Updated: Jun 8, 2020
The Cabernet Sauvignon taste profile is made up of a unique combination of color, flavors, aromas, and structure. These elements are known as wine characteristics.
Keep in mind that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are very similar and can be tricky to identify between the two, but they each still have hallmark characteristics. Let’s explore the typical wine characteristics for Cab.
Unique Cabernet Sauvignon Characteristics
Each type of wine grape develops a unique combination of flavors and aromas. These flavors and aromas are influenced by things like their growing environment (climate and soil – aka terroir), the fermentation process (aka yeast converting sugar to alcohol), and maturation (such as aging in oak barrels).
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape that grows best in warm climates like Bordeaux, France and Napa Valley, California.
The color for red wine ranges from Pale Red to Bright Ruby Red to Deep Purple. Red wine color comes from the grape skins. Grapes with thin skins and light skin color will translate to a pale red wine and will be translucent (you’ll be able to see through the wine). Grapes with thick skins and dark skin color will translate to a deep purple wine color that is opaque (in other words you won’t be able to see much of anything through the wine).
Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Color: Ruby and midway between translucent and opaque.
Flavors & Aromas
Look for Fruit, Floral, Herbal, Vegetal, and Spice notes to identify flavors and aromas in wine.
Fruit: Red wines come in a range with cool-climate wines revealing tart red fruit notes (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry), to warm-climate wines exhibiting black fruit notes (blackberry, black cherry, black currant).
Spice: Notes like vanilla and clove come from aging in oak. In red wines, you may also find notes of black pepper.
Vegetal: Some red wines exhibit notes of green bell pepper.
What does a Cabernet Sauvignon taste like? Cab typically has black fruit notes of black currant and black cherry along with notes of green bell pepper and spice notes of vanilla and clove from aging in oak barrels.
Wine structure is a combination of acidity (that sour, pucker sensation), sweetness levels (residual sugars), tannin (that bitter taste and drying sensation), alcohol levels (abv: alcohol by volume), and body (the heaviness of the wine — think skim milk vs whole milk).
Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Structure: High acidity, dry, high tannin, 13.5-15% abv, medium to full body.
The primary difference between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is that Merlot does not have the super high tannin that Cab develops. This makes these wines perfect for blending. Merlot tames the Cab’s tannins and the Cab’s tannins and high acidity give Merlot a bit more structure. The infamous Bordeaux wine from France is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Hallmarks of Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Profile
The typical taste profile of Cabernet Sauvignon is high acidity, high tannin and medium to full body with black fruit notes of black cherry, vegetal notes of green pepper, and spice notes of vanilla from oak aging.
Look for Cabernet Sauvignon from these top regions: Bordeaux, France – Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Labeled Bordeaux Napa Valley, California – Labeled Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux Blend or Left Bank Blend. The blends mimic the Bordeaux blends of Cab and Merlot from France.
Learn more about the history, top regions, wine recommendations, and pairings with this in depth page about Cabernet Sauvignon.