Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the greatest food wines. It’s rumored that the grape was born inadvertently. Good news for us! The grape is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, but that doesn’t mean it is a mellow grape. It has a thick skin along with bold rich flavors.
Left Bank Bordeaux – Star of the Show
The Cabernet Sauvignon vines found it’s perfect growing conditions in Bordeaux, France on the left bank where it grows in gravel soil with good drainage, good levels of sunlight and warmer temperatures.
Cabernet Sauvignon by itself is full-bodied, dry with lots of tannins. This is why it blends very well with Merlot as it rounds out the sharper tannins that come through. Left bank Bordeaux is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (70-80%) with a blend of Merlot (30-20%). Depending on the desires of the winemakers, the wine may also include Cab Franc, Petit Verdot or potentially other choice reds.
California Cab – Royalty
To find 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine, you’ll have to look to California. Cab is King in this part of the world. You will also find Bordeaux style wine in California sometimes called left bank blend.
Super Tuscan – Breaking the Rules
Italy’s Tuscany region uses Cabernet Sauvignon to blend into their Super Tuscan wines. As I mentioned in the Merlot tasting notes, Italian Super Tuscans were born because of winemakers who wanted to branch out of the old Italian winemaking rules. They started blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – French origin grapes – with their Italian origin grapes such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. These new-style wines were so well received by the public that a new designation was created for Super Tuscans called Toscana IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica).
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted red grape around the world and these are the top regions. We’ll focus on the first 3 regions for the tasting. France and Italy will feature Cab as a blend, while California will feature Cab as a single varietal.
- France – Bordeaux region
- Italy – Tuscany
Pick up a bottle from each region and taste them side-by-side. Remember, if you can’t find these selections, just look for a Cabernet Sauvignon or Cab dominant blends from these regions with a decent rating (80 and above) at your price point.
Chateau Molinat 2015
Varietal: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Appellation: Chateau Molinat
Winery: Chateau Roguevieille
Rating: 90pts Wine Spectator
Avg Price: $14
Argiano Non Confunditur 2016
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sangiovese
Rating: NR (previous years rated in 90s)
Avg price: $20
Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Sonoma County
Winery: Duckhorn Vineyards
Rating: 88pts Wine Spectator
Avg price: $20
Time to taste your Cabernet Sauvignon! Because Cab is very much a food wine, tasting it by itself doesn’t reveal the beauty of this wine. I would make sure to have steak (ideally) to pair with it or have mushrooms or cheese from the recommended pairings below. For vegetarians, Portobello mushrooms are a great option to pair with a Cab.
Just follow these three steps to become familiar with Cab and Cab blends from each region.
Take your glass and tilt it over a white napkin or paper at a 45-degree angle. Compare the color across all regions. Take note of the opacity levels. If you place your fingers between the glass and the napkin, how easily can you see them? These are all tells of what kind of wine you are drinking.
TASTING PROFILE: Dark red in color, very opaque.
Let’s see how aromatic Cab is. Hold your glass at your chest and see if you can catch any scent. Then move it to your chin and try to smell. Then really put your nose in the glass and take a big sniff. What scents do you catch? Swirl the wine and then sniff again. What scents do you catch now?
TASTING PROFILE: This is not an aromatic grape. You’ll have to stick your nose in the glass to catch black cherry, black currant and rich earthy scents.
Take a taste and swirl it in your mouth. What flavors do you taste? After you swallow, how long does the flavor linger and how would you describe those flavors?
Fruit: Black cherry, black currant, vanilla, toast, tobacco, black pepper
Acidity: Medium acidity (This is tartness in the wine and hits underneath the back of your tongue and throat.)
Tannin: Medium-High tannin. (This is bitterness that comes from the grape skins.)
Oak: Medium oak.
Body: Medium to full body. (This is how heavy or full the wine is. Think water vs. milk.)
Easy Rating System
After you taste each wine, give it a rating using this easy rating system. Add notes to help remember what you liked or didn’t like about the wine.
3pts Good, but not great
1pt Not for me
Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with fatty meats. The dry tannins wash the fattiness right down, providing a nice balance.
- Red meats: steak, lamb, burger
- White meats: pork, duck
- Portobello mushrooms
- Dark chocolate
- Blue Cheese
- Mild, Sharp, or Smoked Cheddar
Congrats! You’ve decoded Cabernet Sauvignon. Share your accomplishment with your friends!