Grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon



In the first of a series about popular grape varieties, Anne McHale MW, one of our brilliant education team, helps you identify and understand the finer points of Cab Sav.

Cabernet Sauvignon has become a famous international grape variety. Interestingly, genetic profiling has shown that it is the offspring of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and indeed shows qualities of both. It is the grape variety responsible for some of the world’s most famous wines: the top red wines of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, from estates such as Château Lafite and Château Latour. However it also makes more modest wines for everyday drinking and is grown worldwide, wherever the climate is suitable.

The Cabernet Sauvignon vine gives grapes which are very small and thick-skinned. What does this mean for the wines? Small grapes and thick skins mean a high skin to juice ratio, which in turn means intense colour pigments and high levels of tannin in the wine. So Cabernet Sauvignon wines are generally very tannic and often quite austere in youth. Because tannins have antioxidant properties which protect wine against oxygen over time, top Cabernet Sauvignon wines can age for decades. If you were going to choose a case of wine for your godchild to drink on their 21st birthday, chances are it would be Cabernet Sauvignon-based.

Its spiritual home is the Left Bank in Bordeaux, where it thrives on the deep beds of gravel soil which keep it dry and warm through excellent drainage and heat-retaining properties. Here it makes up the majority of the blend in wines from famous communes like Pauillac, Margaux, St Estèphe and St Julien. It is usually blended with some Merlot and Cabernet Franc to add perfume and soften down what can be quite an austere, ‘tough’ style.

It is also grown widely across the wine-producing world; you can find delicious examples (either in blends or alone) in Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and California to name but a few. All will have the signature blackcurrant aromas and firm tannins; drink this grape variety with hard cheeses and red meat dishes for a great food and wine match.

For more from Anne, see details of our Wine School.