The Big Six: Cabernet Sauvignon

Grape number six in our crash course is Cabernet Sauvignon (kab-behr-NAY soh-vihn YOHN). Cabernet Sauvignon or just “Cab Sauv” or even just “Cab”, to oenophiles (wineaux!) is one of the world’s most famous grapes. This big-flavored, thick-skinned grape is cultivated anywhere it’s hot enough to ripen properly. The “king of reds” is frequently a big, bold and bad, (occasionally, unfortunately very bad) wine. Popular with many alpha males, CEOs and VIPs, this wine is a must-have if you enjoy full-flavored reds!

A very famous Cabernet Sauvignon from California brought worldwide attention to the Napa Valley in our Bicentennial year of 1976. At the 1976 Paris tasting the Stag’s Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon came in first place among all the other wines entered in the competition. The French judges were not happy, to say the very least, when they chose a California wine over their own wines! Those wines included some of the best Bordeaux wines, a world standard for blends of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the child of parent grapes Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Only a few hundred years old, young by grape standards, this workhorse of the wine world is intense and tannic. Relatively easy to grow and late to ripen, Cabernet Sauvignon is the “money grape” of the industry.

Deep and complex aromas of dried red fruits such as cherry and plums, combine with flavors of tobacco, cedar, coffee, black olives, and mint to produce a memorable sensory experience.

As befits an international star, this macho varietal acts differently depending upon where it’s grown. While Australia, Tuscany, Washington and Chile all produce excellent Cabs, Bordeaux, France and Napa Valley, California are regarded as the premier homes for this long-lived masculine wine.

Bordeaux, France has traditionally been the source for Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. Guess what, it still is! Cabernet Sauvignon is a great grape to blend with other grapes. It’s usually blended with Merlot, (its favorite partner) and Cabernet Franc, its cousin. Other varietals Malbec (remember Malbec from our previous article?), and Petit Verdot are also allowed to be blended into red Bordeaux wines. Bordeaux also makes white wines, including the world’s best dessert wine!

Many red Bordeaux have the potential to be extremely long-lived and are very powerful and may be rather unpleasant when tasted young. The best need time to mellow and soften in the bottle. There are, however, many less pricey, younger wines that are great values. These softer, easier drinking wines are increasingly available to you. The Bordelais are re-tooling their wine styles to meet consumer demand for wines that don’t require the long aging that has been a hallmark of Bordeaux.

If Bordeaux reds are tougher and more tannic than most wines, then Napa Valley Cabernets are fruiter, and, to some extent, softer than their French counterparts. Naturally, while some of the high-end California cabs are oaky, tannic monsters requiring years of cellaring, most are quite user-friendly.

So, what dishes pair best with these powerful reds? If you guessed meat, meat and more meat, you’re spot on. The firm tannins in Cabernets are best tamed by the uncoagulated proteins found in beef, particularly steaks. Lamb is also a perfect foil for Cabs. If your lamb dish contains rosemary and the Cabernet Sauvignon has aromas & flavors of rosemary your pairing will have your guests Tweeting about you in a nanosecond! Veal shanks and other hearty dishes are also appropriate choices for matching the bold flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon with your culinary creations.


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