Cabernet Sauvignon in all its majesty

Judith Papesh
Wine Education grey Dot Grape Varieties grey Dot

What makes Cabernet Sauvignon the best wine

Cabernet Sauvignon is among the best and most esteemed wine grapes in the world. This celebrated offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc is known for making tannic, powerful, age-worthy wines. A wine that can clobber your taste buds, and at times your pocketbook, deeply colored, brooding, almost scowling from the wine cabinet, just daring you to open it too soon. That said, don’t be afraid to get to know this spectacular varietal that delivers a rich, satisfying, and often memorable wine-drinking experience.

Native to and rising to prominence in the Bordeaux region of France, Cabernet Sauvignon is home where the growing season is long and the soils are warm. Bonus points if you have a gravelly vineyard! It has traveled throughout the world, finding success in warm soils producing highly regarded wines in Italy, Australia, California, and Washington State by delivering a consistent set of flavors.


Aromatic profile

Cabernet Sauvignon has a dominant aroma and flavors of black currant (cassis), black cherry, blackberry, and currants with robust acid and tannin. Aging brings notes of leather, cedar, tobacco or cigar humidor, graphite (a.k.a. pencil shavings). Although cooler growing conditions can favor the development of darker fruit flavors while warmer conditions favor red fruits, the presence of black currants on that first swirl suggests its Cabernet Sauvignon or a Cabernet dominant wine blend.

Another aroma component in under-ripe or cool site Cabernet is green bell pepper. Although some drinkers may choose to avoid wines with these flavors, they are common in Bordeaux varietals and present as complex savory characters such as olive or mint.


Flavor components

Cabernet Sauvignon has a strong affinity for oak and is often fermented in and aged in oak vessels which helps tame the abundant tannins from its thick skin and seeds.

It also has an affinity for blending. Cabernet Franc and Merlot are regular companions helping to round out and soften Cabernet Sauvignon. It then returns the favor adding structure and length to Cabernet Franc and Merlot wines. Look for Cabernet to join Sangiovese in wines from central Italy and many other indigenous Italian grapes elsewhere.

While Cabernet Sauvignon consistently delivers its black currants and black cherry characters almost everywhere, some aspects are highlighted by location and growing conditions. In general, Cabernet-dominated blends in Bordeaux (you aren’t likely to find a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon here) are more austere than New World wines which are typically are more fruit-forward. However, even in Bordeaux, Margaux wines are noted for expressive violet aromas and a more feminine character rather than the black fruit aromas elsewhere. In New World locations like Washington State, Cabernet Sauvignon produces highly structured yet fruit-forward wines with the familiar black fruit flavors, leather, and graphite, but adding a touch of dried herbs and mint.

A Google search will tell you Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s most planted red wine grape. So now is the time to try some!

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About Judith Papesh

Retired Winemaker, Winemaking Consultant, and Washington State Licensed Geologist. Bourgogne Master Level Certification, French, Italian, and Spanish Wine Scholar Certifications

In the first class to complete Washington State University (WSU) Extension Enology Certification, Judith opened her winery, crafting wines that garnered local and international acclaim before turning her attention to studying and educating about the world's wines. "Winemaking is very much an art as well as a science; it is a consuming passion that drives you during the day, keeps you up at night, and when the wine is right, simply leaves you breathless."