The most popular red wine grape in the world has impressed for generations with its bold flavors and its ability as a wine to improve with age. Cabernet wines are typically dark in color and rich in texture. There is often an herbal edge to them that perhaps justifies the name “sauvignon” – a variant of the French word “sauvage,” meaning “wild.” The Cabernet grape has a distinct knack for transmitting flavor and it is also relatively easy to grow in a warm enough climate. Hence its popularity. The best wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon can reportedly age gracefully even beyond a full century in some cases. This makes Cabernet wines the most sought after category of wine for collectors across the globe.
What it tastes like : Black Currant, Cherry, Anise, Cedar, Mint, Tobacco, Leather
Similar to : Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Touriga Nacional
Pairs well with : Ribeye, Steak au Poivre, Lamb Shank, Venison, Moussaka
THE OLD SCHOOL CABS
Cabernet Sauvignon’s spiritual homeland is the Gironde Estuary on the southwest coast of France: the modern day region of Bordeaux. Bordeaux’s temperate maritime climate, mediated by the tepid waters of the Gulf Stream, creates a unique window for the most subtle flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon to emerge. The grape also expresses itself best when planted on the gravel mounds along the left bank of estuary – in the region known as the Haut Medoc. These ground up bits of rock shorn from the Pyrenees and the Central Massif were washed downstream and deposited about 2 million years ago.
Bordeaux wines from the Haut Medoc are typically composed primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon, but often blended with smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The wines have a mix of fruity and earthy characters, and a slight savory/salty quality. Texturally, the best examples have very fine-grained tannins that create a pleasant sensation on the palate – a slight tickle. The most famous labels of the Haut Medoc, known for its majestic Chateaux, are the “Five First Growths” – Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, and Haut-Brion (this final Chateaux is actually located to the south in the Graves region – also known for its excellent Cabernet wines).
Cabernet Sauvignon is often the chief component in the blended Super-Tuscan wines of Italy. Many of these come from vineyards on the Tyrrhenian Coast. Super-Tuscans may also include varying amounts of Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese, or Cabernet Franc. Sassicaia and Ornellaia are two of the most renowned labels. Good Super-Tuscans are a wonderful combination of ripe fruit mixed with wild accents of balsamic and leather. Cabernet is also predominant in some Spanish blends, particularly in the regions of Ribera del Duero and Penedes. The former is home to the famed Spanish estate Vega Sicilia and its flagship wine, “Unico.” The latter is the home base of renowned Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres and his Cabernet masterwork “Mas la Plana.”
NEW WORLD CABS
The supremacy of Bordeaux Cabernet is constantly challenged by non-European producers. The highest profile contenders hail from California’s Napa Valley. Cabernet wines from the Napa Valley tend to be rich, opulent, and chocolatey. Cabernet ripens with almost incomparable ease wedged in this cradle of coastal mountain ranges. Taste profiles do vary -from vineyards planted on alluvial sediment on the valley floor, to mixed sediments and volcanic soils on the hillsides, to pure volcanic or uplifted seabed in the mountain vineyards. Positive examples from each respective vineyard situation are: Inglenook (valley floor), Dalle Valle (hillside), and Lokoya (mountain). The wines of Napa Valley are frequently less austere than their European counterparts, to the point that Cabernet Sauvignon is quite often bottled alone without any blending grapes.
Conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon are similarly ideal in the Central Valley of Chile. In the lee of the towering Andes mountain range, several valleys provide dry space for Cabernet vines to bask in the sun, including the: Maipo, Cachapoal, Colchagua, Curico, and Maule Valleys. Chilean Cabernets can sometimes show more of Cabernet’s peppery, herbaceous side. They can be reminiscent of green bell pepper. Top labels include: Vinhedo Chadwick, Almaviva, and Clos Apalta.
Australian versions of Cabernet from the regions of Coonawarra and Margaret River can be very fine. These wines are characteristically glossy and smooth in texture. In flavor, they may sometimes reveal a pronounced menthol character. Top labels come from estates such as Wynns, Moss Wood, and Vasse Felix.
Finally, the South African region of Stellenbosch is another top performer in the Cabernet category. Vineyards here are well situated between False Bay and the great inland escarpment. Ancient bands of schist and granite rise up amid sloping sandstone hills. Some of the best wines come from the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountains. Cabernet-based wines from Stellenbosch can be packed with dark, sappy fruit and be somewhat smoky. Top examples come from Meerlust and Rust en Vrede.
For a Cabernet Sauvignon food match made in heaven, try grilled ribeye steak with a smear of bone marrow!