Cabernet Sauvignon
Be it blended or as a 100% varietal, cabernet sauvignon brings a depth of flavour few wines can match. As perhaps the world’s most important red grape, it characterises the most famous wines everywhere from Bordeaux to the Barossa.
 
In terms of a global presence and importance, no red grape can quite compare to cabernet sauvignon. Grown in a range of regions and climates unrivalled by almost any other red, it offers a gorgeous standalone taste while finding itself as the principal grape in some of the world’s most famous blends.

It’s as important a grape to Australia as it is to anywhere, with Shiraz being the only red more abundantly produced on our shores. But the ‘cab sav’ story doesn’t begin down under; as the elegant name suggests, the rolling hills of France is where the variety’s story began.

A perfect pairing in Pauillac

 
The origins of cabernet sauvignon have been traced back to the French municipality of Pauillac, in the country’s South West, where its birth may well have been unplanned. The variety’s parents have been identified as cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, with the Chateaus of Mouton and d'Armailhac the first to produce wine from the grape in the mid-17th century. No records have been found that indicate this breeding was intentional, leading many wine scholars to conclude it was entirely accidental.
 
Otherwise known as bouchet or vidure, the home of cabernet sauvignon is now considered to be Bordeaux, where it is grown lavishly and is utilised as the dominant player in many of the world’s most expensive blends.
 
Cabernet Sauvignon has a commanding presence, making it the perfect addition to a blend. As the dominant grape in Bordeaux it can be found, to some degree at least, in almost every blended vintage from the region, although 100% Bordeaux cabernet sauvignons are all but non-existent.
 
A fresh take on the original
 
While many of our cabernet sauvignon vines can be dated back to the mid-19th century, the variety didn’t make a name for itself in Australia until the 1970s. This was a time when the distinctive flavours of Napa Valley Cabernet showed that new world wines weren’t lesser than those of the old world, they were just different.
 
South Australia’s Coonawarra region was soon brought into the spotlight, its terra rosa soils giving the variety an intense fruitiness. The Margaret River was next to garner international attention, its unique topography offering up tightly structured wines big on black fruits. The Barossa, Yarra and Clare Valley offer distinctive tastes, delighting international buyers and pushing Australian cabernet sauvignon from somewhat of an afterthought to an industry mainstay.
 
Penfolds’ famous Grange has cabernet sauvignon to thank for its distinctive taste, with a small percentage – usually around 4% - added to the dominant shiraz. In general, new-world producers appear far more willing to showcase the variety on its own.
 
''The Barossa, Yarra and Clare Valley offer distinctive tastes, delighting international buyers and pushing Australian cabernet sauvignon from somewhat of an afterthought to an industry mainstay.'' 
 Particulars of the palate
 
Black fruits, pepper, liquorice, tobacco and vanilla are cabernet sauvignon’s prevailing flavours, although the intensity of these notes will fluctuate from region to region. Cabernets can largely be separated into two distinct flavour categories; old-world cabernets and new-world cabernets.
 
The old-world cabernet sauvignons of Europe offer an earthier, more floral taste, with tobacco and violet flavours common. Leather and liquorice will hint at a Bordeaux cab. While the notes might sound as though they’d offer a heavier, more intense taste, old-world wines are generally less intense than their newworld cousins.
 
Californian, Australian and Argentine cabernets are fruitier, herbier and more intense. Black fruits are accompanied by hints of pepper, vanilla, while Australian cabernet sauvignon will also produce subtle mint and eucalyptus notes.
 
Cabernet sauvignon is commonly barrelled in French oak, although Hungarian and American oaks are also popular. This unsurprisingly imbues the wine with an oaky taste and texture.
 
The ideal food pairings for cabernet sauvignon are consistent with most other dry reds. The umami flavours of red meat and mushroom allow the fruity notes of the variety to shine through, and for this very same reason the dark chocolate and other sweet accompaniments are best left at the door.
 
The best of the bunch
 
While the variety will inevitably find itself in a blend, must-try oldworld wineries with a heavy cabernet sauvignon influence include Haut-Brion, Châteaux Latour, Lafite and Margaux.
 
New world labels that are far happier to showcase the grape on its own include Penfolds, Wynns and Vasse Felix.
 
 
Cabernet Sauvignon titbits
 
  • Put it in your calendar: While only established in 2010, the last Thursday of August has now been marked as Cabernet Day. What better reason to crack open a bottle?
  • Rain, hail or shine: Cabernet sauvignon is one of the hardiest grape varieties in the world. Vines are grown everywhere from the Gobi desert to Canadian mountain slopes!
  • New world, old wines: The world’s oldest continually used cabernet sauvignon vines aren’t on the slopes of Bordeaux or Burgundy, but in the Kalimna vineyard of South Australia’s Barossa Valley. They date back to the 1880s.
  • Thirsty neighbours: China is the world’s largest drinker of cabernet sauvignon, with 28% of Australia’s exports being sent to the country.