10 Essential Facts on Cabernet Sauvignon

The illustrious Twentieth Century California winemaker André Tchelistcheff once said, “God made Cabernet Sauvignon , whereas the Devil made Pinot Noir .” Today, we’re dealing with the more heavenly creation, or at least the less finicky in the vineyard. Cabernet Sauvignon, or simply Cabernet or “Cab,” is the most planted wine grape variety, and it serves as the backbone to several of the world’s most collectible bottles, from Bordeaux to Bolgheri to the Napa Valley . Here are the ten essential facts you should learn to master Cabernet Sauvignon. 1. According to the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, Cabernet Sauvignon is the world’s most planted wine grape variety, slowly surpassing Spain’s Airén in total acreage over the last couple of decades. Cabernet’s reach extends to nearly every winegrowing country warm enough to ripen it from Malta to Mexico , Israel to India. 2. A 1996 study at the University of California, Davis performed by Carole Meredith revealed Cabernet Sauvignon to be the child of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc , a crossing that likely transpired somewhere near Bordeaux before the mid-Eighteenth Century. This was the first major discovery in the field of grape parentage, and a surprising one considering Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that gave birth to a red offspring. Subsequent research has revealed Cabernet Sauvignon to also be a half-sibling to Merlot . 3. If Cabernet Sauvignon were to be summed up in a single word, it might be “structure.” Due to its small berries and thick skins, Cabernet yields some of the most concentrated and long lived wines of any classic grape variety. The key to their longevity? Tannins . Cabernet Sauvignon is notoriously tannic, causing many of these wines to come across as austere in their youth. Tannins also have the ability to bind with proteins, which is one of the reasons Cabernet Sauvignon tastes so magical with steak. 4. Cabernet Sauvignon’s most classic expression is found in its birthplace of Bordeaux. Interestingly, Bordeaux grows more than twice the amount of Merlot as it does Cabernet, the latter occupying approximately 22.5% of Bordeaux’s vineyard space for red varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most important grape in the wines of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. . It is also the dominant grape in Bordeaux’s coveted First Growth wines, with the exception of Château Haut-Brion, which cultivates slightly more Merlot. 5. While Cabernet Sauvignon may be bottled as a varietal wine, in Bordeaux’s Right Bank it is traditionally blended with a combination of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec , and Petit Verdot . Merlot and Malbec add juicier fruit flavors, Cabernet Franc contributes a spicy earthiness, and Petit Verdot further solidifies structure. This formula has been replicated across the globe, and you may encounter wines labeled “ Meritage ” to signify a blend of this sort. 6. While Cabernet Sauvignon traditionally fraternizes with the other Bordeaux varieties, several winegrowing regions choose to blend Cabernet with their local specialties. In Tuscany , several blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese achieve cult status, and in Australia you’ll commonly find Cabernet – Shiraz wines. In Spain’s Ribera del Duero , Cabernet Sauvignon is often added to Tempranillo ever since Vega Sicilia first introduced French grapes to the area in the mid-Nineteenth Century. 7. Cabernet Sauvignon’s most famous wines outside Bordeaux, however, likely come from California’s Napa Valley. Cabernet trails Chardonnay to become California’s second most planted variety, but in the Napa Valley Cabernet earns the top spot with nearly half the region’s vineyard acreage dedicated to the grape. Napa Valley Cabernet counts among the most expensive fruit in the world. In 2016, the average ton of Napa Cabernet cost $6,829, although the Valley’s priciest Cabernet grapes cost a whopping $59,375 per ton. 8. In the 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” a flight of top Bordeaux wines was presented blind alongside a selection of California Cabernets to a panel of French judges. The winning wine? The 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. 9. Cabernet’s next great home? China has established itself as one of Bordeaux’s most important markets, but China’s total plantings of Cabernet are expected to surpass those of the French region. In 2016, China’s “first luxury wine” to reach American shores came in the form of Ao Yun, a $300 Cabernet Sauvignon blend from luxury conglomerate LVMH. 10. Why does your Cabernet smell like bell peppers? You can thank “methoxypyrazines” (or simply “pyrazines”) for that common descriptor. Cabernet Sauvignon is beaming with this flavor compound, as are its parents Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. While such vegetal flavors diminish with ripeness and sun exposure, they’re considered a trademark of Cabernet Sauvignon, and often a welcome one at that. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you enjoyed a glass of Cab recently? We want to see what you’re drinking! Scan the label or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable.

