For eThere are thousands of grape varieties in the world of wine. Yet the noble Cabernet Sauvignon is the most recognized and famous of them all. This red grape helped shape the evolution of modern day wine. Let us celebrate a brief history of this legendary variety and explore its characteristics. Then, we’ll provide an introduction to some of its most celebrated wine regions around the world.
Where Does Cabernet Sauvignon Come From?
In 1996, researchers from UC Davis published evidence how this red wine grape came to be. Clone analysis illustrated that Cabernet Sauvignon is a genetic progeny of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Additionally, the cross-pollination of these grape varieties dates back to the 17th century. Cabernet Sauvignon has a long held reputation as the most widely planted winemaking variety. There are around 291,000 hectares growing globally. It’s the most sought after variety and the most expensive grape in the world. This is largely due to its unique history as a quintessential grape in a French Bordeaux blend.
Expressions of This Grape Variety
Cabernet Sauvignon grows in a wide range of climates and regions throughout the world. Consequently, it has varied flavors and expressions. Traditionally, this grape makes full-bodied wines of 13.5-15% ABV, with serious tannic framework. It performs successfully in warm or cool, dry regions. This grape is most successful when it has long, slow ripening for optimal aromas and fruit flavors. If grown in too hot of a climate, Cabernet Sauvignon develops unapproachable tannins and less fruit definition. Conversely, too cool of a climate, and the wine can present excessive ‘methoxypyrazine’ characteristics. In concentration, these display unripe flavors of green bell pepper, plus overly herbaceous, stalky notes. Even long-term cellaring can’t improve wines like this.
Best Regions for Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon’s most notable growing region remains its birthplace in Bordeaux, France. Furthermore, it performs best in the cool, maritime-influenced ‘Left Bank’ sub-regions of Médoc and Graves. Here, conscious effort to respect time-honored traditions of low-yield viticulture produce wines with delicacy and finesse. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produced here all benefit from porous gravel soil. Plus, the world’s most famous and rare producers of Bordeaux, including Chateau- Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Chateau Margaux, make wine here. Dry, free-drained soils encourage deep roots to scavenge vital nutrients and moisture. Subsequently, the light-medium wines display earthiness and rich color. They also offer herbal and violet perfume and a wonderfully dry tannic structure.
Napa Valley Cab
Napa Valley is another global wine region unmistakably recognized for Cabernet Sauvignon. Andre Tchelistcheff was the first to use quality European viticulture and winemaking practices here in the late 1930s. He would later inspire generations of American winemakers to do the same. Robert Mondavi was one such winemaker who was confident Napa Cabernet could emulate and rival the finest French Bordeaux.
Among Napa Valley’s 43,000 acres of vines are three volcanic rock subregions best known for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. These include the Stag’s Leap District, Diamond Mountain (Calistoga) and Howell Mountain AVAs. These microclimates experience moderate daytime temperatures quickly cooled by afternoon breezes and a nighttime fog blanket that sweeps norther 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 create the ideal 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. Expect aromas of dark cassis, plum, licorice, savory baking spices, mocha and smokey tobacco notes derived from extended American barrel aging. Prodcers’ renewed efforts in favor of smaller quantity, reduced oak intervention and lower yield farming, are achieving rewardingly elegant wines.
This Grape Down Under
Next, Cabernet Sauvignon’s brilliance also thrives across Australia. Look to the warm southern regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. Plus, the maritime influenced Margaret River and the rich red volcanic soil of Coonawarra make exceptional Cab Sauv. Think the world renowned 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. These expressions have alluring dark forest fruit, earthiness, chocolate, dried herbs and currants, cedar and a dusty, fine grain tannin. Barrel aging in French oak barrels is common. This combination produces wines richer than Bordeaux, but less robust than their Napa counterpart.
Finally, Cabernet Sauvignon is also used in Italy for the IGT classified wines coined ‘Super Tuscans’. Italian winemakers were growing frustrated with the strict winemaking laws prohibiting the use of non-indigenous varieties. Especially in the face of the proven global success of Bordeaux varieties.
Tignanello was the first Super Tuscan, made from 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. They’re rich in plum fruit, cherry, tomato, and herbal notes. The wine also expresses hints of bay leaf, sage, olive tapenade, cola and licorice.
Regardless of region, Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine intended for aging. It often takes years for these wines display their full potential. When that time comes, enjoy in good company. Pair the firm, dry tannin based wine with hearty, gamey, fatty and umami dishes from around the world. For example, consider Rosemary and Garlic Lamb, Boeuf Bourguignon, Braised Beef Short Ribs or Venison, Sharp Cheeses, Porcini Mushroom Risotto or Peking Duck.
– Timothy Neumann, Australian Chef & Food and Wine Professional