By Contributing Writer, Cortney Roudebush
The first red wine I ever enjoyed was a Cabernet Sauvignon. A Napa Cabernet to be precise. It was the first red wine that didn’t taste tart or acidic to me. And it was the beginning of a beautiful and long-term relationship.
Since then, no relationship has been as satisfying or as reliable as my love affair with Cabernet Sauvignon.
About Cabernet Sauvignon
For what started as a chance crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in the 17th century, Cabernet Sauvignon has developed quite a reputation for itself. Nicknamed “Cab” for short, it thrives particularly well in the gravelly soils of Bordeaux and the Napa Valley, but it is produced in almost all of the major wine regions of the world.
If the grapes are allowed to fully ripen, a Cab will develop delicious blackberry, black currant, and/or black cherry flavors. Its thick grape skins make it a perfect candidate for oak treatment, either during fermentation and/or for prolonged barrel aging. Not only does the oak have a softening effect on the high tannin content, it also imparts vanilla and baking spice flavors, which complement the wine’s natural fruit character. The result is a wine that is medium to full bodied with a rich and round mouthfeel.
It is this aspect of Cabernet that I find so reliable. Unlike thin-skinned Pinot Noir grapes (which produce wine that ranges from very light to medium-plus in body), Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are relatively small with thick skins and a high ratio of seed to pulp. Thus, Cabernets are more tannic in nature than most wines and very dark in concentration. This kind of wine is designed for hearty meals, particularly red meat.
Cabernet Sauvignon Producers
After Bordeaux, California is one of Cabernet’s top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon. In Napa, the warm climate and long, sunny days are ideal for late-ripening Cabernet. While Napa Cabernet offers the dark berry flavors (which I love), Cab from cooler parts of California, such as Sonoma, has a tendency to display black licorice and black olive notes.
If you’ve ever tried a Cab that tasted like green bell pepper, it means the wine is from a particularly cool climate or it was a cold vintage and the grapes were picked too early. Eucalyptus is another common character of California Cabernet, which may have to do with eucalyptus trees growing near the vineyards.
Today, some Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa demand the same exorbitant price tags of its Bordeaux counterparts. But you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to find quality Cabernet in California. An excellent, approachable Cab with a very approachable price is the Layer Cake Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99/bottle; klwines.com).
If you’re looking to splurge on a bottle of Napa Cab, check out the Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($48; terravalentine.com) or the Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ($65; cornerstonecellars.com) or the Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon (crockerstarr.com).
Australia also offers great deals on Cabernet. Sometimes blended with Shiraz, Australian Cabs vary depending on the region. For instance, the Barossa Valley produces big, full bodied wines with assertive tannins while the nearby cooler Clare Valley produces wines with more concentrated fruit and leaner in style.
For more value-priced Cabernet, look to other New World regions like Chile. The Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon is an outstanding deal at $12.99 a bottle (wine.com). The estate in Colchagua Valley is owned and operated by the Rothschild family who have been making wine in Bordeaux since 1868. This Chilean Cab is fresh and fruity, with notes of black cherries, raspberries, and plums. It has a fleshy structure and silky tannins.
I think its ease of availability in the marketplace and its accessibility in terms of flavor and style are what have catapulted Cabernet Sauvignon to the top of restaurant buyer’s lists and consumer’s shopping lists. I hope this doesn’t change anytime soon!
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Cortney Roudebush is a published author, wine blogger, and social media specialist. Her first book, Where I Want to Be: A Wine Country Novel, is about living in Napa Valley and working in the wine industry. Learn more about the novel and read Cortney’s wine blog recommendations at www.authorcortney.com.