Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best-known wines in the world, made from one of the most prolific grapes in the world. It’s got a lot going for it…
- It’s the grape behind Bordeaux, the most popular red wine variety in France.
- It’s hardy and consistent.
- It adapts to being planted all over the world in varied climates.
- It has a full-bodied taste and takes well to aging.
Cabernet Sauvignon, often abbreviated to simply “Cab,” is the one red wine you can count on finding at just about every restaurant that serves wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new grape variety, starting in the 17th century as a cross breed between the grape varieties Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It spread across Europe and eventually to the New World, becoming the 20th century’s most-planted grape and one of the two (the other being Merlot) most-planted grapes in the 21st century.
Today Cabernet Sauvignon is cultivated in France, Italy, Australia, California’s Napa region, Washington state, and nearly the entire continent of South America.
Some critics have even complained that the grape is a little too common, charging that it crowds out native varieties. Countries like Portugal have outright shunned it, preferring to concentrate on their bountiful native strains of grape instead.
As with all wines, a lot depends on where the grapes were cultivated, when they were harvested, and a few variants of processing. Harvesting at different times produces different flavour accents, such as plum, cherries, or bell peppers. New World Cabs tend to go fruitier while Old World tends to be earthy.
Nevertheless, cabs tend to be well-balanced. Being a dark red to burgundy, it of course has high tannin, with plenty of body and a flavourful finish. Yet it strikes a nice middle ground between lighter wines like Rose and heavier wines like Merlot.
If you’ve heard the expression “ages like a fine wine,” whoever said it first was drinking a Cab. Once bottled, Cabernet Sauvignon takes on new flavours as it ages, developing its fruity accents and mellowing. However, be advised that it also tends to harden with age, gaining a higher alcohol content.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s best age is typically six to twelve years, but some varieties are drinkable from age five and mostly all of them can mature into fifteen years, with top end bottles living even longer. The ideal serving temperature is sixty degrees Fahrenheit. As with all full-bodied reds, store it sideways and let it breath about 20 minutes after uncorking it.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the canonical red wine you serve with red meat. Its assertive flavour will overwhelm delicate dishes, but it’s the ideal pairing with bolder tastes.
Cabs are at their best when enjoyed with:
- beef, especially a thick, juicy steak
- any red meat, like venison
- most anything charred or grilled – even salmon!
- fatty, rich, creamy dishes
- cheeses, the bolder the better
- dark or bittersweet chocolate
Avoid pairing Cabs with:
- hot peppers – capsaicins do not play nice with Cab
- seafood (except grilled salmon)
- most poultry – maybe excepting roast turkey
- starchy meals like pasta and rice
- salads, fruits and other light or sweet tastes
“We’ll split a Cab!”
“Thanks, we’ll just split a Cab” is a fun little way to order a bottle at a restaurant, assuming your whole party ordered something on the recommended foods list.
It’s close enough to a default choice – when in doubt, Cabs are usually a safe bet and enjoyable enough on their own. You get to sound like you know what you’re talking about and potentially bail out guests who are intimidated at a wine selection.