Varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous, most widely planted and most revered grape in the world. Many would argue, but the fact is that this grape is held in the highest esteem by the majority of wine lovers all over the globe with few exceptions. It is one of the easiest wines to recognize because of its telltale flavors of black cherry, licorice, saddle leather and often blackberry and spice.

As with any other grape, the soil in which it is grown is of paramount importance and Cabernet seems to reflect the soil in which it is grown more than most. That's because the soil provides various nutrients to the vine in varying degrees of concentration. No two soils are exactly alike, so two Cabernets grown on different soils will have some differences, sometimes many differences between them. However, they will also have similarities due to the fact that both are made from the same grape. Identifying the similarities is not too difficult with practice, as in tasting a lot of Cabernets. Identifying the differences takes a lot of time and practice because you also have to figure out where the wine came from and that's very difficult even for the most seasoned of tasting professionals.

Another major component of Cabernet is the pip to pulp ratio. The seeds in the grape are referred to as pips, the pulp is the actual grape itself. The seeds are bitter if you taste them by themselves and because they are larger than those found in most grapes, they add bitterness to the wine also known as tannin. This tannin helps the wine age better, like a preservative. That's why most young Cabernets taste too tannic, or bitter, to many tasters. With some age in the bottle those tannins can soften and the flavors of the grape become more pronounced.

The amount of time needed to soften is different for each wine depending on how it is processed and where it is grown. A winemaker can crush the grapes and leave them on the grape seeds and stems of the vine to make a more tannic wine that will need a longer amount of time to soften. How long the wine is left on those seeds and stems will determine how much tannin will develop. A few hours, not so much. A few weeks, a lot. There is no formula, no rules, no divine intervention. It's all up to the winemaker. Think of it as every bottle you taste is basically a reflection of the winemaker who made it.

A typical young Cabernet from a good vineyard will offer a deep, garnet red color and an herbaceous, green-olive aroma and flavor. It may have a touch of black cherry and vanilla in its aroma, but not in the flavor. That's because it hasn't develop yet. If you smell it, it's there. It just may take three or four years to show itself. Maybe even longer. In other words, you need to be patient with most Cabernets and if so, you'll be rewarded a few years later.



The fastest growing grape in the country. The heavyweights come from South and Southeast Australia, but the grape is grown everywhere. From simple quaffing wines to huge, chewy California-clones, Australia may one day boast more Cabernet than Syrah.


From lighter, simpler offerings (usually from the cooler areas in Mendocino and the Central Coast) all the way up to the dense giants of Napa and Sonoma, this grape dominates the red wine scene. Cabernet is a very adaptable grape. Its style can vary depending on the winemaker. The best can be enjoyable when young or need 5-10 years of age to mellow out. It ripens fully nearly every year in Napa and Sonoma, where by far the best examples are produced. Paso Robles has also released a few standouts, but their strength seems to be the Rhone varietals like Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Cinsault.

Other United States

Only Washington competes with California in Cabernet Sauvignon prowess. The warm and dry Columbia Valley harbors a perfect set of conditions and one that event bests California, a longer growing season.

Washington has the potential to make the most Bordeaux-like wines in the country because of it. A few impressive examples have come from Oregon's Rogue Valley and New York's eastern end of Long Island 


Cabernet accounts for less than 20% of the plantings in Bordeaux. Most of plantings are in the village of Pauillac. It is almost always blended with Merlot and/or Cabernet Franc, except in very few cases where it can make up over 90% of the blend as in Chateau Latour and Chateau Lafite. In great vintages, the wine can live for 100 years. Its plantings are greatly increasing in Provence, where it makes good, everyday drinking wine. Also grown very successfully in Southwest France.


Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in the northeast, specifically Trentino, Friuli and the Veneto. They generally tend to offer light, simple quaffing wines for early consumption. Many estates in Tuscany, however, have embraced this French transplant and are turning out impressive offerings rivaling Bordeaux and California. It has also been used quite effectively in blends with Chianti's own Sangiovese as well as the typical Bordeaux blend with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

South Africa

The most widely planted grape in the country, yet still struggling for position in the world of wine. Apartheid kept South Africa out of the wine loop for over 20 years, so they need some catching up to do; yet many incredible offerings are coming from small producers who are worth seeking out.

South America

Chile dominates in the Cabernet Sauvignon field in South America. Most are easy drinking, but there are a few standouts. Continuing investment by prestigious wine firms across the globe will change that in the new Millennium. Argentina is also discovering this grape and adding it to their benchmark varietal, Malbec, as well as making impressive offerings on its own.