Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular grapes on the planet, and is capable of producing high quality wines across a range of climates and conditions.
It is instantly recognisable, making intensely full bodied wines with high tannins and good acidity, that are able to age and evolve in the bottle for decades.
We can’t talk about Cabernet Sauvignon without mentioning Bordeaux, afterall the two are almost synonymous, even though the wines are almost always blends. Here Cabernet thrives on the gravelly soils of the left bank of the Gironde river, producing some of the best known and most widely sought after wines in the world.
Cabernet has an affinity for oak ageing, and nowhere is this more evident than the Bordeaux region. The use of oak ageing softens the tannins and adds a layer of complexity to the flavour profile of the wine, notably adding notes of cedar and vanilla.
Bordeaux wines vary in style, but generally have a characteristic hit of blackcurrant on the palate, often accompanied by an herbal or tobacco character. They can be very tannic and robust when young, but soften with age and become more earthy or leathery in flavour over time.
Bordeaux Cabernets can be more elegant than their new world counterparts, but they are still serious wines and are best drunk with food. Red meat and cheese, particularly hard cheeses, are a great match as the protein breaks down the tannin in the wine, and the acidity cuts through the richness, making it really smooth and balanced on the palate.
Owing to its boldness, Cabernet Sauvignon is also good with strongly flavoured mushroom dishes, such as when dried porcini is used.
Other Old World
Owing to its high tannins and acidity, combined with lots of ripe fruit character, Cabernet Sauvignon is a perfect blank canvas for blending with other grapes, and this is evident across the world.
Cabernet is grown in other regions in France, particularly in Bergerac and the Languedoc. Here the wines tend to be slightly lighter than in Bordeaux, often without oak ageing and in a more modern style, with an emphasis on ripe, juicy fruit flavours.
Cabernet Sauvignon has also had an impact in Italy, where it gained some notoriety when blended with Sangiovese to produce the so called ‘Super Tuscan’ wines when winemakers decided they didn’t want to be constricted by traditional winemaking regulations.
Cabernet Sauvignon has been incredibly important to the Californian wine industry and can arguably be called its second home. The regions of Napa and Sonoma produce particularly outstanding Cabernets, again sometimes blends that are rightly highly regarded.
In the warmer climate of the USA, the wines exhibit rich, ripe berry fruit flavour and a menthol note. Widespread use of oak adds vanilla and sweet spice to the mix. These are big, full flavoured and full bodied wines and are definitely in need of a hearty food match to enjoy them at their best.
As mentioned above, they are natural partners for meat and cheese, and so are especially good with a gourmet burger, where there’s plenty of bold flavour and lots of cheese.
Australia produces a range of different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon, each demonstrating the versatility and adaptability of this grape. In the relatively cooler region of Margaret River, the maritime climate bears similarities to that of Bordeaux.
Here the Cabernet is often blended with Merlot to produce elegant, age worthy Bordeaux- esque wines. These wines are a great match for rare roast beef, as the rarer the meat, the better it will handle Cabernet Sauvignon’s ample tannins.
Another region flying the flag for Australian Cabernet is undoubtedly Coonawarra. Here the ‘terra rossa’ soils provide the perfect terroir for this distinctive style, producing intense, structured wines with cassis and tobacco aromas and a characteristic note of eucalyptus.
These ripe, jammy wines are a great match for a steak, particularly when it’s somewhat charred, as the sweetness of the wine perfectly offsets the bitterness.
Other New World
South Africa has a long and proven pedigree of blending wines, and has had particular success with Bordeaux style blends. Stellenbosch and Constantia, where the climate is relatively cooler, produce especially noteworthy examples with black fruit flavours balanced with refreshing acidity.
The warmer regions of New Zealand, such as Hawkes Bay produce elegant European style Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends, with ripe New World style fruit flavours. The best come from the Gimblett Gravels region, where the warm climate is able to fully ripen the grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the classic grape varieties and every wine fan should take some time to explore its many styles. Winebuyers.com has some of the very best examples from around the world just waiting to be discovered.