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Cabernet Sauvignon

Delicious ones come from all over the world—not just California

Fine Cooking Issue 70
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Cabernet Sauvignon is often called the king of red wines, and it’s easy to see why. No other red grape produces so many world-class wines in so many places around the globe. What’s more, Cabernet is capable of long-term aging, which only confirms its grand status. Though usually not as soft and immediately appealing as its cousin Merlot, Cabernet’s impressive concentration, power, and easily recognizable set of flavors make it one of the most popular of all red wines.

A brief world tour of Cabernet

Such is the reputation of the grape that any time winemakers want to make “serious wine,” they plant Cabernet. Vintners from Bulgaria to Australia have been enticed by Cabernet’s heady mix of aromas and flavors. Fortunately, Cab does well in a wide range of climates and soil types. But the grape thrives in moderate to warm climates with long growing seasons and in rocky, well-drained soils.

Bordeaux

Any list of great Cabernet-based wines starts here. In Bordeaux, the Cabernet grape is blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot to produce some of the most complex and long-lived red wines made anywhere. Châteaux such as Latour, Pichon-Lalande, and Leoville-Las-Cases have made great wines for well over a century, long ago establishing benchmarks for age-worthy, complex Cabernets. Stylistically, these wines tend to be earthier and more herbal than their Australian or California cousins, with more emphasis on richly earthy and herbal notes.

Cabernet styles & flavors

Lighter Cabernets
* Cranberry
* Red raspberry
* Prominent herbal/vegetal notes
* Medium oak
* Medium tannins
* Medium to high acidity

Medium-weight Cabernets
* Red and black fruits
* Herbal notes
* Medium to rich oak
* Medium to high tannins
* Medium acidity

Fuller-bodied Cabernets
* Dense, concentrated black fruits
* Herbal notes
* High oak
* High tannins
* Medium acidity

California

Cabernet put California on the world’s wine map in the 1970s. Cab easily adapted to the state’s Mediterranean climate, and the grape’s bold, ripe flavors were perfectly suited to legions of young winemakers eager to make their mark on the world’s wine scene. Although Merlot has replaced Cabernet as the most popular California red wine in the last decade, Cabernet still accounts for a large share of sales. Stylistically, California Cabs offer ripe, concentrated black fruits, herbal-spice notes, and plenty of new oak.

Pairing Cabernet with food

Lighter Cabernets
* Oven-roasted chicken
* Pastas with simple meat-based red sauces
* Meatloaf
* Grilled eggplant
* Pizza

Medium- and full-bodied Cabernets
* Red meats, including beef and lamb
* Roasted or grilled pork loin
* Duck

Washington State

The arid high desert plateau of Eastern Washington has proven to be an excellent place to cultivate Cabernet. Growers craft fine Cabernets and Bordeaux blends, some of which are remarkably complex. Stylistically, these Cabs combine bright black fruits, tart acidity, and firm tannins, which make Washington State Cabernet and Cab blends ideal candidates for aging.

Australia

The easy-drinking, fruit-forward Australian style of winemaking lends itself nicely to Cabernet. But Australians are serious about their Cabernet, too. Look no further than wines from the famed Coonawarra region in South Australia for some of the world’s best Cabernet. Stylistically, Aussie Cabs are bold, robust, and intensely fruity wines with a wallop of oak and balancing tannin. The Aussies also blend the regal grape with the spicier, fruitier Shiraz, with results that are simply delicious.

Chile

Chile’s reputation as a wine-producing country has been built around inexpensive single-variety bottlings, and none has fared better than Cabernet. With considerable foreign investment, Chile has been making some outstanding Cabernets and Bordeaux-style blends in the last five years. Fine Chilean Cabernet offers a combination of supple New World fruit with a touch of Old World earthiness, all with impeccable balance. There’s also there’s a great deal of promise in years to come for Cabs from South Africa, Long Island, and Bulgaria.

Call me a Cab

Here’s a list to get you started on some delicious Cabernet Sauvignons.

Lighter

Hacienda Araucano Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma
Boschendal Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa

Medium
Dallas Conte Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, California
Fourcas Hosten, Listrac, Bordeaux
Sebastiani, Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

Full

Chateau St. Jean Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County
Andrew Rich Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
Block Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, Geyser Peak, Vallerga Vineyard, Napa
Chappellet “Signature” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux
Carruades de Lafite, Pauillac, Bordeaux

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