Menus & Entertaining

Cabernet sauvignon: The king of grapes

By: Anne Martin, Sommelier

Author: Canadian Living

Menus & Entertaining

Cabernet sauvignon: The king of grapes

By: Anne Martin, Sommelier
This story was originally titled "The Wine Taster: Cabernet Sauvignon" in the November 2008 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

Cabernet Sauvignon (ca-ber-NAY SO-vee-nyohn)

Highly adaptable, globe-trotting Cabernet Sauvignon grows successfully around the world in various climates and soils, from its native Bordeaux, France, to California, Australia, Canada, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and even Lebanon. Wherever it grows, Cabernet Sauvignon retains its strong character. It may take on certain regional accents, such as cedar in Bordeaux or mint in Australia, but it still tends to taste like itself (unlike the malleable Chardonnay), making it better and more interesting when blended with other red grapes.

10 things you should know about Cabernet Sauvignon
1. Cabernet's home base is the "left bank" of the Gironde River in Bordeaux, where it is grown in the internationally famous appellations of Pauillac, St-Estèphe, Margaux, St-Julien, Haut-Médoc, Médoc, Pessac- Léognan and Graves.

2. Wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux are not labelled with the grape varietal name but rather the region's name. They are often blended with other grapes, such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

3. Cabernet Sauvignon almost always has a black currant aroma and flavour, no matter where the grapes were grown. High tannin levels in the skins make good Cabernets very cellar-worthy.

Cabernet Franc is acknowledged, along with the white grape Sauvignon Blanc, as the parent of the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon.

California has been successful in growing and marketing Cabernet Sauvignon wines, taking prizes over many top Bordeaux. Most are labelled by varietal, but some are blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Bordeaux style. These wines are often called Meritage, a marketing term coined in California for specific blends.

Chile and Argentina offer well-made, less-expensive Cabernets, as well as high-quality, pricey choices.

7. Australian Cabs vary in style and are often blended with Shiraz. Rich and succulent, with ripe tannins, they demand red meat. The Coonawarra region has long been the go-to place for Aussie Cabernet Sauvignon.

8. South Africa produces many Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blends, which are classy and full-bodied.

9. Look for Cabernets from eastern Europe, too. Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova offer some interesting and excellent-value examples.

10. Canadian examples of Cabernet Sauvignon abound, from restrained cooler-climate wines from Ontario to more full-bodied ones from British Columbia. Canadian Cabernets are normally sold under the varietal name, and they are often blended with Merlot or Cabernet Franc. Some blends are labelled Meritage.

Is It Corked?
This doesn't mean bits of cork floating in your wine. "Corked" or "corky" wine smells like wet cardboard or mouldy basement. The odour is usually caused by the compound trichloroanisole, which forms when microorganisms in real corks – not screw caps or plastic corks – combine with chemicals such as chlorine (used for sterilization).

Non-airtight seals and mould can also be culprits. The bottom line: Return it. A corked wine, though unpleasant, is not harmful or necessarily poorly made – it's usually just an isolated bottle.

Cabernet sauvignon profile
Colour: Deep purple
Alcohol: Medium to high
Acidity: Quite high
Aroma profile: Strong and distinct; the smell of new oak is often present among the aromas of cedar, mint and vanilla
Styles: Cabs can be light, brisk and peppery; rich, elegant and tannic; or dense, ripe and powerful

Cooler-climate cabernets
From: Canada, eastern Europe, France, New Zealand
Flavours: Red berry, raw black currant, mint, eucalyptus, green pepper, green olive and herbs

Warmer-climate cabernets

From: Argentina, Australia, California, Chile, South Africa
Flavours: Ripe and cooked black currant, licorice and blackberry

How to serve
: Large, slightly curved glasses – not bowl-style red wine glasses
Temperature: 53°F to 61°F (12°C to 16°C)

Best enjoyed: With food, particularly cooler-climate styles. Save these big reds for dinner. Open at least a half-hour before serving and consider decanting if tight or one-dimensional.

Food pairings: Red meat (beef, lamb and some game) and hard cheeses. Fuller, riper styles can handle richer flavours and sauces; more-restrained blends are better with simply prepared roasts.

Avoid: Spicy foods; goat cheese; soft-ripened cheeses, such as Brie; and triple-crème cheeses – high tannins make them taste metallic or bitter.

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Menus & Entertaining

Cabernet sauvignon: The king of grapes