Cabernet Sauvignon is synonymous with red Bordeaux where it originated; a wine style so eminent that it is emulated everywhere. This has made Cabernet into a veritable globetrotter, adapting so well to different cultures and climates that it is grown with success throughout the world. Rather like Chardonnay, the two have become the vanilla and chocolate ice-cream flavours of wine. Interestingly, Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, the parentage probably happening by accident sometime in the 18th century in Bordeaux .
Cabernet Sauvignon has typical aromas of dark cherries, blackcurrants and green peppers, the latter become more apparent in slightly unripe wines. As they ripen, the grapes develop aromas of eucalyptus, mint, tobacco and cedar. Cabernet’s thick grape skins are full of phenols that add tannic structure and deep colour to the wine. In spite of its power, Cabernet Sauvignon is not particularly round and fleshy and can sometimes seem hollow in the middle, a characteristic sometimes called the “donut-effect”. It is therefore often blended with mouth filling Merlot. Only in warm climates where full ripeness softens Cabernet’s tannic rigour is it bottled on its own. Its structure also explains its affinity with oak: the additional tannins and toasty aromas of new French oak barrels marry well with the grape. Cabernet Sauvignon develops real interest with bottle age. Oak, Cabernet and its blending partners unite to form a complex, mature bouquet while the tannic grip softens.
In Bordeaux, Cabernet is grown on the warm gravelly Left Bank of the Gironde. It needs warmth to ripen fully and mirrors terroir. Wines from Saint-Estèphe show grip and intense earthy notes. Pauillac is a benchmark with its balance between power, elegance, opulence and cigar box aromas. Saint-Julien shows mineral definition, pure fruit and linear structure. Margaux is all about silky texture wrapped around firm tannins. Pessac-Léognan from the top of the Graves is lighter with hints of pencil shavings.
Cabernet Sauvignon also shines in other well-known wine regions throughout the world: In Maremma and Bolgheri, coastal Tuscany shares a maritime climate with Bordeaux. Here, Cabernet is successfully blended with both Merlot and Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the star varietals in California’s Napa Valley producing wines that are concentrated and extracted often with elevated alcohol levels. Australia’s heartland for Cabernet is Coonawarra: recognizable by its eucalyptus scent, ripe fruit and its savoury tannins, while Margaret River Cabernet is more restrained, elegant and minty. Chilean Cabernet’s blackcurrant aromas virtually jump out of the glass and in South Africa, it is the Cape’s most planted red grape, usually blended with Merlot to make charming wines especially in Stellenbosch and Paarl.
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