Wine Profile: Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is perhaps the most famous of the classic grape varietals. If you know absolutely nothing about wine, chances are the one varietal you can name is Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the grape that is credited with giving the wines of Bordeaux their structure and backbone. It is also the grape that put the California wine industry on the map when it beat out it’s prized French competitors at the infamous 1976 Judgment of Paris.
A SURPRISING PARENTAGE
The grape is the result of a natural cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. And while the origin of this cross is still debated it is clear that Bordeaux is the model on which all good Cabernet Sauvignon is based. Most notably on the left bank of Bordeaux. Here the climate and soil combine to provide one of the most perfect environments on earth for Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the most prized wines have historically come from this region, in particular, the Medoc communities of Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Estephe. However, outstanding Cabs are now regularly being grown and made in California, Italy, Australia, and Washington State.
CABERNET SAUVIGNON: THE KING OF WINES
Cabernet Sauvignon is a big rich wine. Because of its structure and power, truly great Cabernet needs both oak and bottle aging. It is also a wine that changes a great deal over time, in part because of those rich tannins, which act as a preservative and extend the life of the wine. When young cabernet can often be angular and introverted but when aged can transform into something powerfully rich and silky smooth. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have very thick skin, which leads to wines with high levels of tannins and deep pigmentation.
Blending is quite common, and in the blends, cabernet provides brilliant structure and foundation against fruitier varietals. Even so, it is lovely on its own, showcasing flavors of dark fruits such as blackberry, black currant, and cassis as well as herbal notes of eucalyptus, cedar, tobacco and leather.
Because Cabernet Sauvignon is such a big, powerful, tannin driven wine it can often be difficult to pair with food. Its flavors are intense, which means that it can easily overpower a more delicate dish. Tannins, high alcohol and usually a fair amount of oak don’t help the situation. Big tannins need balance and fatty protein is one of the more perfect ways to achieve that balance. For this reason, steak and Cab are a classic pairing. Grilled foods especially are a great match because that lovely char from the grill with its slightly bitter notes nicely mirrors the slight bitterness of the tannins.
Weirdly, the whole big flavor thing doesn’t apply to cheese. Cabernet Sauvignon actually goes better with more mild and medium cheese than anything strong or stinky that would compete with the wine more than pair with it. And because Bordeaux style cabs have more notes of earth and tobacco (probably some of the Sauvignon Blanc coming through) which means that you can play a little bit more with herbs when pairing with those wines.
Whether a steak, burger or soft cheese Cabernet Sauvignon is a must in any wine cellar. It ages well and can be a rockstar at any dinner table.
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