The “King of Reds” can be found in a variety of forms and iterations
Dark-fruited, full-bodied, and sumptuously elegant, Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red wines.The offspring of a chance crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in the 17th century, Cabernet spread from its ancestral home in southwestern France across the globe (in a diverse array of terroirs) to North and South America, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa. Today, it is the world’s most widely planted grape, with almost 850,000 acres under management.
Although Cabernet finds its classic expression in the gravel-rich, well-drained soils of the Left Bank of Bordeaux, it is a grape adaptable to many soils and climates with vigorous, late-budding vines. The small, dark blue, thick-skinned berries are highly resistant to insects, disease and rot from autumn rains. In cooler climates, like Bordeaux, flavor profiles of blackberries, black cherries, and black currants (cassis) predominate, along with pungent herbal notes of green pepper, asparagus, olives and mint, often with hints of tobacco, graphite and cedar. In warmer regions, such as California’s Napa Valley and Coonawarra in South Australia, the herbal characteristics diminish in favor of a juicier, more fruit-forward (at times even “jammy”), and less tannic palate of black cherries, blueberries, and plums, sometimes with nuances of eucalyptus, herbs, menthol, pepper and mocha. Cabernet’s tannins can be quite muscular, especially in young wines and those from cooler climates, but will soften with long-term cellaring. Acidity and alcohol levels are generally high. These wines are particularly suited to aging in oak barrels, which lends flavors of vanilla, spice, oak and toast.
Although 100 percent Cabernets are available (especially in California), most are blends. France’s classic Bordeaux blend consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, with small amounts of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. In America, the Bordeaux blend is used (especially in Meritage wines), but by law bottles must contain only 75 percent of the named varietal. The winemaker is free to choose the content of the remainder. In Australia Cabernet-Merlot and Cabernet-Shiraz blends are popular; Spanish vintners mix Cabernet with Tempranillo; and some of Italy’s “Super Tuscan” wines blend Sangiovese with Cabernet and Merlot.
OENOLOGY 101: THE BASICS OF ALL THINGS WINE
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the six classic wine grape varietals awarded the epithet “noble” (although some experts argue for a seventh, the ink-dark, tannic Syrah). They are so named because they produce wines of exceptional quality and pedigree and can be successfully grown in diverse terroirs (overall environments of soil and climactic conditions) in wine regions around the globe. The remaining five noble wines are:
Merlot: Flavors of raspberries, strawberries, plums, cranberries and blackberries with medium tannins and acidity.
Pinot Noir: Medium-bodied and moderately tannic with flavors of cherries, strawberries and raspberries merging with notes of spice and herbs.
Chardonnay: Oak aging produces creamy, buttery wines with flavors of apples, pears, citrus and tropical and stone fruits, while the unoaked varieties are lighter in style and crisper, showing palates of green apples, pears, citrus and minerality.
Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp with tart acidity and flavors of apples, citrus, passion fruit and peach, often with either stony minerality or a pronounced “grassiness.”
Riesling: Highly perfumed and acidic with apple, citrus and peach flavors vinified in styles from dry to sweet