Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red wine grapes. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates from Coonawarra in Australia to Washinton State in the USA. Cabernet Sauvignon became internationally recognized through its proven performance in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. From France, the grape spread across Europe and to all corners of the New World where it found new homes in places like California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Napa Valley, New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay Australia’s Margaret River region, and Chile’s Maipo Valley and Colchagua. For most of the 20th century, it was the world’s most widely planted premium red wine grape until it was surpassed by often slandered Merlot grape in the 1990s.
Despite its prominence in the industry, Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively new variety, the product of a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc during the 17th century in France. Its popularity is often attributed to its ease of cultivation—the grapes have thick skins and the vines are hardy and naturally low yielding, budding late to avoid frost and resistant to viticultural hazards such as rot and insects—and to its consistent presentation of structure and flavours which express the typical character of the variety. Familiarity and ease of pronunciation have helped to sell Cabernet Sauvignon wines to consumers, even when from unfamiliar wine regions. Its widespread popularity has also contributed to criticism of the grape as a “colonizer” that takes over wine regions at the expense of native grape varieties.
The classic profile of this king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine’s aging potential. In cooler climates, Cabernet Sauvignon tends to produce wines with blackcurrant notes that can be accompanied by green bell pepper notes, mint and cedar which will all become more pronounced as the wine ages. In more moderate climates the blackcurrant notes are often seen with black cherry and black olive notes while in very hot climates the currant flavors can veer towards the over-ripe and “jammy” side.