Cabernet Sauvignon: All Hail the King
In the world of red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon has long reigned supreme. The dark ruby-colored wine made from arguably the most famous grape variety in the world is the stuff of legend. Wine drinkers covet it and pay big money to invest in the latest offerings from First Growth Bordeaux, like Chateau Mouton Rothschild. But top wines from the new world bring high dollars as well. Check out the prices for a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cab from Napa Valley (you won’t find it for less than $1000). Wines from Napa’s Harlan Estate are not far behind.
The Cabernet Sauvignon variety is believed to have originated in France in the 17th century when some unknown grower crossed Cabernet Franc with Sauvignon Blanc. It was soon discovered that the grape, with its thick skin and large seed, flourished in the climate of the Bordeaux region. Today, it is the primary grape variety in the red wines produced there, particularly in the Médoc sub-region. It is blended with various percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and others to create the legendary wines in the appellations of Margaux, St.-Julien, St.-Estèphe and Pauillac.
From its origins in France, Cabernet Sauvignon spread quickly as new climates suitable for its cultivation were discovered. Today it can be found in nearly every wine grape growing region in the world.
In California, Cabernet Sauvignon is famous for standing alone as a single varietal wine. The full-bodied wines produced there have helped raise the worldwide reputation of places like Napa Valley. The most expensive, and most sought-after, wines produced in California are almost always Cabs. Other US states have also had success with the grape and Cabernet Sauvignon wines can now be found everywhere from Washington state to the Texas Hill Country to the Piedmont of Virginia to New York’s Long Island.
Australia, as well, has become well known for it Cabs. There, particularly in the Coonawarra region, it is used to make a single varietal wine or blended with Shiraz.
Chile and Argentina are more famous for Malbec production but Cabernet Sauvignon production is increasing. The grape is often blended but there have been some outstanding recent single varietal wines from those countries.
The flavors found in a Cab can be greatly affected by the soils of every growing region but common descriptions in tasting notes range from black currant to vanilla to green bell pepper to eucalyptus. Personal styles of winemakers also play a role in flavors but, in general terms, Cabs from France are often described with more earthy terms, while their counterparts from California or Australia usually have more fruity notes. Keep a wine journal when you taste, you’ll be surprised at your notes when you go back and compare.
The grape also does well when aged in oak, and aging wine in barrels of that wood softens the tannins. This mellows the flavor and allows more subtle notes, like mocha or even tobacco, to come forward.
Food & Cabernet Sauvignon Pairing Ideas
Due to the high tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine can overpower some foods. While not always true, the old adage about drinking red wine with red meat is a safe bet with a big Cab. The proteins in a steak (or any grilled meat, even tuna) help neutralize your taste bud’s perception of the bitter tannins. While pasta itself has no effect on tannins, a hearty red sauce will, so something like spaghetti with meatballs can work well with a Cab.
Perhaps surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon can also pair exceptionally well with dark chocolate –but not milk chocolate. The same is true for some cheeses, such as Cheddar. Blue cheese, on the other hand, is too strong and your taste buds will be overwhelmed.
Want to have a fun wine dinner with friends? Compare Cabs from different regions around the world to different foods. There are so many variations in the wine, you’ll be surprised with the results. A fruity Cab from Australia might not work with steak while a more earthy example from somewhere like the Western Cape region of South Africa might be perfect. That fruitier wine, however, might be a delicious match for dark chocolate. You don’t have to spend a few hundred dollars on a bottle of Chateau Margaux to enjoy a good Cabernet. Experiment and have fun!
By the way, aerating and decanting a big Cab can really help open it up and bring out the nuances. There are a wide selection of wine aerators to help you experience your wine at its fullest.
And, if you do discover a particularly memorable wine, what better way to remember if than by saving the label in a journal? Try using these Wine Label Removers.