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Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes

Cabernet Sauvignon is among the most widely recognized and important red grape varietals anywhere in the world. It is grown in almost every major wine-producing country and revered for its complexity, age worthiness and historical importance.

Cabernet Sauvignon became internationally acclaimed through its prominence in Bordeaux. The traditional Bordeaux blend typically incorporates Merlot and Cabernet Franc. These refine the style and help bring out the overall complexion associated with great Bordeaux.

From France, the Cabernet migrated across Europe and to the New World. It has found a ideal home in places like California’s Napa Valley, Australia’s Coonawarra and up in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington State. For most of the 20th century, Cabernet was the world's most widely planted premium red wine varietal, until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 90's.

Wine Characteristics

Body:  Full
Tannin: Medium High - High
Acid: Medium - High
Alcohol: Medium High - High

Flavor Profile

Fruits: Black Currant, Blackberries, Black Cherry
Non-Fruits: Cedar, Eucalyptus, Licorice, Mint, Tobacco, Cedar, Cigar Box
Minerals: Black Rocks, Gravel, Graphite, Pencil Lead

Main Growing Regions

Bordeaux: Mostly Left Bank 
California: Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles 
Washington: Columbia Valley, Walla Walla, Yakima

Where else I’m grown

Australia: Margaret River, WA; Barossa Valley, SA; Sundbury, VIC 
New Zealand: Mostly on the North Island 
South Africa: Stellenbosch is the best area

Soils I like to grow in

Gravel and clay. Well-drained soils on mountainsides or hilltops are typically best.

Climate I like

Moderate Continental - Cabernet needs a long, warm growing season to reach optimum ripeness. If harvested too early, it is very vegetal and the tannins are too sharp. If harvested too late, the flavors seem like canned fruits.

Wine Styles

Earthy and cedary with lots of tobacco notes in Bordeaux. Ripe and rich with minty notes in California. Super ripe with lots of eucalyptus notes in Australia.

Cabernet Sauvignon Growing Regions

Napa Valley and Bordeaux are without question the two most notable Cabernet growing regions in the world. They have been tied together since Steven Spurrier’s famous 1976 Paris tasting, depicted in the movie Bottle Shock. Both regions often vie for the attention of the world’s connoisseurs. Although both are based on Cabernet, the styles of each region could not be more different. The chunky, ripe fruit of California and the floral cedars ofBordeaux have the same underlying expression of the Cabernet grape, but are eerily different in style.

Napa Valley

The sun-drenched Napa Valley is home to some of the world’s best wines.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the base of many of them.  It is amazing to think that this has been achieved in a relatively small amount of time.  After prohibition was repealed in 1933, it took Americans almost three and a half decades to take wine production seriously.  In the 50 years since then, Napa Valley has attained legendary status for its Cabernets.

At their core, Napa Cabs possess flavors and aromas of black currants, chocolate and mint, among many others.  The tannins are lively and rich, but well polished in the best examples.  One of the great things about Napa Cabernet is that it is quite drinkable in its youth, but will benefit greatly from extended aging in the cellar.

Great wine is always made from specific small areas, and Cabernet Sauvignon is no exception. Napa Valley is as famous as it is diverse.  In fact, it is separated into 17 specific sub-regions that have their own specific terroirs.

Napa Valley’s 17 sub-regions are similar at first inspection, but wildly different at their core.  From the raw power of Oakville and the sexiness of Stag’s Leap to the chocolaty tannins and brooding fruit of Howell Mountain, Napa Valley Cabernet can take on different personas based upon where it is grown.  It can take years to truly taste through their differences.

To learn more, it is best to look for a specific sub-region wine and understand its flavor and aroma, as opposed to the broader Napa Valley label.

 

The best way to explore the subtleties of these regions is to taste them side-by-side. This enables you to see the marked difference in quality between different styles, quality levels and price points and is the reason we promote the flight concept throughout our site.

Bordeaux

Cabernet Sauvignon is the basis for many of Bordeaux's great wines.  They are typically blended with four other grapes that together create the famous quintet of Bordeaux grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot.  It is the blending of the five different grapes that allows Bordeaux to make great wines every vintage.  Bordeaux wine makers will vary the blend percentages each year to insure a high quality product even in “off” vintages.

The wines grown here are more refined and restrained than New World Cabs. They show dried red currant, violet, tobacco and cedar aromas, typically requiring a little more time to age in the cellar than their warmer climate New World counterparts.  They have higher tannins, but can offer a tremendous amount of elegance. 

Cabernet’s consistency, power and depth make it one the most loved varietals in the world.  It can be enjoyed when young, but proper age will reward the patient collector with amazing complexity found in no other wine.

If Napa Valley can take years to understand, then Bordeaux can take a lifetime.  You have Left Bank vs. Right Bank, north vs. south, established classified chateaux vs. young “garagistes” producers (garage wine makers).  It’s enough to make your head spin, but that’s why we love it. 

Bordeaux was the first region to officially classify the quality of its producers at the behest of Napoleon II in 1855.  Wines from the top-rated châteaux now command stratospheric prices.  Take your first step into tasting the wines of this legendary region.  When you get bit by the “Bordeaux Bug,” look out it can be both addictive and expensive...

Although Napa Valley and Bordeaux are the most famous Cabernet-producing regions in the world, there is a stream of new regions thirsty for a taste of their success. 

These regions typically offer amazing bang-for-the-buck quality.  They are the great wines of tomorrow that are affordable today. Nowhere is this truer than in Washington and Australia.  The quality is very good today and they have the potential to become world-class competitors.

Washington

The vineyards of Eastern Washington lie on the same global latitude as Bordeaux.  Although the Pacific Northwest is known for its rainy climate, Washington’s wine-growing areas are positioned east of the Cascade Mountains where they are sheltered from the northwestern rains.  Eastern Washington’s climate is unique and characterized by large differences between warm daytime temperatures and very cool nights.  This high-steppe desert climate allows the grapes to reach the full ripeness of fruit that the New World is known for, while retaining the lively acidity and tannin that you might associate with Old World wines. Washington wines straddle the middle ground between the Old and the New World.  This is what makes them exciting. 

Australia

While Washington may straddle the line, Australia is firmly flying the flag of the New World camp.  Australian Cabernets are lushly textured and brimming with ripe fruit.  Red currant, blackberries and eucalyptus rampantly swirl in the glass.  Some of the wines from South Australia’s Coonawarra are already gaining cult followings, but it is West Australia’s Margaret River that shows the most potential.  With its well-drained, sandy and gravelly soils, it already draws comparison to Bordeaux. People always think of Shiraz first when someone mentions Aussie wines.  Those are certainly the most famous, but Cabernet Sauvignon shows great potential here.  Look for these wines to burst out onto the world scene in coming years.

The well-heeled and established Cabernet regions are home to amazing wines.  But the truth is there is always someone young and hungry with the ambition to pave a new way.  A wise wine buyer will always keep track of areas where groups of ambitious producers are emerging.

Food Pairings

Cabernet Sauvignon expresses itself with notes of black currants, black cherries, blackberries, green or black olives, mint and mushrooms. In its youth, firm tannins are paired well with grilled meats of high fat content. In the mouth, this combination is magnetic! As it ages and sheds some of its tannic edge, more delicate meats should be considered in order to let the wine shine.

  • Steaks (tri tip, New York, Rib Eye, flank steak etc.) with demi-glace sauces
  • Lamb with rosemary, mustard, your favorite herbs
  • Prime rib
  • Pork
  • Veal chops
  • Barbecued ribs
  • Grilled or smoked foods