A beginner’s guide to Cabernet Sauvignon

By Violet Myers
A beginner’s guide to Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is a firm favourite all over the word. Once the most widely-planted premium red grape of the 20th century, it was only surpassed by Merlot in the early 1990s. Its age-defining popularity is understandable; this robust, fruity wine has a multitude of flavours and ages beautifully.

Originating in France during the 17th Century, this wine was the product of a happy accident. When a red Cabernet grape plant was mistakenly bred with a white Sauvignon Blanc grape plant Cabernet Sauvignon was born and has been a staple for wine lovers ever since.

Whether you’re nurturing a new interest for wine or you’re simply keen to know more about your favourite bottle, stick with us as we guide you through the ins and outs of this wonderful wine.

The Cabernet Sauvignon grape

The grape has a thick skin and a high ratio of pips. A typical cabernet sauvignon wine is tannic and deep coloured, appearing almost blue.

  • Small size
  • Thick skins
  • High ratio of pips to pulp (hence more tannin)
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the vine

A global variety

Cabernet Sauvignon originates from Bordeaux, France, but is enjoyed and grown all over the globe. This is due to the relative simplicity of growing the vine compared to other grapes.

It flourishes in warmer climates with plenty of sunshine and grows most prominently in Chile, Romania, Australia, Italy, South Africa and Argentina. But its incredible resilience means that even Chinese winemakers are managing to cultivate vines in The Gobi Desert.

It also grows particularly well in the Eastern Washington state of the US, where they get up to eight inches of rain a year and its popularity amongst the American public is noticeable. In a recent Nielsen Scarborough survey, the number of American buyers was as high as 26.56 million in the spring of 2017.

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Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the market’s most robust wines. Acidic and rich with a multitude of aromas, this seemingly simple red wine has an explosion of flavours. Tastes range from black currants, cherries, cedar and even mint. However, as it ages, it takes on the most wonderful notes of leather, dried herbs and tobacco.

Cab has a great affinity for oak. This woody flavour – which occurs during either the fermentation or the ageing process depending on the grower – compliments the sweeter notes of vanilla and spice of the wine.

Another notable flavour is green bell pepper.  This is caused by pyrazines: a compound prevalent in under-ripened grapes. While it could be considered a wine fault in excess, handled skillfully, it adds an attractive savoury note.

Blackberries in a basket illustrating some of the flavours in Cabernet Sauvignon

Will it blend?

Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended. While it is frequently sold as a pure varietal wine, up to 25 percent of a bottle of cab may be blended with another grape (most commonly Merlot or Cabernet Franc). Traditionally, this blending technique stretched value, but nowadays growers blend to balance its complex flavours.

Food pairings

Due to the high tannin level, this full-bodied red cries out for high protein, fatty food. Red meat (such as prime rib, steaks, sausages and even a hearty beef burger) pair beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon. However, vegetarians will be happy to know this popular red also compliments strong cheeses, such as Stilton and Gruyère.

Hamburgers pairing beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon

Salute to Cabernet Sauvignon: A century-spanning classic

While we love to try new grapes, we simply can’t help coming back to this century-spanning classic. The illegitimate love child of Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc has outlived its French roots and truly become a wine of the world. We raise our glasses to wine’s greatest mistake; here’s to you Cabernet Sauvignon!

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