Cabernet Sauvignon could easily be the most popular and recognizable grape variety in the world. It’s definitely the most widely planted grape, covering more acreage than any other variety. If you’ve had wine, even if it’s just at Thanksgiving each year, I guarantee that you’ve tried Cabernet Sauvignon at some point. It’s almost unavoidable. It is a staple of the wine world and a must-have on ANY wine list. Planted across the world in multiple different environments, Cabernet Sauvignon can showcase a broad spectrum of flavors and highlight the individuality of the regions it’s grown in.
Cabernet is actually considered a younger varietal in the grand scheme of the wine world. One fine day in the 17th century Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc naturally came together, so they say, the end result being their now famous love-child, Cabernet Sauvignon. Once this new grape, with its hardy qualities and thick-skinned, black grapes was noticed by French farmers, they quickly realized what happened naturally between the two varietals and decided to continue reproducing this hybrid grape. Due to the way it was created, there isn’t much diversity within the varietal itself, but farmers continued to perfect this particular grape until achieving the Cabernet Sauvignon we enjoy today.
Regardless of where it is grown in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon will always have particular qualities that make it such a distinct and sought-after varietal. It has a signature strong tannic structure that is directly related to the quality and thickness of the grape skins. Allowing the grapes to mature fully will allow for smoother tannins. If ripened and harvested correctly, the phenolic bitterness from the skins of the grapes will balance perfectly with the juice of the inside of the grape. If harvested to early, the phenolic, bitter tannin will overpower the other qualities of the grape, creating an unbalanced wine.
What is most fascinating to me is the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon. It helps that it’s incredibly easy to grow in many different climates and soil types as well as extremely easy to harvest due to its thicker skins; it doesn’t get as easily damaged during the harvesting process unlike more thin-skinned grapes (Pinot Noir for example). This makes harvesting a faster, less detail-oriented process for farmers. Cabernet Sauvignon is versatile, flavorful and easy to harvest, making it the go-to varietal for many, many different climates and soil types.
Bordeaux, France is considered the “original” home of Cabernet, and was the only region in the world where great Cabernet could possibly come from until a fateful blind tasting in 1976. Now sometimes referred to as “The Judgement of Paris”, Stag’s Leap (Napa) Cabernet was put up against classic Bordeaux blends and came out on top! This was the first proof that high-quality Cabernet could be grown outside of France. In Bordeaux there are not really many single-varietal Cabernets, they are all blends. The flavor profile consisting of notes of black currant, plum, tobacco leaf, anise and pencil lead. In California, many of the flavors are similar but with a more juicy quality to the fruit aspects with dominant flavors of blackberries, black currant, tobacco, mint and pencil lead.
Outside of Calfornia and France, there are several other areas of the world that Cabernet Sauvignon thrives. Southern Australia is one of them. Where the warm weather and red-clay soils create a unique expression of Cabernet typically expressing notes of black plum, chocolate, bay leaf and white pepper. Big, bold, and higher in alcohol content, these Australian Cabernets are an exceptional expression of the grape. Another fantastic region is in South America, specifically Chile. The Mediterranean climate of the Maipo Valley creates distinct Cabernets with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, green peppercorn, fig and baking spice.
This Tuesday at our weekly tasting, we will be tasting 5 Cabernets from different growing regions around the world. Come and join us for an evening of interesting comparisons of fantastic wines!