Cabernet Sauvignon (often just called Cabernet or Cab and not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc) is a similarly dense and full bodied wine as Syrah. The Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small and thick skinned which means they have a lot of skin compared to the amount of juice they yield which contributes to the colour and density of the finished wine. Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to have plenty of flavour, a substantial amount of tannin and acidity and great structure. Cabernet is sometimes called the king of the red grapes – it travels well and can make wonderful wine in lots of different locations, it can age for decades, and is a well structured, elegant and graceful wine (very aristocratic!).
Cabernet Sauvignon is most commonly associated with a rich, blackcurrant flavour but will often have blackberry, perhaps eucalyptus and dark chocolate tones. It goes extremely well with oak which can add a cedary, spicy, toasty or vanilla flavour to the wine. Although great Cabernet Sauvignon is capable of ageing for decades, there are plenty of early drinking wines being made.
In France Cabernet lives in Bordeaux. There are five grape varieties permitted in red Bordeaux wines but the main two are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon has more structure and power than Merlot, but takes longer to ripen so needs a good site, the right soils and a bit of luck with the weather. The gravelly soils of the left bank in Bordeaux are best suited to Cabernet Sauvignon and it is here where most of it is planted. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have very complementary characters and are blended together in Bordeaux and elsewhere to great effect. St Julien, Margaux, St Estephe, Pauillac and Graves are the most famous left bank appellations.
Outside of France, Cabernet Sauvignon has considerable presence in California and Australia where the warm, sunny climates are ideal for ripening this slow maturing variety. Those long sunny summers allow the grapes to reach full maturity so you get lots of flavour in these wines, but the best will still be fresh and elegant. South Africa, Chile and the warmer parts of New Zealand all make lovely Cabernet too – either as a single varietal or blended with other grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended both for stylistic and practical reasons. In climates where there is a risk of the weather not being good enough to get the Cabernet fully ripe, it is wise to plant some earlier ripening varieties to ensure you can make some wine every year (Bordeaux being a prime example). Stylistically, Merlot is often blended to add softness and round out the wine. In Australia, Cabernet and Shiraz are often blended to make bold, fruity, structured wines.
Bordeaux wines have an unmistakable elegance to them; they just don’t reach the blockbuster proportions of a lot of new world wines. These reds go brilliantly with simply roasted meat; Sunday lunch is the perfect vehicle for a bottle of red Bordeaux.
Good new world Cabernet has so much depth and concentration that only suitably full flavoured dishes should even attempt to keep up. Red meat will work well, even if it’s served rare. The wines will handle spice, char grilling and heavy sauces - the whole caboodle.
Great Cabernet Sauvignon Examples:
Casablanca Cefiro Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa
Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, California
New World blends
Madfish Cabernet/Merlot, Australia
The Chocolate Block, South Africa
Long Beach Cabernet/Shiraz, South Africa
Rustenberg John X Merriman, South Africa
Finca Sophenia 2 Cabernet/Malbec, Argentina
Achaval Ferrer Quimera, Argentina
Finca Antigua Cabernet Sauvignon, Spain
Nijinsky Cabernet, France
Old World blends:
Ch Kefraya Les Breteches, Lebanon
Massaya Classic Red
Echo de Lynch Bages
Les Relais de Durfort Vivens
Baron de Brane