Cabernet Sauvignon

Grown in just about every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world's most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. Cabernet wine is best known through its prominence in Bordeaux wines, where it can be found blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Cabernet Sauvignon is noted for producing dense, dark, and tannic red wines, with flavors ranging from bell pepper to berry, depending on the climate it is grown in. Easy to cultivate, the grapes feature thick skins with vines that are hardy and resistant to rot and frost. Cabernet Sauvignon wine has also been criticized as a "colonizer" with a tendency to take over wine regions at the expense of native varieties.


history of Cabernet Sauvignon wine

Despite its popularity, Cabernet Sauvignon wine is a relatively new variety, the offspring of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc during the 17th century in southwestern France. First known as Petite Vidure or Bidure, it is not certain when the name Cabernet Sauvignon became more prevelant. However, records indicate that in the 18th century the grape was a popular Bordeaux planting in the Medoc region. By the 1800s, Cabernet Sauvignon could be found in almost every wine growing region in Bordeux. It was discovered that it grew best on the left bank in Bordeaux, particularly in the Medoc and Pauillac areas. Today, this area is still renowned for the quality of its Cabernet wine, as the Bordeux region is home to the five Premier Cru, or First Growth, chateaux. Premier Cru is a classification meaning they are rated among the very best, according to a rating system developed in 1855. The five Premier Cru wine estates in Bordeaux are Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion, and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Cabernet wine was first introduced in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1820. By the mid 1970s it had a controversial reputation for its role in the production of what is known as "Super Tuscan" wines. These wines went outside of the Italian DOC rules governing wine production, with wine producers believing they could produce a better quality wine by adding Cabernet wine to their Chianti blends instead of the required white grape varieties. Eventually the DOC allowed the use of the grape in some DOC designated wines. In Tuscany, Cabernet Sauvignon often has ripe black cherry flavors that lend a perception of sweetness as well as strong note of black currant. Alcohol levels can reach around 14% but still maintain notable levels of acidity.

California has been instrumental to the development of Cabernet wine, both in style and reputation, recognized around the world and purchased frequently. California Cabernet Sauvignon wine jumped into the international spotlight in 1976 during the Judgment of Paris wine tasting event. Pitted against Premier Cru and Grand Cru Bordeaux estates, California's Stag's Leap Wine Cellar 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon wine won in a blind taste testing conducted by French wine experts. Cabernet wine also features prominently in Washington state, as its the second most widely planted grape variety there after Merlot. Small quantities of Cabernet wine can also be found in Oregon, Arizona, New York, Texas, and Virginia.

Cabernet Sauvignon is also grown in many South American countries, including Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay. Several wine growing regions in Australia have Cabernet plantings, with it being the second most popular grape variety throughout Australia, second to Shiraz. South Africa is also becoming known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wine production, with many regions actively promoting their own variety of the wine.


Able to grow in a variety of climates, the suitability of Cabernet wine as a single varietal or as a blend component depends on the warmth of the climate. As one of the last major grape varieties to bud and ripen, the climate affects how early the grapes will be harvested. In California it is more likely to be used as a varietal, as the abundance of sunshine allows for full ripening, compared to regions such as Bordeaux, where inclement harvest season weather often causes the Cabernet Sauvignon to be blended with other grapes due to lack of ripening time. In cooler regions, there is more potential for the grape to develop an herbaceous or what is often described as a green bell pepper flavor when under-ripe, whereas if the grape is exposed to excess warmth and over-ripens, it can develop flavors of cooked blackcurrants.

With its ability to thrive in a variety of vineyard soil types, soil is less of a concern to New World winemakers. However in Bordeaux, the soil aspect of terroir was more of a historically important consideration in determining which grape varieties were planted. The Cabernet Sauvignon variety seemed to do better in the gravel based soil of the Medoc region. The gravel soils aided in ripening by radiating heat to the vines and also drained well. In warmer climates less fertile soil is preferred which keeps yields low and makes for grapes with more concentrated flavors. In the wine region of Coonawarra in South Australia, vastly different results have been achieved by planting Cabernet Sauvignon grape vines in the region's terra rosa soil. The red soil is considered the unofficial boundary of the wine region in the area.

There are certain flavors noted in Cabernet Sauvignon that are tied to climate influences. The most widely recognized is the green bell pepper flavor caused by under-ripened grapes. This flavor is caused by pyrazine compounds present in all Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and are gradually destroyed as by sunlight as the grapes ripen. In cooler climates it is difficult for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to ripen fully enough so the pyrazine is not detected. This flavor is not necessarily considered a wine fault, but may not be desirable to the tastes of all consumers. Mint is another well known Cabernet wine flavor that is often associated with regions that are warm enough for low pyrazine levels, but are generally still cool. This often happens in Australia's Coonawarra region and some areas of Washington state. It is also believed that soil may play a part in the minty notes. Eucalyptus flavors have also appeared in Cabernet wine from areas that are habitats for the eucalyptus tree such as California's Napa and Sonoma valleys and parts of Australia, but there is no conclusive evidence tying the proximity of eucalyptus trees and the presence of their flavor in wine.

Suggested Food Pairings

As Cabernet wine tends to be bold and assertive, it has the potential to overwhelm lighter dishes. The high tannin and alcohol content as well as oak flavors influence how the wine matches with other foods. A young Cabernet Sauvignon wine finds all of those elements at their peak, but the wine mellows as it ages, opening up more possibilities for different food pairings. It is important to consider the weight of the wine to the heaviness of the food. A Cabernet wine with a high alcohol content tends to not pair well with spicy foods due to the heat of spices of like chili peppers being enhanced by the alcohol, which in turn accentuates the bitterness of the tannins. A milder spice such as black pepper pairs better since it minimizes the tannins. Classic pairings are Cabernet wine with steak au poivre, or with pepper-crusted ahi tuna.

The perception of tannins are also reduced with fats and proteins. When paired with red meat or heavy butter or cream sauces, the tannins are neutralized, allowing the fruit flavors of the wine to pop. Starchy foods such as pastas and rice have little effect on tannins. The use of bitter foods such as radicchio and endive, or grilling foods so they are charred also counterbalances the bitterness of the tannins. As Cabernet Sauvignon wine ages the tannins lessen, and more subtle dishes can be paired with the wine. Oak influences can be matched with cooking methods such as grilling, smoking, and plank roasting. And dishes that have oak-influenced flavors and aromas such as brown sugar, nutmeg, and vanilla, also pair well. While Cabernet wine can potentially pair well with dark chocolate, it does not go well with sweeter milk chocolates. It also complements a variety of cheeses such as Cheddar, mozzarella, and Brie, but full flavored or blue cheeses typically compete with the flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon wine.

Buying Cabernet Sauvignon

When buying wine like Cabernet wine, look for the Premier Cru varieties from the chateaux as mentioned above for the very best in quality. If you can't find those, then those labeled as Grand Cru are also among the best. However, Premier Cru and Grand Cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine tend to be on the expensive side. If you want to experience a great Cabernet wine without spending too much money, you can still purchase great Cabernet wine from all over the world for less than $15 a bottle. Besides France - California, Australian, and Italian Cabernet wine producers are known for their quality red wines, many of which you can buy from our online wine shop.

No matter your budget, you owe it to yourself to try the dense, dark, and fruity red wine known as Cabernet Sauvignon wine.