Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s foremost red wine-grape variety. It is most commonly associated with the red wines of Bordeaux, though it is widely cultivated throughout the world.
In the vineyard, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape can be distinguished by its small, thick-skinned and decidedly blue-colored berries with a high pip-to-pulp ratio. Its thick skin results in wines of profoundly deep color, and the pips give the wine a high level of tannin.
The grape ripens late, which is advantageous in warmer climates like Bordeaux and California, and decidedly disadvantageous in cooler climates. In colder growing environments, the Cabernet Sauvignon can easily fail to ripen properly. Unripe Cabernet Sauvignon can show a lot of the undesired aromas of unripe Cabernet Franc, notably a green or herbaceous character. This may not be entirely surprising, as DNA profiling has shown Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
The flavor profile of Cabernet Sauvignon can vary from one region or subregion to another. The expression of Cabernet Sauvignon produced in Margaux varies considerably from that further north in Pauillac, for example. The best Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to have deep color, good structure and a full body. They are tannic in youth, especially when matured in oak, and often require a few years to soften before they become enjoyable to drink. Typical flavor descriptors used may include black fruits like blackcurrant or blackberry, as well as fragrant cigar box, tobacco, and coffee.
Cabernet Sauvignon is at home in Bordeaux, where it is the key red variety in the left bank regions of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan. Here, it is the main component in a blend with Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The top wines from Médoc Appellation d’Origine Protegée (AOP) regions like Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe are arguably the greatest expressions of the grape. These are deep-colored reds with very high tannin and the capacity to age for decades.
If one other region could be said to compete with Bordeaux on Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s surely California, where Cabernet Sauvignon has become ubiquitous. Cabernet Sauvignon has found a home away from home here, and the region is famous for its Bordeaux-style red blends and Cult Cabernets, whose prices can often meet and exceed the first growths of Bordeaux. Other North American regions producing quality Cabernet Sauvignon include Washington State and British Columbia in Canada.
Elsewhere, Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated to a greater or lesser extent in virtually all winegrowing regions. High-quality wines are produced in Bolgheri, Italy and some regions in Australia—notably Margaret River and Coonawarra. Cabernet Sauvignon is permitted in some Spanish red wine regions, including Rioja and Ribera del Duero. There are considerable plantings and good quality in Chile, Argentina and South Africa.
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