What is Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet or Cab Sav as it is affectionately known, is a black wine grape from Bordeaux in France.
It was surpassed by Merlot as the world’s most widely planted grape in the 1990s. But by 2015, it had regained its crown, with approximately 341,000ha under vine recorded in that year.
It is perhaps most famous for being the primary varietal used in Cabernet wines from Bordeaux.
Despite its dominance, the grape is a relatively recent varietal, the result of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in 17th Century Southwest France.
Today, it is grown in nearly every major wine producing country, and regional characteristics are usually very evident in the wine.
Classic Cabernet tends to be full-bodied with firm tannins and noticeable acidity, which contributes to its excellent aging potential.
Each region leaves a distinctive mark on the wines they produce. However, there is a core of consistent characteristics present in Cabernet from all regions. Notable characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon are found in its aromatics and fruit. These make the wine readily identifiable to any wine enthusiast of modest ability.
You’ll see robust, dark fruit characters of blackcurrant, cassis and mulberry. Herbal, minty or briary notes in younger wines can be found, with a touch of cigar box, earth or chocolate in both aroma and palate.
In cooler climates, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper, mint and cedar, which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages.
Cabernet has a natural affinity with oak in both fermentation and barrel aging.
Pairing with food
Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine cellar staple that pairs well with a wide variety of food. Its bold flavour profile and robustness means it will overwhelm delicate dishes, but will hold its own against rich, complex dishes like ragout. It’s a natural partner with red meats such as braised beef, barbecued beef ribs and venison or even stir-fried beef Asian dishes. But pairing approaches perfection with a fine cut of perfectly cooked steak. Tomato-based pasta and pizza dishes are on friendly terms. Cabernet will also pair well with a variety of cheeses, including Cheddar, Brie, Mozzarella, Gruyère, Manchego or a crumbly red Cheshire (avoid full-flavoured or blue cheese, as the flavours will compete, not compliment). For dessert, try bitter dark chocolate or black forest cake.
Notable regions for Cabernet Sauvignon
Bordeaux, France - Cabernet Sauvignon wines are rarely made in Bordeaux without being blended with other varieties, even though it is the likely birthplace of this grape. While the "Bordeaux blend" of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot created the earliest examples of acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon wine, Cabernet Sauvignon was first blended in Bordeaux with Syrah, a pairing that is widely seen in Australia.
Australia - Cabernet is one of Australia’s great wine successes resulting in rewarding, complex wines. Coonawarra, with its ancient terra rossa soils, is best-known for Cabernet Sauvignon and is considered the country’s finest producer of this variety. Wines are full of dark plum and blackcurrant fruit, with soft spice notes, firm tannins and a herbal minty complexity. In Margaret River, the most popular regional varietal is easily Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are elegant, medium-bodied, display extraordinary fine fruit character and have the potential to age exceptionally well.
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand - Growing Cabernet in New Zealand’s cooler climate is more of a challenge. The Gimblett Gravels and Havelock North areas of Hawke’s Bay, with their warm gravel soils, have had noticeable success. It is often blended with Merlot to compensate for climate and terroir, resulting in wines that are exciting and approachable when young - but they’re often worth holding onto, as they acquire complexity with age. With its warm climate, Waiheke Island is known for its high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and blends, and is starting to get noticed.
International - Napa Valley, USA, Chile and Argentina all have international reputations for producing excellent Cabernet wines.