Cabernet Sauvignon may be the world’s most recognizable red wine grape.
It forms the backbone of French Bordeaux-style, where it blends with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and sometimes with Malbec, Petit Verdot, or Carménére.
In France, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes often must be harvested early to avoid weather problems, which is why wine from other grapes is added to fill flavor gaps. The grape is wonderfully suited for California, where ample sun is a plus for the late-budding vine. Italy, Spain, South America, and Australia are other major regions.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s attraction for winemakers is practical. It is easy to grow, its fruits have a thick skin appreciated during harvest, and its vines resist rot and frost. Cab grapes are small and have a high seed-to-pulp ratio, producing strong tannins. Tannin is a key to bottle aging and helps in pairing with fatty food such as steaks, but in young Cabs tannin creates a dry, puckered feeling in the mouth.
Cab’s tannins are managed in various ways, including aging in oak barrels and blending with less tannic wines. How long it ages in oak and the type of oak influence the wine. American oak has a stronger impact; French oak is more subtle.
For years there was no agreement on origins of the name. In the 1990s, DNA evidence solved the puzzle by showing Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc that occurred about 1600. Wine drinkers have celebrated ever since.
• Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Smooth, black cherry/raspberry notes. $19
• Bogle Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark cherry/plum. $12
• Chateau Greysac Haut Medoc Cabernet Sauvignon. Oak-heavy, supple from Médoc. $22