2 years, or more, to help soften the intense tannin structure and add a greater overall complexity. There are various types of oak that can be used, but French and American white oak are the most popular; French oak generally has a tighter grain and a more subtle impact on the wine’s aromas and flavors, whereas American oak is looser grained and has a more pronounced effect on the wine.
Cabernet is the most widely planted wine grape in the world, due in large part to the vine’s ability to adapt to different soil types and a range of climates. Bordeaux, France is the first place most people think of for growing Cabernet, followed closely by Napa Valley, California. There are many other places where Cabernet is grown: Spain, Italy, Chile, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, other parts of California besides Napa Valley, Washington, New York, Texas, Virginia, Israel, Lebanon, Hungary, and China.
Finding Quality Cabernet at a Good Value
Cabernet Sauvignon is often the most expensive wine you’ll find at your wine shop or grocery store, especially if you have your eyes on a Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet. Don’t be scared away by the high price tag of these wines and think all your Cabernet hopes are lost. Good quality Cabernet can be easily found in regions such as California’s Central Coast, Languedoc-Roussillon in France, and Curicó Valley in Chile. You’ll be paying a lot less for these wines and still enjoying Cabernets complex and intense features.
Blending with Cabernet
On its own, Cabernet is a very rugged and harsh wine that most people find unappealing. In order to make the wine more palatable and round out its rough edges, nearly all winemakers blend in some small percentage of another grape. The most common blending partners from around the world are: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Carmenere, Syrah, Shiraz, and Tempranillo. Even if you think you’re drinking a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, you most likely aren’t. Each country’s laws are different, but a winemaker can put a small percentage of another variety into a wine without advertising it on the label. Another reason why Cabernet tastes so different depending on where it’s made – the common blending partner(s) will be different depending upon which region the grapes were grown in.
If you are enjoying a young Cabernet, the flavors and mouthfeel will be very intense! Soften the wine by aerating it before drinking. This can be done by pouring the wine into your glass and waiting (15 – 30 minutes should do be good), by pouring the bottle of wine into a decanter, or by using an aerating tool such as the Vinturi Wine Aerator or a Wine Globe Aerator.
If you are savoring an older Cabernet – 8 years old or older – it is highly recommended you decant the bottle as you aerate it. By carefully moving the wine from one vessel to another, you are able to pour off any sediment that has accumulated in the bottom of the bottle. As a wine ages, tannins and other solid matter falls to the bottom of the bottle, accumulating as sediment. This is why an older wine tastes softer, or feels easier to drink, because the tannins have literally precipitated out of it.
A full bodied Cabernet should be paired with a hearty dish, otherwise the wine’s flavors will overwhelm the food. Look for a meal with healthy fats, as the fat will balance out strong tannins.