Cabernet Sauvignon


In the world of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new variety.  Sometime during the 17th century, in southwestern France, a Cabernet Franc was crossed with a Sauvignon Blanc. This new hybrid grape grew in popularity due to its ease in cultivation and to the consistent characteristic structure and flavors of this variety.  It is the most widely planted and significant among the five dominant varieties in the Medoc district of France’s Bordeaux region.

From France, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World.  Cabernet Sauvignon found a home in places like California, Australia and Chile.  For the better part of the 20th century, it was the most widely planted red grape in the world.  Towards the end of the 20th century, sometime in the 1990s, is was surpassed by Merlot.

Places It Is Grown

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in nearly every major wine producing country and throughout a very diverse continuum of climates.  If you travel to Canada’s Okanagan Valley or Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley or Australia’s Coonawarra region or Chile’s Maipo Valley you will find vines producing Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the mid 1960s, Cabernet Sauvignon emerged as the United States’ most popular varietal red wine.  By the time the mid-1980s rolled around, the grape replaced “burgundy” as a novice consumer’s generic term for red wine.  The popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon was partly based on its flavor appeal and partly on its “status” as a “collector’s” wine.  Throughout the U.S. both varietal and blended styles of Cabernet Sauvignon are produced.  Up to 25% of a varietal Cabernet Sauvignon can contain other grapes under the American system of wine classification. .

In California, vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley and around the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast have consistently produced the highest-rated Californian examples.

In Washington state, Cabernet Sauvignon is the second most widely planted grape variety after Merlot.  It is generally found in the warmer sites of the Columbia Valley but has recently been found to grow successfully in Red Mountain, Walla Walla Valley and parts of the Yakima Valley near the Tri-Cities region.  Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Washington is most characterized by its fruitiness and easy drinking styles that do not have high levels of tannins.

Also in the northwest region, Oregon has begun to produce small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The grape has seen successful production in the warmer southern regions of the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys.  Cabernet Sauvignon has also found a home in Arizona, New York, Texas and Virginia.

Properties Of Grape

Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small, spherical with black, thick and a very tough skin. The thick skin and hardy vines give the grape its strong resistance to rot and frost.  Overall, Cabernet Sauvignon has good resistance to most grape diseases; powdery mildew being the most noted exception.  However, the Cabernet Sauvignon vine is susceptible to the diseases Eutypella scoparia and excoriose.

As stated above, Cabernet Sauvignon is suitable as a varietal and a blend. Viticulturalists decide how to best use the grape mainly based on the climate in which it is grown.  The best growing sites, for producing quality varietal wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, are in moderately warm, semi-arid regions with a long growing season, on well-drained, and not-too-fertile soils. With abundant sunshine the grape will fully ripen and decrease problems upon harvest time. The grape is a mid to late season ripener making it one of the last major grape varieties to bud and ripen (usually 1–2 weeks after Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

In some regions, climate can be more important than soil.  Because Cabernet Sauvignon has succeeded in a variety of soil types, soil has become less of concern, particularly for New World winemakers.  In regions that are typically cooler, like the northwest region, there is a potential for the grape to not fully ripen producing heavier tones of herbs and green bell peppers.  In regions where the grape is exposed to too much warmth and thus over-ripens, there is a likelihood for the wine to develop flavors of cooked or stewed blackcurrants.

During the 19th and 20th centuries Cabernet Sauvignon went from being just another hybrid of a white and red grape to being know as “King Cab.”  The reason for this change in its reputation were the wine’s ability to age and develop in the bottle.  Have you ever opened up a bottle of premium Cabernet Sauvignon and been left puckered?  The reason for this is that Cabernet Sauvignon is not a wine that you should drink immediately upon purchasing.  Place it on your wine rack or in your pantry and wait; patiently.

While yes, it is true that most New World Cabernets are drinkable earlier than Bordeaux’s and sometimes upon purchase, premium producers of Cabernet Sauvignon produce wines that need time to age in order to develop their potential; sometimes two to three decades.  Overall, the majority of Californian Cabernets are meant to mature after two to three years in the bottle. However, if left longer it can have the potential to improve further.  Thus, “King Cab” is the most dependable wine for aging, improving into a truly great wine more often than any other single varietal.

As Cabernet Sauvignon varietals age, the distinctive black currant aroma paired with a lesser degree of bell pepper or weediness can develop with a variety of other nuances.  Depending upon climatic conditions, viticulture practices, and vinification techniques aromas of cedar, violets, leather, or cigar box can be detected.  Also with aging, Cabernet Sauvignon’s distinct tannic edge can soften and smooth into a great tasting wine. In the mouth, Cabernet’s fruitiness can have liveliness and a degree of richness and usually finishes with firm astringency due to the tannins.

Partnering With Food

Rule #1: Matching the alcohol level and body of the wine to the heaviness of the food should make for a proper pairing every time.

Cabernet Sauvignon comes in many different styles from many different regions around the world.  This can greatly impact how well the wine matches up with certain foods.  Cabernet Sauvignon or “King Cab” is very bold and assertive.  This means it can easily overwhelm a light dish.  The boldness and assertiveness come from the high levels of tannins present in the wine.  When the wine is young those characteristics are great enough to knock you out. However, after the aging process has taken place those characteristics mellow out leaving you with a respectful boldness and assertiveness.

Cabernet Sauvignon’s high tannin content, oak influences and high alcohol levels play important roles in deciding which food to pair it with.  Wines from cooler climates (heavier herb and vegetable aromas) can be balanced well with vegetables and greens.  Wines from warmer climates (bold fruit flavors) that may be perceived as sweet, will pair well with rich dishes that have lots of varied flavor influences.

However, Cabernet Sauvignon wines with high alcohol levels do not pair well with spicy foods. Chili pepper spice will be enhanced by the alcohol and the heat will be enhanced by the bitterness of the tannins.  Black pepper, a milder spice, generally pairs better due to its ability to minimize the perception of tannins.

When Cabernet Sauvignon is paired with steak or dishes with a heavy butter cream sauce, the tannins are neutralized, allowing the fruits of the wine to be more noticeable.  In contrast, starches such as pastas and rice will have little effect on tannins.  The bitterness of the tannins can also be counterbalanced by the use of bitter foods, such as radicchio and endive, or with cooking methods that involve charring/grilling.

Cabernet Sauvignon also has the potential to pair well with bitter dark chocolate, but not with sweeter styles of chocolate such as milk or white chocolate.  The wine can typically pair well with a variety of cheeses, such as Cheddar, mozzarella and Brie typically pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full flavored or blue cheeses will typically compete too much with the flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon to be a complementary pairing.

Below are a list of foods and dishes that should pair well with different types of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Steak au Poivre
  • Lamb chops/steaks
  • Lamb shanks
  • Pepper-crusted Ahi Tuna
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Roast Beef with gravy or au jus
  • Semi-firm flavorful cheeses (like Cheddar, Swiss, and Fontina)
  • Strong Cheeses (like Muenster and Limburger)
  • Veal chops

Restaurants With These Types of Dishes

To view restaurants that serve appetizers, entrees and other dishes that partner well with this grape type, click here….

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.

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