Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the greatest food wines. It’s rumored that the grape was born inadvertently. Good news for us! The grape is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, but that doesn’t mean it’s a mellow grape. It has thick dark skin that brings bold rich flavors.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted red grape around the world. These are the top producing regions. France and Italy feature Cab as a blend, while California features Cab as a single varietal (although they also produce Bordeaux style blends as well).
France: Bordeaux (Left Bank) (regions: Médoc, Graves)
Italy: Tuscany (named: Super Tuscan)
California: Napa Valley
Washington: Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley
Left Bank Bordeaux – Star Of The Show
The Cabernet Sauvignon vines found their perfect growing conditions in Bordeaux, France on the left bank where it grows in gravel soil with excellent drainage, good levels of sunlight and warmer temperatures.
Cabernet Sauvignon by itself is full-bodied, dry with lots of tannins. This is why the sharply tannic Cab is blended with the softer more subtle Merlot in Bordeaux style wine. Left bank Bordeaux is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (70-80%) with a blend of Merlot (30-20%). Depending on the desires of the winemakers, the wine may also include Cab Franc, Petit Verdot or other choice reds.
Super Tuscan – Breaking The Rules
Italy’s Tuscany region uses Cabernet Sauvignon to blend into their Super Tuscan wines. As I mentioned in the Merlot tasting notes, Italian Super Tuscans were born because of winemakers who wanted to branch out of the old Italian winemaking rules. They started blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – French origin grapes – with their Italian origin grapes such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. These new-style wines were so well received by the public that a new designation was created for Super Tuscans called Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
California Cab – Royalty
To find 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, you’ll have to look to California. Cab is King in this part of the world. You will also find Bordeaux style wine in California sometimes called Left Bank Blend or Bordeaux Blend.
To really get a good feel for Cabernet Sauvignon, try the single varietal alongside its famous blended versions.
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Link to these filtered pages for top Cabernet Sauvignon regions on Wine.com.
FRANCE: LEFT BANK BORDEAUX
CALIFORNIA: NAPA VALLEY
WASHINGTON: COLUMBIA VALLEY
To build your knowledge base for what Cabernet and Cabernet blends taste like, follow the three steps for tasting below. See if you agree with the tasting profiles described.
Because Cabernet Sauvignon is very much a food wine, tasting it by itself doesn’t reveal the beauty of this wine. I would make sure to have steak (ideally) to pair with it or have mushrooms or cheese from the recommended pairings linked below. For vegetarians, Portobello mushrooms are a great option to pair with a Cabernet.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Take note of the opacity levels. If you place your fingers between the glass and the napkin, how easily can you see them? These are all tells of what kind of wine you are drinking.
TASTING PROFILE: Dark ruby in color, very opaque.
Let’s see how aromatic Cabernet is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: This is not an aromatic grape. You’ll have to stick your nose in the glass to catch black cherry, black currant, green pepper, and rich earthy scents.
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Black cherry, black currant, bell pepper, vanilla, toast, black pepper.
Acidity (tart, sour): High levels.
Tannin (dry, bitter): High levels.
Body (weight, mouthfeel): Medium to full body.
Alcohol: 13.5-15% ABV
Oak: Cabernet spends time aging in oak which gives hints of vanilla and toast.
EASY RATING SYSTEM
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me