Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the world’s most recognised red grape, grown in virtually every wine producing country and behind some of the finest wines available. It is known for its quality, its blackcurrant, pepper, cedar and pencil box flavours as well as its tannins and great aging ability. It is a complex grape capable of so much that seldom disappoints.
Its history is shrouded in tales of mystery that were finally unravelled in 1996, when the grape’s DNA was identified as a combination of the Cabernet Franc and the Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It buds and ripens late, avoiding most frosts and pests, which in cooler years leads to the Vintage being a guide to the quality. The grapes are small and thick skinned and deliver potentially high levels of tannins. Aging in oak was often essential to soften the wines, as was blending in areas like Bordeaux. Cabernet loves gravelly soils, which are warmer than the cold clays, and good for making the vine work with the minerals in the soil. The results are that in cooler areas the wine is often more peppery with a vegetable tinge, whilst in hotter areas it becomes jammy with intense blackcurrant styles. The quality of these wines is without question and each area is different.
In France, Bordeaux is one of the finest wine producing areas around. Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Latour on the left bank of the Gironde regularly produce wines with some of the highest percentage of Cabernet, often around 75%. Gaillac, The Loire, parts of the Rhone, Provence and many others also produce Cabernet Sauvignon. In Italy there are links to their finest wines, the “Super Tuscans”, whilst in Spain it began in Rioja when Marques de Riscal planted cuttings from Bordeaux, and is now their sixth most planted red grape. In Ribera del Duero it is primarily used for blending. In Russia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary and many more areas there is a growing selection of good value Cabernet Sauvignons.
In the New World California already holds the prize. In 1976 Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap Cabernet was acclaimed by French experts in a blind tasting to be better than its Bordeaux counterparts. Australia produces some excellent examples from the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Margaret River, and Yarra Valley areas, superb in style and weight but very different to Bordeaux. In Chile, with ideal conditions and skilled production, its reputation goes from strength to strength. In South Africa the best wines are from the Stellenbosch and Constantia regions and in New Zealand the grape is finding its home in the Hawkes Bay area, particularly on the Gimblett Gravels.
The great skills of today’s winemakers around the world make this grape one of the finest red wines around.
The complexity of Cabernet Sauvignon makes it a bold assertive wine full of flavour and style. It is ideally suited to red meats, particularly richer dishes, spicy meals and all good strong cheeses. A wine to be savoured and really enjoyed.