The Varietal

Cabernet grapes getting ready to harvest

As a varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon is widely accepted as the most famous grape in the world and for good cause.  It is a core component of the legendary Bordeaux wines and more recently has garnered attention across the world for constituting some of the most noteworthy, point scoring and high-dollar fetching wines.

I don't need to parrot some of the benchmark people at this time.  Let's take a look at a handful of the references say about Cabernet Sauvignon as a varietal.

Some Definitions

"Cabernet sauvignon:  The most ubiquitous red variety in the world.  Bordeaux is its heartland, but upstarts in California, Tuscany and Australia are staking a claim"

-  The Global Encyclopedia of Wine

"Cabernet Sauvignon is the major grape responsible for the great Bordeaux wines of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Latour.  As such has enormous respect among wine makers, though it is unlikely to be the average consumer's favorite red wine.  ¶  As a grape, Cabernet Sauvignon is very small, with one of the highest ratios of skin to juice, medium to high acidity, and intense black currant aromas and flavors that can be masked by high levels of tannin.  ¶ Produced as a single-variety red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon can be everything that white-wine drinkers hate about red wine.  At worst it may appear to be harsh and astringent (from the tannin), sour (from the acidity), very dry and drying, and strongly flavored (if you could get behind the tannins to taste anything).  That is why more and more producers in the New World are following the Bordeaux model of blending Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with softer, less aggressive varieties, such as Merlot in California or Shiraz in Australia, thus producing a more approachable wine with fewer hard edges and a softer, smoother character.  ¶  Never the less, it should be noted that there are some fine examples of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon wines to be found and enjoyed, offering distinctive cassis fruit character with a background of mint or eucalyptus and notes of cedar and thyme."

- Exploring Wine The Culinary Institute of America's Complete Guide to Wines of the World

"Cabernet Sauvignon ¶ Blackcurrant, cedar, high tannin. ¶  Synonymous with serious red wine capable of aging into subtle splendor.  For this reason Cabernet Sauvignon is also the best-traveled red wine variety, but since it is a relatively late ripener it is viable only in warmish climates.  It will not necessarily ripen fully every year even in its homeland the Medoc/Graves.  But when it does ripen, the colour, flavour, and tannins packed into the thick skins of its tiny, dark blue berries can be remarkable.  With careful winemaking and barrel aging it can produce some of the longest-living and most intriguing reds of all.  In Bordeaux and increasingly elsewhere it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, although it can make delicious unblended wine if grown somewhere as warm as Chile or the northern costal districts of California, its second home."

-The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson 5th edition

From Robert Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide

Wines of North America/California
"Cabernet Sauvignon  The King of California's red wine grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon produces densely colored wine with aromas that can include black currants, chocolate, cedar, leather, ground meat, minerals, herbs, tobacco, and tar.  Cabernet Sauvignon reaches its pinnacle of success in Napa, Sonoma, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, although a few excellent examples have emanated, infrequently , from Paso Robles, Santa Ynez and Monterey.  The more vegetal side of Cabernet Sauvignon, with intense smells of asparagus and green beans is found in wines from Monterey or Santa Barbara, two areas that have generally proven too cool for this varietal."

The Wines of Western Europe/France/Bordeaux
Cabernet Sauvignon  The grape is highly pigmented, very astringent, and tannic, and provedes the framework, strength, dark color, character, and longevity for the wines in a majority of the vineyards of Medoc.  It ripens late, is resistant to rot because of its thick skin, and has a pronounced black currant aroma, which is sometimes intermingled with subtle herbaceuos sents that take on the smell of cedarwood and tobacco with aging.  Virtually all Bordeaux chateaux blend Cabernet Sauvignon with other red grape varieties.  In the Medoc, the average percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend ranges from 40% to 85%; in Graves, 40% to 60%; in St. Emilion, 10% to 50%; and in pomerol, 0% to 20%.  Furthermore, the blends change according to the vintage.  For example, when climatic conditions favor Cabernet Sauvignon (1996 and 1986 are most obvious), a higher percentage of Cabernet will be utilized in the final blend."

The Best of the Rest/Australia
Cabernet Sauvignon  This varietal can excel in Australia and generally produces a very fruity, often jammy, intensely curranty, fat wine, sometimes low in acidity, but round, generous, and surprisingly ageworth in spite of an acid deficiency.  Sadly, too many wineries continue to go overgoard with acid additions, making a soft yet delicious wine into something akin to an underripe lemon!"

-Parker's Wine Buyer's Guide 6th Edition by Robert M. Parker JR., with Pierre-Antoine Rovani

September 2017
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