When people think of red wine, they often think of Cabernet Sauvignon. This dark red, tannic wine is a perennial favorite, produced by both Old World and New World growers around the globe. With the variety in climate and soils in Cabernet Sauvignon growing regions, the wine yields a vast array of styles and flavors, making it easy to find a Cabernet Sauvignon wine to suit your palate.
What Is Cabernet Sauvignon?
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is a hearty variety that grows well in multiple soil and climate conditions. Because of this, most of the world's wine regions grow some Cabernet grapes. The dark blue grapes are small in size, but they yield powerful flavors backed by substantial tannins. The result is a flavorful red wine that typically ages well and blends well with other grapes.
Growers in southwestern France first produced the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in the 17th century, when they crossed a Cabernet Franc grape with a Sauvignon Blanc grape. The result was a hardy grape that held up well to weather extremes including frost and high temperatures. Winemakers in the Bordeaux region recognized the potential for such a grape, and began making delicious and powerful wines that featured the newcomer.
Many wine regions produce Cabernet Sauvignon or wines that contain Cabernet Sauvignon blends. Most notable is Bordeaux; however, you will discover Cabernet Sauvignons grown in other regions, as well including:
- Tuscany: This region produces Super Tuscans, which blend Cabernet Sauvignon with traditional red wine grapes from the region.
- California: Wines from California are often powerful and fruit forward with tremendous aging potential.
- Washington: This state makes many world-class Cabernet Sauvignon wines and blends.
- South America: Chile and Argentina are relative newcomers to Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are ripe and fruity, and often quite affordable.
It is a truism in winemaking that wines will taste of the terroir (earth) in which they are grown. The more subtle flavors found in Cabernet Sauvignon may vary according to the wine region, and even the specific vineyard; however, in general the grapes produce wines with familiar flavors including black cherry, chocolate, eucalyptus, and peppers. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has an affinity for oak, the wines often also have a characteristic toasty flavor that comes from aging in oak caskets. With the thick skins inherent in the grape, many wines made from Cabernet also contain substantial tannins; however, as the wines age these often soften and give way to the more subtle flavors that arise from terroir.
Storing and Serving
While many Cabernet Sauvignon wines do need to be aged in order to open up their full flavor profiles and soften the tannins, the grapes grown in warmer climates like South America often drink relatively early. If you do purchase an ageworthy wine made from this grape, store it at 50 to 55 degrees in a humidity controlled environment away from light, vibration, and temperature fluctuation. Store the wine on its side in order to keep the cork moist and avoid oxidation. Some Cabernet Sauvignon wines may age for as long as 20 years, while others need to be opened right away.
Serve the Cabernet Sauvignon at slightly cooler than room temperature; about 55 to 60 degrees is ideal. Because of the bold flavors and tannins, the wines pair especially well with fatty meats, such as a rib-eye steak. The slightly smokey flavors of grilled meats, and the gamey flavors of lamb also work well. Many people also enjoy pairing the wine with dark chocolate or similarly strongly flavored foods.
Wines to Try
It's not difficult to find an enjoyable Cabernet Sauvignon wine to suit your budget and palate. Try some of the following wines in different styles and price points:
- Charles Shaw wine is available at Trader Joe's. Also known as Two Buck Chuck, this wine is both affordable and approachable for the price.
- Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, available at Whole Foods, offers flavors of cherry and plum with soft tannins. It costs less than $15 per bottle and drinks well without aging.
- Villa Dante Toscana is a Super Tuscan with smooth flavors that pairs well with foods like pizza and pasta. Best of all, it sells for less than $20 per bottle.
- Betz Pere de Familia Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Washington State. This wine, priced at about $70 per bottle, performs consistently well. Try it for a special occasion.
- Chateau Lynch-Bages is a second growth Bordeaux from France. The wine is consistently good and provides an excellent example of just what Old World Bordeaux winemakers can do with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Prices vary based on vintage, but plan to spend over $100 for a bottle from a decent vintage, and allow it to age for several years.
If you've never had Cabernet Sauvignon before, the drinking a good glass of the wine will show you exactly how the grape came to be one of the most popular in the world.