The global classic
Cabernet Sauvignon can fairly claim to be the most noble of the noble great varieties. Wherever in the world winemakers have wanted to produce their versions of the best red wines, then they have usually gone to the model of Bordeaux and started with Cabernet Sauvignon. In Chile, for instance, Errázuriz regularly pits its top wines, Cabernet Sauvignon blends, against the finest Bordeaux and Italian wines. (Equally often, these Chilean versions come out top.)
In Bordeaux, winemakers traditionally blended in Merlot because it ripened earlier, and ensured quality and consistency in uneven years. Today growers know how to handle the vines to best effect, but Cabernet Sauvignon still adapts to ‘seasoning’ from other varieties.
The wine also has an affinity with oak. That is to say, fermenting and ageing the wine in oak barrels (French oak adds toast and cedar notes, American oak gives coconut and caramel). As a result Cabernet becomes a remarkably complex patchwork of texture, aroma and flavour.
Colour: red; from ruby to very dark
Body: medium to full bodied
Tastes: aromas may include green pepper and mint (especially when underripe), typically with blackcurrant fruit, and firm tannins
AKA: Cabernet (but not to be confused with Cabernet Franc, or Sauvignon Blanc)
Often blended with: Merlot (which gives softer roundness), Cabernet Franc (which gives ripeness in cool years, and aromas), Petit Verdot (colour and spice), Shiraz (richness), Sangiovese (in Italy with the ‘Super-Tuscans’)
Spotter’s guide: most famous in France: Bordeaux, especially the ‘Left Bank’ where it dominates the blends. However it has become the central ingredient, or a key ‘seasoning’ component around the world. It does not flourish in very cool climates. The key ingredient in Chateau Musar, Lebanon’s most famous red
Keep or drink? Drink the cheaper wines, but the finest wines will last for decades
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