Cabernet Sauvignon is a back grape variety known for its powerful tannins, potential for high acidity and aromatic might. It is a descendant of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and while it carries the family names, it doesn’t live under its ancestors’ shadow. Because of its natural intensity, it is capable of evolving with oak and time without losing itself, hence it is often oaked and can produce wines of great longevity.
It ripens late, so a moderately warm or hot climate suits it better than cold, as its wonders need time and sunshine to develop on the vine. Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s most widely planted red wine variety, and while its capable of producing incredible wines on its own, it is also frequently blended (often with Merlot).
CABERNET SAUVIGNON AROUND THE WORLD
Cabernet Sauvignon originated in France, and to this day, it is still one of the crown jewels in the celebrated Bordeaux region. Maritima influence, long warm autumns and a moderate climate favour the variety, specially in the zone often referred as the Left Bank (note that the Right Bank is often seen as the optimal spot for Merlot).
Some key regions within Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon wines including varietals as well as blends that prioritise it include Médoc, Haut-Médoc and Graves. Wines labeled as Bordeaux AC or Bordeaux Supérieur will offer an affordable, entry-level taste of the region and this variety alongside its friend Merlot.
Other regions of France where one can find Cabernet Sauvignon include the Loire Valley (where its parent, Cab Franc tends to be more common), and the Languedoc, where quality has increased in recent years.
In Italy, the grape has shaken Tuscany. While not the most traditional variety in the sunny region, ambitious and savvy producers have realised its potential and produced rule-breaking reds known as Super-Tuscans whose quality and prices have nothing to envy from their French cousins.
But we can’t talk of premium Cabernet Sauvignon without giving the spotlight to California, and specifically to the Napa Valley, where big, velvety, opulent Cab Sauvs thrive in a post-Judgement of Paris, post-Robert Parker era of cult bottles, and a ‘more is more’ approach.
South of the Equator, Chile has also welcomed Cabernet Sauvignon with open arms. From super-premium varietals and blends in places like Maipo Valley, Colchagua and Cachapoal, to cheap and cheerful petrol station specials, they’ve really covered all bases.
In a similar fashion, there is a Cab Sauv in Australia for every palate and budget. Some of the finest come from Coonawarra, a region known for producing wines with pronounced mint and eucalyptus notes. Other praise-worthy regions include Margaret River and Hunter Valley.
South Africa also has a lot to offer, with a relatively small, but high-quality production of fine Cabernet Sauvignon coming from Stellenbosch.
Mid-range and entry-level
Thanks to its sturdiness, high yields and intensity, it is possible to find rich and satisfying Cab Sauvs at very affordable price points. These are often unaged or have matured in oak for a few months, and have mostly the grape’s primary aromas, including the iconic blackcurrant and crème de cassis notes, as well as blackberries, and in some cases, mint, eucalyptus and even licorice.
The best examples will tend to be more pronounced and with a pleasant balance between full tannins, moderate acidity and medium to high alcohol levels. The not-so-impressive ones might feel harsh, with the tannins overpowering everything else, or a monotone, overripe black fruit nose.
If it’s a blend, it will often feature MErlot. In this case, expect more mellow tannins and aromas of plum and cherries, plus slightly milder tannins.
- Chateau Meaume Bordeaux Superieur – €15.99, available at SuperValu.
- Viña Chocalán Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon – €13.95, available at O’Briens Wine.
- Los Cardos Cabernet Sauvignon – €11.49, available at SuperValu, Tesco.
High-end Cabernet Sauvignon is often aged in oak barrels, and can be cellared for many, many years. In fact, it might even feel aggressively harsh if drunk too early on. While individual producers can make countless decisions to create their style, in general, French and Old World wines are likely to be made with French oak, sometimes combining new and used barrels, providing a more subtle presence of wood and a more restrained character.
In the New World, especially when made in the Napa Valley style, American oak will often prevail, giving its coveted vanilla, coconut and toast notes. These wines are proudly big and generous, yet complex and well balanced. Some New World producers deliberately take a more restrained approach (or a happy medium between France and the US), as it is often the case for premium Chilean and South African Cab Sauvs.
- Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – €110, available at wineonline.ie, The Corkscrew.
- Wynns Coonawarra Estate 52nd Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon – €39.50 (on offer from 46.50), available at Terroirs.
- Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon – €24.95, available at Baggot Street Wines.
Some of the finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon wines come from blends, more often than not made in the style of Bordeaux. The region, in which Cab Sauv often co-stars with Merlot, in to a lesser extent with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère, has given the world a blueprint of how to balance Cabernet Sauvignon to make wines more rounded, with structure, complexity and sophistication.
- Emiliana Coyam Organic – €25.95, available at O’Briens Wine, Searsons.
- Chateau les Moines Medoc – €26.95, available at Mitchell & Son, Jus de Vine.
- 2015 Echo de Lynch Bages Pauillac – €84.95, available at Baggot Street Wines, Jus de Vine.
Meaty, complex dishes that would overshadow lighter reds will find a worthy mate in Cabernet Sauvignon. Its bold tannins cut nicely through fat, and its full body and rich aromas can hold their front and enhance the enjoyment of equally rich, savoury dishes.
- For young varietals or entry level blends – These will rock at a barbeque, or alongside burgers or a philly steak sandwich. When it comes to cheese, think fatty, hard cheeses like vintage cheddar or gorgonzola. Vegetarian options? Think umami dishes, for example, a juicy mushroom steak or a rich veggie lasagna.
- For premium Cabernet Sauvignon – Steak is a no-brainer, but it is not the only trick in the hat. Duck, lamb or game meats prepared with berry flavours and earthy ingredients will pair beautifully, as well as slow cooked stews.