As one of the world’s most popular red wine grapes, it’s important to understand where Cabernet Sauvignon comes from. This grape came about sometime in the 17th century from an accidental crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in the Bordeaux region of France. In 1990, this grape was the eighth most widely planted, and in just 20 years, it rose to the world’s most popular planting. There are over 840,000 acres planted around the world, in all different regions, with different soils and climates. This makes up 5% of the world’s vineyard surface. The grape is so popular that it actually has its own holiday! International Cabernet Sauvignon Day is the Thursday before Labor Day (August 29th in 2024) – mark your calendar so you’re prepared to celebrate!
This dark red, thick-skinned grape is well known for its tannins and phenolics. Flavors include black cherry, currants, cedar, baking spices, and graphite. These wines will be dry and full-bodied with medium to high tannins. Alcohol levels range from 13.5 to 15%, and some will be felt, but others will be so smooth you’d never guess the alcohol.
Cabernet Sauvignon can be grown in many different climates, so it goes without saying that the flavor profile of these wines will be varied. Some wines are riper, richer, and quite bold. Others offer a more silky and elegant texture and feel. This means the ideal food pairings are varied as well. The young bottle will have a more tannic structure to pair with fatty cuts of beef, lamb, veal, and pork. The earthy quality of the fruit will also lend itself to easy pairings with mushrooms. Cheese can be difficult to pair expertly with wines, but Cab Sauv goes well with many cheeses. Chocolate is another difficult food pairing, but many people find a chocolate note to these wines, so there can be a variety of chocolates that feel natural with this wine. You should try experimenting! White chocolate has no tannins, so it will often smooth a young, tannic Cab. Dark chocolate can bring back a tannic structure to those aged wines that have mellowed into a smooth and soft mouth feel. Milk chocolate is right in the middle and a good fit for many Cabs.
In France, the Left Bank of Bordeaux yields some of the best-known Cabernet wines. There are over 67,000 acres, mainly in the Medoc and Graves regions. It is also grown in the Languedoc region as well as the western part of Provence, where it is allowed in Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and Les Baux en Provence. Most bottlings from this country will be blends. And some of the most expensive wines in the world are made from Cabernet Sauvignon. You’ll also find this versatile grape growing in Australia, Tuscany, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Cruz Mountains, China, and, of course, a bit in Texas. There are over 100,000 acres planted in the U.S., the second most planted just behind Chardonnay.
Cabernet Sauvignon grown in warm climates will produce wines with a big body and high alcohol. The vine is very late to bud and the grapes achieve a higher degree of ripeness. The characteristic black fruit becomes a more intense black cherry and black currant with cassis and licorice notes. When these vines are grown in cooler climates, green bell pepper is more notable, especially from grapes not fully ripened. The extra ripeness of the grape can yield a perceived sweetness. Tannins will be pronounced but soft, with acidity lower when the fruit is grown in warm climates. The harsher tannins and higher acidity of cool climate are often why many Cabs are blended with Merlot or Cabernet Franc. The notes of vanilla and spice come from oak aging and not from the grape itself.
As with around the world, Texas’s most planted grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. Much of the time, the grape is blended, yet many great Texas producers make a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Here are just a few you may want to look for:
- Ab Astris Winery 2019 Dextra red blend – Texas ($47)
- Bingham Family Vineyards 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon – Texas High Plains (wine club only)
- Hilmy Cellars 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon – Texas High Plains ($50)
- Invention Vineyards 2021 LB red blend – Texas ($55)
- Lost Oak Winery 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon – Texas ($36)
- Newsom Vineyards 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon – Texas High Plains ($40)