Wine 101: Getting to Know Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon is an incredibly versatile varietal used in more than 10 percent of the world’s wines. The vines are hearty, the fruit’s skin is thick and its bunches are loosely gathered, helping to protect it from insects and the effects of frost. Fabulous with food but drinkable enough to be enjoyed on its own, it’s the red everybody reaches for. So why is cab sauv so sought after?

Baby I Was Born This Way
Cabernet sauvignon has come to be called “the great colonizer” as it tends to take over the area in which it’s planted. It was the most-widely planted grape varietal in the world until about 25 years ago, when Merlot stole the distinction, but cabernet sauvignon reclaimed it in 2015. Today its grown in France, Chile, the United States, South Africa, Spain, Australia, Argentina and even China.

A Hybrid Perfect for Pairing
In the 17th century, winemakers in Bordeaux, France allowed strains of red cabernet franc and white sauvignon blanc grapes to crossbreed. And so, the cabernet sauvignon species of grape was born. While it makes a wine good enough to be bottled on its own, these same regional winemakers also ended up blending cabernet sauvignon with merlot to make one of the most sought-after and expensive wines: Bordeaux.

With or Without
Because it’s grown so widely, cabernet sauvignons can impart a range of taste. Generally they’re medium to full-bodied with notes of dark fruits like blackberry, black cherry and black currant. They’re deeper and richer than pinot noir, however, especially when aged in oak barrels like in Napa Valley. This helps bring out more savory flavors of tobacco, liquorice, black pepper and vanilla—some even have notes of bell pepper because of their high levels of pyrazines (heterocyclic aromatic organic compounds, for those keeping track). Younger cab sauvs (the ones most of us can afford) possess high levels of tannins, making them perfect partners for wonderfully fatty cuts of meats like lamb and pork. On the other hand, a big glass pairs really well with happy hour, too.