"If Chardonnay is the vanilla of the commercial wine world, then Cabernet Sauvignon is its chocolate." So said Steven Kolpan in a June 18 (2010) Salon article and, with these words, he re-affirmed the primacy of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world of red wines. Invariably described as the king of red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon has achieved prominence in many of the great wine regions around the world. In our run up to #Cabernet Day, this site will publish posts on some of the lesser-known regions producing quality product from the relevant varietals and their blends. We begin with a brief review of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
Research from Professor Carole Meredith of UC Davis has revealed that Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc around 600 years ago. The result of that crossing was the dark-skinned, small-berry grapes that we know today. The first probable historical mention of Cabernet Sauvignon was an 18th-century reference to the Mouton estate replacing its white grape vines with a red grape vine called Vidure. The varietal is still referred to by that name in certain parts of France. Other known names are Petit Cabernet, Petit Vidure, Uva Francese, Bouchet, Bouche, Petit Bouche, and Sauvignon Rouge.
Cabernet Sauvignon has branched out from its roots in Bordeaux to become one of the most widely planted red grapes on the planet. The iconic representations of Cabernet Sauvignon are the wines of Napa Valley and the Medoc but the grapes are currently grown in places as disparate as Chile, Australia, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, and Bulgaria, among others.
Cabernet Sauvignon will flourish in a variety of soil types and climatic conditions but will exhibit vegetal characteristics if the correct level of ripeness is not attained. Classic examples of how soil and climatic conditions can affect Cabernet Sauvignon wines are shown by its results in Bordeaux and Napa. The soils in the Medoc are thin and gravelly and climatic conditions vary from year to year. In these conditions, the grape has not, historically, attained optimum maturity, resulting in thin, highly tannic wines which require blending and long aging to produce the maturity and complexity expected in great wines (It is thought that global warming will result in increased ripeness of Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as we move forward in the future.). Napa's valley-floor vineyards, on the other hand, along with warmer, more even temperatures, have yielded less acidic, more mature fruit which do not require blending in order to show its best results. The primary blending grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon are Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc which both serve to fill in the mid-palate and provide a more rounded finish.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape contains a high amount of tannins and pigments in the skins and pips which, in turn, have a comparatively high ratio vis a vis the flesh of the grape. This structure allows the wine to extract higher levels of color and flavor from the skins the longer the contact, but also results in extraction of higher concentrations of tannin. This composition allows Cabernet Sauvignon wines to age gracefully over long periods of time as the tannins soften and the complexity and harmony of the elements increase. Cabernet Sauvignon has an affinity for oak and acquires some of the wood tannins and flavors when aged in new oak.
Depending on where it is grown in the world, the type of oak in which it is aged, and the age of the wine being tasted, Cabernet Sauvignon can exhibit a number of aromas and flavors to include blueberries, blackcurrants, cherry, asparagus, eucalyptus, mint, cassis, cedar, cigarbox, tobacco, vanilla, coconut, plum, chocolate, violet, lead pencil , tar, leather, and mineral. Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with red meats, lamb, hearty pastas, strong cheeses and dark chocolate.