If you are new to the world of wine tasting, it might surprise you to learn that a name alone doesn’t always tell you much about the characteristics of a wine. Take, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon. There are scores of wines marketed as Cabernets, but few these days are 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The ones that have very distinct characteristics are identified by their blending of varietals and their place of origin. A true wine connoisseur can spot a Cabernet from a Bordeaux in a heartbeat, but it can be trickier to identify a New World wine like a California Cabernet, for reasons we will explore shortly.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are some of the most commonly grown, well-known, and widely celebrated red wine grapes in the world. They are a relative newcomer to the wine world with a history dating back only to the 17th century. At that time, two grape varietals — Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc — were cross-bred to produce the grape we know and love today. Wine makers love working with these grapes because they are hardy and easy to grow. They have a thick skin to withstand the sun and elements, and the vines are strong and resistant to rot.
Cabernet Sauvignon have aromas and flavours evocative of things like currants and sweet vanilla. Some Cabs even have a sharper, peppery bouquet (which usually means that the grapes were not allowed to fully ripen before harvesting). Cabernet Sauvignon also have high levels of alcohol and strong tannins, making it a perfect wine for aging in cellars over decades.
A Cabernet is a full-bodied red wine with a fruity flavour coupled with other more savoury tastes from green bell pepper to black pepper. The flavour is light but tends to linger on the tongue due to those strong tannins and high acidity. These, however, are just the basic characteristics. There are many variations to both the smell and taste of Cabernets from around the world.
Why Different Flavours?
There are a number of things that factor in to the flavour of any wine, and Cabernets are no exception. Here are a few of the variables that will determine differences in its flavours.
1) Location and Growing Conditions — Since Cabernet grapes are grown throughout the world, the growing conditions and environment will always affect the flavour of the fruit. The quality of the grapes are determined by the climate, soil, nutrients, and age of the grapes at harvest. Even the pruning methods used by the grower will impact the flavour of the grape.
2) Addition of Other Wines — Some winemakers produce 100% Cabernets, but other blend the grapes with other red varietals, including Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The flavour changes every time the grapes are blended.
3) The Age of the Wine — Even early on in one’s wine education, one learns that the age of the wine directly impacts its flavour. Since Cabernets hold up well for so long, you can absolutely taste the age of a good vintage, particularly a 100% Cabernet.
4) Food Pairings — While this doesn’t have as much to do with the wine itself as it does with the palate, it is worth mentioning that different foods will bring out different characteristics in wine. Cabernets tend to pair well with foods that are higher in fat, for example, since the acidity in the wine interacts well with them.
A World of Variety
The best part about Cabernets is that there is a seemingly endless variety to taste and enjoy. You might consider starting a Cabernet wine tasting journey of sorts, keeping a wine journal that chronicles some of your best finds. You are likely to discover pages worth of differences and develop your own standard of what makes a Cabernet great.