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The Cabernet Sauvignon Grape


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About Cabernet Sauvignon

(Synonyms: Bidure, Bordeaux, Bordo, Bouchet, Bouchet Sauvignon, Burdeos Tinto, Cabernet Petit, Carbonet, Carbouet, Carmenet, Lafit, Lafite, Marchoupet, Navarre, Petit Bouchet, Petit Cabernet, Petit Cavernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon, Sauvignonne, Vidure, Vidure Sauvignonne, Petit Vidure)

Background

Map showing Bordeaux

Cabernet Sauvignon is a red-wine grape originating in Bordeaux, but now grown globally. It is widely considered one of the dozen and a half or so “Noble wine grapes” of the world; indeed, it is one of the three red-wine graps included when the lesit was only a half-dozen long. It is the informing grape of the classic Bordeaux blends (known in the U.K. as “claret”), and is the second-most planted wine grape in the world (surpassed only recently by another Bordeaux red, Merlot).

Americans are used to wines that are bottled and marketed by varietal name (which now requires that the wine must be at least 75% of the named type); but in most of Europe, the tradition has been to produce named blends, with laws specifying—usually quite tightly—what percentages of what grapes may be used. The principal Bordeaux grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, though there are others. Cabernet Sauvignon is an assertive grape, and thus an excellent candidate for blending, not only in the traditional Bordeaux blends, but with many other important reds from round the world.

Cabernet Sauvignon wine is hard to describe, chiefly because the grape lends itself to many fairly different styles of vinification. Typically, it has distinct fruit (usually bramble fruits are mentioned, especially black currant) but with overlays variously described as “earthy”, “leathery”, or “woody”, and normally it is relatively heavy on tannins. It is a robust and, as noted, quite “assertive” taste. At times, it can also exhibit bell-pepper or green-olive tastes, sometimes to the extent of those becoming defects (the notorious “vegetal” Cabernets).

Cabernet Sauvignon is widely held to have a strong affinity for oak, and is usually aged in new oak barrels. While oak aging is common for many wines, some winemakers feel the trend has gone too far, with the oak taste overwhelming the actual wine taste (hence August Sebastiani’s now-famous remark “If you like the taste of wood, go bite a tree,” sometimes also recounted as “go eat some toothpicks”). The extent of oak use in the winemaking is one of the chief factors distinguishing one cab from another.

While Bordeaux red blends remain the most widely respected use of Cabernet Sauvignon, today many other regions are also producing excellent cabs (and blends), from California and Washington to Chile and Australia. It is, in the U.S., most people’s “go-to” red, at levels from the famous “Two-Buck Chuck” to three-digit per-bottle prices. Indeed, one criticism of the present world wine market is that a very few immensely popular varieties—notably Cabernet Sauvignon—are causing growers to rip out excellent traditional grape types, some of which are at risk of disappearing altogether, in favor of the highly saleable cab.

Besides the inventiveness of the winemaker, another big influence on Cabernet Sauvignon wines is the climate where the grapes were grown (true of all wines, but more so with cab). One reason blends became so popular in the Old World is that in many grape-growing areas the weather is highly variable, and in many seasons the grapes must be picked before their ideal time; thus, other, earlier-ripening types need to be blended in to make wine of the desired quality—to make up the “holes” in the cab. In the New World, where climates are typically much warmer, Cabernet Sauvignon regularly achieves full ripeness, though where the season is long enough but relatively cool, the infamous “bell pepper” quality can dominate the wine (Monterey County in California use to have that problem, now long since resolved by better clonal selection and growing techniques).

Another element that affects all wines but Cabernet seemingly more than most is soil. The type is especially good, if vinified with care, at expressing terroir (a taste clearly representative of its region of growth).

And because Cabernet Sauvignon is naturally high in tannins, it makes wines that famously can improve with bottle aging for decades. Modern styling, however, has tended toward more immediately accessible wines, because few wine drinkers nowadays have the interest in or capability for aging wines for very long periods (or, often, at all—studies show that a very high percentage of wines sold in the U.S. are drunk on the day of purchase).

Factoid: Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively recent (17th century) cross between Cabernet Franc and the white Bordeaux grape Sauvignon Blanc.

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Some Descriptions of Cabernet Sauvignon Wines

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Some Cabernet Sauvignons to Try

(About this list.)

Stark-Condé Cabernet Sauvignon
(Note: they have 5 Cab bottlings; this is their basic version.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
  (CellarTracker has three separate listings for this wine.)
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Shingleback “The Davey” Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon
(Tahbilk makes numerous Cabs; this is their basic version.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Perez Cruz “Limited Edition” Cabernet Sauvignon

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Errazuriz “Max Reserva” Cabernet Sauvignon

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

Our nomination is Wynns Coonawarra Estate “Black Label” Cabernet Sauvignon. Be aware that they produce a number of Cab bottlings: make sure you’re looking at the “Black Label” one.

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Monday, 23 March 2020, at 3:52 pm Pacific Time.