Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the grapes that has all the components that gives it potential for greatness. A thick skinned grape which means it has plenty of colour and tannins. Strong aromatics, majoring on menthol in youth becoming more interesting with cigar box and leather in age. The fruit is rich like crunchy brambles in youth, and well defined so that it can manage to match up to plenty of oak. And the natural acidity of the grape is yet another reason it ages with grace.
So it should be no surprise that this has become one of the most widely planted grapes in the world. From the classic styles originating in Bordeaux to the more flashy and ripe new world styles in California and Australia.
But don’t necessarily think that if you like French Cabernet you’ll love Australian or vice versa. A word of warning, is that Bordeaux styles can seem to leafy and herbaceous to those who like the more blackcurrant lozenge styles of Chile or Australia. The herbal nature of Cabernet is more tamed in new world styles, becoming sweet menthol rather than green bell pepper.
If you are a lover of a bit of “leaf” or green-ness, like me, then do explore Bordeaux and potentially Margaret River styles from Australia; that mimic that herbaceous-ness well. These styles age the best, the tannins are more structured due to the cooler climate and the acidity is fresher. And old Bordeaux can amaze in the array of aromas and flavours it produces. The blackberry can soften to cranberry, the spice box character becomes more varied and savoury. One other tip is that Bordeaux is produced from a blend of grapes; normally Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in small proportions. The area is big and sprawling but divided into left bank and right bank styles. The left bank area is where Cabernet Sauvignon is used in the highest proportion. So if you want that look for labels saying Medoc or the appellations like Margaux, Pauillac, St Julien or St Estephe – all Bordeaux left bank.
A thick skinned, late ripening, high acidity and high tannin varietal. Can be herbaceous and bitter if not fully ripe. Combines well with oak to deliver clove spice, licquorice, vanilla pod notes and cigar box with age. Has high thiols which gives the herbaceous aroma and green pepper flavours. Expresses terroir well, taking on gravel pencil lead qualities in Bordeaux. In Australia or countries with eucalyptus trees, it also seems to take on that character into its herbal infusion. Winemakers like to give this wine long maceration and sometime micro-oxygenation to help soften out the tannins. As an age worthy wine, top Bordeaux wines can age from 10 years to decades depending on winery and vintage quality. Premium Napa Cabernet tends to age well for 10-15 years and Coonawarra Cabernet 5-10 years.
Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Carmenere, Tannat
France: Bordeaux, South France
Australia: Margaret River, Coonawarra
USA: California (Napa Valley), Washington State
South Africa: Stellenbosch, Paarl
New Zealand: Hawkes Bay
Chile: Colchuagua Valley, Maipo & Rapel Valley
Argentina: Mendoza (Uco Valley)
Canada: Okanagan Valley
Beef Wellington, steak pies, fillet steak, sausages, mushroom stroganoff