Red Wine 101 - Cabernet Sauvignon

Red Wine 101

“Cabernet Sauvignon is to red wine what Chardonnay is to white: successful, adaptable, widely traveled and enduringly popular” - Joanna Simon (Wine: An Introduction)

Cabernet is the ultimate big boy wine. With its big body and rich tannins, it is the perfect accompaniment to a large grilled steak. No matter where the grape is grown, the main flavor profile remains the same: notes of black currant and dark black fruit. Cabernet Sauvignon is normally oaked, so flavors that are tied to oak such as vanilla, toast, spice, chocolate, and coconut are also commonly noted in the wine.

While the main flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon can be generalized, where the grape is grown does have an effect on certain aspects of its taste profile. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular wines made from grapes grown on the left bank of the Gironde River, which runs through the Bordeaux wine region in France. It is commonly blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. The grapes grown in different areas of the Gironde riverbank differ in taste, slowly transforming on their way northward. The wines from the southern areas (like Margaux) are more elegant while the wines to the north (Pauillac, for example) tend to be more assertive and bold. The wines from Bordeaux are often on the earthier side of Cabernet Sauvignon, with nuances of pencil lead, cedar, and minerality.

In the United States, Cabernet is predominately grown in California. In 1976, a wine sommelier named Steven Spurrier (No, not that one) held a wine competition that pitted French and California wines against each other. Chateau Montelena, a Californian Chardonnay, beat out predominant Chardonnays from Burgundy and a 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, California was rated above those from France. It is important to note that many Cabernets in California are blended with other grapes, even if the label states that the wine is a Cabernet. According to wine regulations in the U.S., the wine must be 85% Cabernet to be labeled as such. The other 15% can be anything.

Cabernet is also found in Spain, where it is often blended with tempranillo in the regions of Rioja and Ribera Del Duero. In Italy, Cabernet is usually found in Super Tuscan blends with Sangiovese.