Whether you’re an avid wine drinker or just segueing into the world of wine, you’ve definitely heard of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon is referred to as the kind of black grapes. In fact, it is one of the most sought after grape varieties in the world, and is probably a brand in itself in the world of wines and grape varieties.
But how much do you really know about Cabernet Sauvignon? Let’s find out.
Get to know Cabernet Sauvignon
As a grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon is a thick-skinned grape variety which requires a lot of warmth. It thrives only in moderate to warm climates because it needs a lot of sunshine and heat in order to be able to ripen successfully.
When given the adequate amount of sunshine and warmth, a Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape variety that develops a lot of colour, and produces wines with a lot of acid, a lot of tannins, and full-bodied expressions.
When there is not enough heat, sometimes, in borderline sort of climates where the Cabernet Sauvignon just about manages to ripen, it may produce aromas and flavours like:
Herbaceous flavours like green capsicum
Distinctive flavours and aromas of blackcurrants, black plums, black cherries, and all big, broad spectrum of black fruits all packed into one.
Cabernet Sauvignon can come with a lot of tannins, which can be very aggressive to taste, especially when the wine is very youthful. And while Cabernet Sauvignon can be made into a single varietal wine, it is often also blended with other varieties, particularly Merlot. Adding a bit of Merlot to a Cabernet Sauvignon can add a bit of softness to the edges and will allow some red fruit profile to come to the blend.
When it comes to oak, Cabernet Sauvignon has an immense affinity to oak. The high amount of acid, structure, tannins, all of these work beautifully with oak over long extended periods of ageing. Here, the oak allows the tannins to soften, but also lends a lot of opulent, vanilla, clove, toasty, oaky notes, and therefore lends more structure to the Cabernet Sauvignon. This allows it to be a wine that can age for an extended period of time.
Some great examples of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world can age for 20, 30 years, and with age can evolve into layers of leather, toast, smoke, cigar box, lead pencils, a whole spectrum of very matured flavours that can make cabernet sauvignon taste intriguingly wonderful and distinctive.
Cabernet Sauvignon and its regions
Some of the best expressions, and some of the most priced wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon around the world come from the Bordeaux region in France. And we’re particularly talking about what we refer to as the left bank.
These are the appellations in the region that lie on the left side of the Gironde Estuary and Gironde River.
The Haut-Medoc region is home to some of the most valued Cabernet Sauvignons around the world. Here we have important appellations known as Saint-éstephe, Pauillac, Margaux, and Saint-Julien that produce these astounding wines.
Slightly to the south of Haut-Medoc, there’s the Graves region, which again makes wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons and one of the most important appellations in Graves is the and slightly to the south of haut medoc is graves region which makes wonderful cabernet sauvignon and one of the Pessac-Léognan region, where some of the best sites are located and some of the most complex, age worthy Cabernet Sauvignons come from.
The soil type in Bordeaux is gravelly, so although Bordeaux enjoys a moderate climate with a lot of vintage variation, gravelly soils help to attract heat and radiate this heat back to the vine plants. This is what enables the successful ripening of Cabernet Sauvignon year after year.
It’s also very common in Bordeaux to blend Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, just to offset any sort of unreliable weather conditions in the event where Cabernet Sauvignon was not able to ripen successfully, there’s always a fall back on the early ripening Merlot grape variety which then adds to the blend, and is able to create some delectable expressions.
In Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon has proliferated in all main wine growing regions, particularly Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, and Friuli, where it successfully ripens with the moderate to warm climates that exist in these various regions.
In the new world, Cabernet Sauvignon finds reliably warm and sunny conditions in order to be able to ripen successfully and make single varietal wines.
One of the most important regions in the new world, where we find Cabernet Sauvignon are the Napa Valley in California.
Napa Valley, being more inland, enjoys a good amount of warmth and Cabernet Sauvignon styles that come from Napa valley are rich, opulent, with lots of high but ripe tannins, full-bodied expressions with lots of black jammy fruit. Some of the most sought after appellations in the Napa Valley are Rutherford, Oakville, and more up north, Calistoga, which enjoys a lot of warmth. It’s probably the warmest part of Napa Valley and this is where Cabernet Sauvignon really thrives.
Chile again as a country has adequate warmth in order to be able to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon successfully. Some important regions are Maipo Valley and Colchagua Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile may be made as single varietal wines or may also be blended with Merlot and Carmenere, the indigenous Chilean variety in order to make wines that are full bodied with expressions of black fruit, some herbaceous notes, and toast and smoke from oak.
Stellenbosch in South Africa is also a premium wine producing region for Cabernet Sauvignon. Because of the hilly topography of Stellenbosch you can get Cabernet Sauvignons of varying styles.
South Africa is also well-known for creating Cabernet Sauvignon blends with Pinotage, which are known as Cape blends.
In Australia, the Margaret River, which is located to the western part, is where Cabernet Sauvignon successfully blends with Merlot to make a Bordeaux style blend. These wines are aged and matured in oak for long periods of time and are made with the intention of long term ageing, displaying some oak but also lots of black fruit, blackcurrant.
Coonawarra is where Cabernet Sauvignon thrives as a single expression. This region enjoys coastal influences and breezes from the Southern Sea. There’s lots of cloud cover, so although it is hot, it has a lot of moderating influences and it's able to produce very elegant Coonawarra styles. The distinctive aromas that you get on a Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon are herbal notes, minty notes, with subtle toasty notes from oak and lots of black fruit signature character of a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Similar to Margaret region in Australia, the Hawke’s Bay region in New Zealand is another region where Cabernet Sauvignon successfully blends with Merlot to make Bordeaux lookalike blends which are elegant, savoury, restrained with again the typical black fruit flavours and some flavours from oak.
Cabernet Sauvignon & its food pairings
When it comes to food pairings, Cabernet Sauvignon pairs beautifully with lots of different cuisines and dishes.
Some of the most popular Cabernet Sauvignon food pairings include:
Roast lamb, or anything made with lamb.
Sauces flavoured with pepper sauce
Hard cheese like cheddar or parmesan
Originally published July 26, 2022