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Varietal Spotlight: All About Cabernet Sauvignon

If you like wine, it’s hard not to know Cabernet Sauvignon. Although it’s not the most widely sold red wine (that would be merlot), it’s widely grown and recognizable by almost everyone who drinks red wine.

What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon is the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc way back when, which produced a thick-skinned, durable, and delicious grape that went on to become one of the stars of the Bordeaux region in France and, later, in almost every grape-growing country in both Old and New world wine regions.

Where is it grown?

Lots of places. France (particularly in the Bordeaux region), Italy, Spain, Chile, Australia, California, Washington, you name it. Almost every country that grows grapes has cab, and they all turn out differently. Regions with cooler weather will produce cabs with more vegetal flavors to them, and hot weather regions will make cabs with lots of ripe fruit and berry.

How tannic is Cabernet Sauvignon?

Pretty tannic. If you read the earlier post What is a Tannin?, you might remember that tannin is found in the stems and skins of red grapes. Cab has the thickest skin of the grapes you probably consume on a regular basis, so cab naturally has the most tannin of all the wines. The upside? Because of those thick skins, Cab grows in a wide range of climates. Unlike the delicate Pinot Noir, you can grow Cab in hot weather, cooler weather, gravelly soil, clay-like soil. They turn out differently, but they survive in all kinds of growing conditions.

Why drink Cabernet Sauvignon?

If Cab is so tannic, why drink it? Because when you age cab, those tannins mellow out and leave you with all the structure of a big red wine, but all the great flavors naturally present in Cabernet Sauvignon, like blackcurrent, cedar, mint, eucalyptus, and pepper. Winemakers can also make a softer cab if they take the wine off the skins earlier, giving it less contact with the tannins and creating a wine that’s more pleasant to drink without aging.

Oak?

Cab is almost always aged in oak barrels; the flavors commonly found in Cabernet Sauvignon meld really well with the vanilla, butterscotch, and smoky flavors from oak, and having some time to age in oak can take the edge off of the tannins.

What do I pair with Cabernet Sauvignon?

Most everyone says a good, hearty, peppery steak. I’m sure this is true, but I’ve never particularly liked steak, so I drink my cab with other meals. Anything peppery, grilled, fatty, or buttery will go well. Fatty foods will make cabs seem less tannic, and peppery or grilled foods will accentuate the flavors in cab. I would have duck, grilled eggplant and mushrooms in a spicy marinade, or baked brie on baguette.

If I missed anything, or if you have questions about cab, ask away in the comments!

 

photo by bongo vongo via flikr
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