Introducing Cabernet Sauvignon
There are thousands of grape varieties in the world of wine, although perhaps none more recognized, than the noble Cabernet Sauvignon. This illustrious grape helped shape the evolution of modern day wine. Let us celebrate a brief history of this legendary varietal, and provide an introduction to its famous worldly regions.
Researchers from UC Davis published evidence proving Cabernet Sauvignon to be a genetic progeny of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. This dynamic grape was born via cross-pollination dating back to the 17th century. Cabernet Sauvignon has a long held reputation as the most widely planted (~291,000 hectares globally), sought after, and expensive grape in the world. This is largely due to its history as a quintessential grape in a French Bordeaux blend.
Since Cabernet Sauvignon is now grown in a range of climates and regions throughout the world. It has a breadth of varied flavors and expressions. Traditionally, expect full-bodied wine of 13.5-15% ABV, with serious tannic framework. It performs most successfully in warm to cool, dry regions that allow long, slow ripening for optimal aroma and fruit flavor. If grown in too hot of a climate, this grape can quickly boast unapproachable tannin and over-ripe fruit definition. Conversely, if the climate is too cool, and the wine can present excessive ‘methoxypyrazine’ characteristics. In concentration, this chemical compound can display unripe flavors of green bell pepper plus overly herbaceous, vegetal notes that even long-term cellaring won’t improve.
Cabernet Around the World
Cabernet Sauvignon’s most notable growing region remains its birthplace in the Bordeaux region of France. Specifically in the cool, maritime-influenced ‘Left Bank’ home to the sub-regions of Médoc and Graves Cabernet thrives. Conscious effort to respect time-honored traditions of low-yield viticulture, vinification and optimal aging, see wines produced with delicacy and finesse.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produced here, by the world’s most famous and rare producers of Bordeaux including Chateau-Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Chateau Margaux all benefit from porous gravel soil. Dry, free-drained soils encourage deep roots to scavenge vital nutrients and moisture. The resulting light-medium wines display earthiness, rich color with herbal and violet perfume and wonderfully dry tannic structure.
Another global wine region unmistakably recognized for Cabernet Sauvignon is Napa Valley. Andre Tchelistcheff was the first to use quality European viticulture and winemaking practice in the late 1930s. He would later inspire generations of American winemakers including the likes of Robert Mondavi, who proclaimed Napa Cabernet could emulate and rival the style and sophistication of the finest French Bordeaux.
Among Napa Valley’s 43,000 acres of vines are three volcanic rock subregions known for the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignon including the Stag’s Leap District, Diamond Mountain (Calistoga) and Howell Mountain AVAs. These microclimates experience moderate daytime temperatures that quickly cool from afternoon breezes and a nighttime fog blanket that sweeps northerly from the San Pablo Bay. Howell Mountain is situated above this fog line at 1370-1970 ft. but remains cool due to its elevation.
The net result of these climates are the ideal, very long, cool ripening periods that mirror Bordeaux, although differences certainly exists from its old world cousin. Napa Cabs boast powerful 15% ABV and display a more intense fruit-forward expression such as dark cassis, plum, licorice, savory baking spices, mocha and smokey tobacco notes derived from extended American barrel aging. Renewed efforts of committed producers in favor of smaller quantity, reduced oak intervention and lower yield farming, are achieving rewardingly elegant wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s brilliance can also be found across Australia, home to the famous warm Southern regions of McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, the maritime influenced Margaret River and the rich red volcanic soil of Coonawarra (think the world renouned Penfolds Bin 707). The land down under is home to a vast range of warm to hot climates providing conditions for ultra ripe Cabernet Sauvignon with alluring dark forest fruit, earthiness, chocolate, dried herbs and currants, cedar and a dusty, fine grain tannin. Many of these are finished in French oak, the combination producing wines richer than Bordeaux but less robust than their Napa counterpart.
Finally perhaps lesser known is the production of Cabernet Sauvignon in Italy used in the IGT classified wine coined ‘Super Tuscan’. The proven global success of the Bordeaux varieties around the world meant winemakers of Italy were growing frustrated with the strict classification and winemaking laws prohibiting the use of non-indigenous varieties. Tignanello was the first Super Tuscan 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Super Tuscans are in high demand. These medium to full bodied wines display the rustic charm of Italian winemaking, rich in plum fruit, cherry, tomato, herbal notes with pleasant hints of bay leaf, sage, olive tapenade, cola and licorice.
It is generally accepted that Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine to age. Many expressions take years to display their full potential. When the time comes, enjoy in good company for it can reward those who wait.
Pair this firm, dry tannin based wine with hearty, gamey, fatty and umami dishes.
Some classic examples include: Rosemary and Garlic Lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, Braised Beef Short Ribs or Venison, Sharp Cheeses, Porcini Mushroom Risotto, Kangaroo (an Aussie favorite) or Peking Duck.
– Timothy Neumann, Australian Chef & Food and Wine Professional