It’s a household name, a true blue blood, and everyone’s favourite big red wine: Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king of grapes. It’s the most universally planted wine vine in the world, grown in almost every region from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and China’s Gobi Desert, to our own Okanagan Valley. There are with major plantings of Cab in Spain, Italy, California, Washington, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa, and Languedoc-Roussillon. But home for this aristocrat is Bordeaux, the chance offspring of two other serious French wine grapes, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Note that Cab’s name is a composite of its parents!
Why We All Love Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon has a powerful identity, and produces tannic, full-bodied wines with brisk acidity. Classic aromas and flavours include blackcurrant (or cassis, en Français) green pepper, cedar and mint or eucalyptus. Cabernet is capable of a long life in the cellar, especially when flavours, acidity, and tannins are deeply concentrated. The very best wines can transform in the bottle over twenty to fifty years, developing complex maturation character.
Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent transmitter of where it is grown, and effortlessly reflects climate, soil and vintage variation. It is a late-budder which is good for avoiding frost or rainy weather, but is also a late-ripener, and therefore needs a long growing season for optimal ripeness. In cooler climates such as maritime Bordeaux, the wines show a fresh and elegant style, with pronounced acidity, bright fruit, grippy tannins and a savoury finish. Conversely, Cabernet grown in a warmer climate like Australia, Napa, or Chile shows a more fruit-driven style, with lush texture and smooth tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon loves blending partners like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec or Syrah. Blends work because Cab’s powerful tannic framework benefits from the plush, plump fruit that fleshier grapes like Merlot can provide. Blending is the norm in regions like Bordeaux, where Cabernet Sauvignon will seldom comprise more than 50-70% of the wine. In fact, most regions like Napa or Chile usually tuck a few other grapes into the wine, just for greater softness, balance and complexity. We grow Cabernet Sauvignon in British Columbia but with our shorter growing season, achieving full ripeness can be a challenge in cooler vintages. New World regions like B.C. often use the word “Meritage” to denote a Bordeaux-styled blend. It’s a fusion of the words merit and heritage, and is pronounced to rhyme with heritage.
France: 124,000 acres planted
Chile: 100,000 acres
USA: 95,000 acres (with 77,000 from California)
Australia: 65,000 acres
China: 50,000 acres
South Africa: 41,000 acres
Bulgaria: 39,000 acres
Argentina: 16,000 acres
British Columbia: 775 acres
Drink like a king and learn about Cab’s various styles along the way
From cooler Bordeaux, these two wines feature Cabernet in a blend, and you’ll note brisk acidity and tannins with an edgy grip.
Chile is nicknamed “the Bordeaux of South America” because Cab LOVES the warm climate and gravelly terroir of the Central Valley. Chile has plenty of old Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards.
Warmer climate Cabernet parades rich dark fruit, with polished tannins and even, occasionally, a note of mint chocolate.
And here are a few B.C. wines to try. Cab usually gets a blend-treatment, and the wines display a gorgeous black sagebrush note and vivid acidity.