Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the world’s most well known red wine. It is grown in just about every wine producing country in the world. In fact, until Merlot took over in the 90s, it was the world’s most widely planted grape.
The grape is easy to cultivate and able to adapt to widely different climates and conditions. This has probably played a big part in its popularity. However, in more temperate climes, it is often harvested earlier than ideal and used as a blend to add colour and fruit. In order to be a varietal ‘Cab’ the wine must contain a significantly higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon. In the US, the Cabernet Sauvignon content has to be 75% or greater.
Countries of Production
Although there are few wine-producing countries that don’t grow the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, traditionally it is most associated with the Bordeaux region of France. It is thought to have originated from a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century.
From France, the grape spread across Europe. In Italy, it was blended with grapes such as Nebbiolo and Barbera to enhance the fruit aspect in the wine. It is also blended with Merlot to replicate Bordeaux styles. In the 1970s in Tuscany, it was mixed with Sangiovese to produce the ‘Super Tuscans’ with their deep cherry flavours.
In Spain it is often blended with Tempranillo. Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon found popularity in the 80s as it offered good value for money.
Californian Cabernet Sauvignon deserves a mention as it produces two very different styles. Hillside vineyards tend to produce smaller berries, creating a wine that is reminiscent of Bordeaux, often requiring more ageing, while the valleys produce fruity, full bodied wines with high alcohol content.
Other new world producers include most South American countries and Australia. The red soil of the Coonawarra leads to a wine with intense fruit flavours and hints of mint.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most easily recognised wines by taste. Simply look for that punch of berry fruit. The big giveaway is blackcurrant.
The varietal is full bodied, rich, firm and can often be aged for long periods. Other distinct flavours include black cherry, cassis and raspberry, balanced out with acids and tannins. Beside fruit, there can also be dominant flavours of tobacco, cedar oak and dried herbs, influenced considerably by ageing in oak.
In cooler regions, the wine tends to be more herbaceous with a hint of green bell peppers, such as the wine from the Monterey region of California. Over-ripening, or too much heat gives way to a flavour of stewed blackcurrants.
Cabernet Sauvignon can benefit greatly from being aged in oak barrels which can add a spiciness to complement the tannic qualities of the wine.
Matching with Food
Cabernet Sauvignon does not always pair well with light dishes but is a reliable success with red fatty meat dishes such as lamb and beef. Cabernet Sauvignon and many other red wines, except those with the smoothest of tannins, react with spicy foods, accentuating the bitterness of the tannins. Milder spices, such as black pepper do better. Creamy and buttery dishes reduce the tannins allowing the fruit to come through more. Smoked or barbecued meats tend to go well with tannic and oak-aged Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Starter — Stuffed Field Mushrooms.
Main Course — Steak Au Poivre
Dessert — Chocolate Truffles
Try an earthy old world Bordeaux with the mushrooms and a more medium bodied wine from California with the main course. Cabernet Sauvignon will go with dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. Brie makes a good cheese match.
Did you know?
Bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes tend to be tightly clustered. This makes the grape more susceptible to mould.