Cabernet Sauvignon is the first in a series of varietal profiles by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, presented to aid students in preparing for blind tasting exams and gaining a global view of many of the important grapes.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most ubiquitous red variety in the world. Bordeaux is its heartland, but up¬starts in Napa Valley, California, Tuscany and South Australia are staking a claim. As a point of reference, Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. The patriarch of Bordeaux, even though it is outplanted by Merlot there, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the blended reds of the Left Bank, or the Medoc area, as well as the Graves south of the city of Bordeaux. In Pauillac, the wines have a characteristic pencil-shaving/graphite note and very fine tannins. In Graves, the wines tend to have a dusty, tarry quality. This varietal produces some of the longest-lived reds in the world. It is planted everywhere, and sits next to its counterpart, Chardonnay, at the throne of the modern wine grape world. Through Cabernet Sauvignon we can clearly see a reflection of origin, vintage, and especially, wine making techniques, most notably those that increase concentration, alcohol, and oak influence. To please the international market, this varietal is blended with traditional, old world grapes such as Sangiovese in Chianti to the point of obliterating personalities.
In general Cabernet Sauvignon is medium to full in body, with blackcurrant fruit, and sometimes green bell pepper character plus leather and earth in Bordeaux and riper, sweeter fruit and heavy oak in the New World, warmer areas such as the Americas and Australia. Cabernet Sauvignon has been cultivated in Northern Italy for centuries, especially in the Veneto, predating the first plantings in Bordeaux, France. Premium South Australian Cabernet Sauvignons are the deepest, blackest, chewiest, ripest, and most powerful in the world. While impressive, this kind of power only goes so far at the dinner table. Their counterparts in California tend to follow suit, turning out wines that score high points and are easy to sell.
What are your markers for identifying Cabernet Sauvignon in blind tastings? What are some of your favorite regions or producers of Cabernet?
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