Heitz Cellar

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

I just absolutely love Heitz. So beautiful, elegant, and feminine with a nose chalk full of mint, eucalyptus, dried garden herbs, fresh dark fruits, graphite/asphalt and mild undertones of coffee. Straight out of the gate on the palate tart cherries, blackberries, and earthy underbrush. — 6 years ago

Krystal Vento
with Krystal
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Ryan Vento

Ryan Vento

@David T That is very fascinating. I wonder what label it is that has the Howell Mtn. fruit in it? I’m a huge Howell & Spring Mtn. fan.
David T

David T Influencer Badge

It’s another new wine from Heitz called “Linda Falls.” They just released it. 100% Howell Mtn. Prior to this bottling, I was told their Howell Mtn. fruit was blended into their Napa Cabernet. I tasted about a mouth ago, it was very nice. Of course, with any Howell Mtn. wine better with 8-10 years plus in bottle.
Ryan Vento

Ryan Vento

@David T Very good to know. I have heard of their Linda Falls offering but failed to realize it was Howell fruit.

Concha y Toro

Don Melchor Puente Alto Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Say what you will about Concha y Toro, they sure know how to make consistently impressive Cabernet in Don Melchor. Powerful and herbaceous. Compote of blackberry, fig, dried thyme, iron ore, leather, vanilla bean, and sweet baking spices. Big but reined in. This has years ahead of it. — 8 years ago

Chris, Anthony and 2 others liked this

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

S.L.V. Estate Grown Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Chris Morgan

Rich, ripe blackberry, black cherry. Cigar box and potting soil. Soft integrated tannins, elevated acidity. Dark and bright at the same time. Exploding fruit flavor without being over-extracted. In a word...beautiful. — 8 years ago

Stuart, Bill and 14 others liked this

Château Beychevelle

Saint-Julien Red Bordeaux Blend 2015

Loved this wine. Super intense with lots going on. Rich in flavor with tons of cherry and tar but with a robust structure that makes this one seem like a keeper for a few years at least. I'm keen to try it in 2028. — 6 years ago

Keith, Jonathan and 13 others liked this

DeLille Cellars

Four Flags Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Great Cab at a reasonable price. Let it open up for an hour and you will be happy. Dark berries, cedar and a slight hint of tobacco flavors give this cab a great taste and a smooth finish. — 7 years ago

jesus, Maria and 3 others liked this

Tenuta dell'Ornellaia

Bolgheri Red Bordeaux Blend 2013

Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2013: from Jay. Initial thoughts/impressions from a brief tasting conducted this afternoon. Deep ruby colour. Dark fruits, cedar tobacco box wrapper and brown spice dominate a delightful nose with a hint of torrefaction. The wine has a subtle attack across the palate but then builds across the mid palate. This is not the dense and intense super Tuscan style we have often seen over the last 20 odd years but a more nuanced wine with tannins which, at this stage, are far greater along in their path to integration. There is certainly a feeling of balance here. 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot. 94/100. Drink 2020 to 2040. — 8 years ago

Max, Greg and 1 other liked this


Ao Yun Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2013

A blend of grapes from 5 regions in China made by the Cheval Blanc Winemaker. Reminds me of a mix of Napa Valley and Bordeaux. A core of dark fruit followed by classic Bordeaux like notes green peppercorn and tobacco. — 6 years ago

Jim, Greg and 1 other liked this


Family Estate Grown St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

A small family-owned estate in St. Helena, Napa Valley,dating back to the 1800s, with formal gardens, pre-prohibition buildings and 40-acre, organically farmed estate making very limited quantities of Sauv Blanc and Cab Sauvignon. Deep aromas of dark fruits and intense spice. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Blackberry and blueberry flavors, currents and cassis, pepper, leather and cacao, complex. Perfect structure, lingering with mineral spice. Wow! Tasting Sample. — 7 years ago

Maria, Greg and 3 others liked this

Ridge Vineyards

Monte Bello Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Blend

Very young - this is wine for the cellar. Dark spice, hints of green herbs. The nose is like walking into a Chinese herb shop. Crushed chalk. Plum skins. Texture is very smooth with deep hints of baking chocolate dusting. This is quite the thoroughbred Cabernet: Elegant, Pure, Pristine, and Powerful. $175 at winery. — 8 years ago

Maria, Greg and 4 others liked this

Bodega Catena Zapata

Nicolas Catena Zapata Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2009

Classic Cabernet based blend, pencil shavings, currants, perfectly ripe and firm tannins. A complete and refined wine, well balanced, should go the distance aging. — 8 years ago

LM, Jim and 4 others liked this