Is this the worlds greatest grape variety?
Often thought to be the worlds greatest grape variety there aren’t many countries that haven’t tried to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Famed for its use in the greatest (and most expensive) 1st growth reds in Bordeaux. Its particularly successful in warmer regions where the grape can easily ripen and produce juicy, fruity flavours.
Originally (and relatively recently in terms of wine history) Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Cabernet Sauvignon is able to express primary (from the grape), secondary (from winemaking practices) and tertiary (from age) flavours brilliantly. Its primary flavours include blackberries, plums, cherries in plentiful supply. Depending on the climate Cabernet Sauvignon can also show interesting minty, leafy and even flavours of black olives.
Using oak allows cedar, vanilla, clove and nutmeg to harmonise with the strong fruit flavours. Finally, with age, the wines can develop great complexity with flavours of tobacco, leather and game.
Structurally it produces big wines that balance out the strong flavours. Tannins, body and acid are almost always high which is why ageing can be so successful. Cabernet Sauvignon is commonly fermented or aged in oak. This adds a depth of flavour to the wine.
Where to begin….
Of course, this is the ultimate region for Cabernet Sauvignon. Here it produces many of the worlds most luxurious, sought after and expensive red wines. Whilst merlot is more commonly planted, Cabernet Sauvignon receives the majority of the attention. Best known for its role on the ‘left bank’, vineyards planted on the left-hand side of the river Garonne. This encompasses the whole of the Medoc. Within the Medoc is the Haut-Medoc and then further still is the highly regarded communes of Pauillac, Margaux, St-Julien, St-Estèphe, Listrac and Moulis. The Medoc wines are typically made with a higher proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and blended.
Cabernet Sauvignon is also planted on the right bank but typically Merlot is used in higher proportions.
There are signification plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon throughout the Languedoc. Both entry-level and high-quality examples can be found. Due to the warmer, Mediterranean climate, the wines are typically less herbaceous with jammier fruit flavours.
Best known for its role in creating ‘Super Tuscans’ based on the traditional Bordeaux blend.
Grown throughout Spain but rarely shines. Often used as a blending component in Priorat where it adds some structure and aroma to Grenache.
Napa is the western home of Cabernet Sauvignon and there are many outstanding examples. Bold, juicy and heavily oaked is the norm with some producers now focusing on showcasing the grapes more elegant side. It typically is planted in the best sites and soils of the region, where it can ripen easily but retain good acid levels.
Sonoma, to the west of Napa, therefore, closer to the coast, is generally cooler. The wines here are typically more elegant with lower alcohol.
Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown successfully in Oregon and Washington State.
Imported originally by James Busby, Cabernet Sauvignon has a relatively long history in Australia. Arguably the best examples come from the Margaret River and Coonawarra. Each region has outstanding examples that are bold and bright often with a minty, herbal quality. Elsewhere the Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek and McLaren produce wines with ripe fruit and high tannins. It is also grown in the cooler Yarra Valley and Clare Valley where it can have a lighter more restrained feel.
Varying quality, however with good site selection excellent examples are produced in Stellenbosch.
New Zealand is generally too cold to produce ripe Cabernet Sauvignon. The warmer areas of Hawkes Bay, Auckland and the Bay of Plenty on the North island produce some great examples.
Winemaking paradise Chile can grow almost any variety well. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon is often focused on mass production but at a relatively low cost. This can be an attractive option with many good examples available.
Plantings are drastically increasing with many wineries hoping to achieve the Bordeaux blend. Notable areas include the Shanxi and Shandong province.