Cabernet Sauvignon (often shortened to 'Cab Sav' or even just 'Cab') is probably the most famous red wine grape variety on Earth. It is rivaled in this regard only by its Bordeaux stablemate Merlot, and its opposite number in Burgundy, Pinot Noir. The product of a natural crossing of key Bordeaux grape varieties Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon's DNA was profiled only as recently as 1997, by researchers in California. Most wine authorities agree that the crossing happened only in the past few centuries, making the variety's current fame all the more impressive. From its origins around the Medoc, the vine has successfully spread to almost every wine-growing country in the world, from Old World powerhouses like France and Italy to newer climes such as Australia, Chile, South Africa and even New Zealand.
There are two key reasons for Cabernet Sauvignon's rise to dominance. The most simple and primordial of these is that its vines are highly adaptable to different soil types and climates; it is grown at latitudes as disparate as 50 degrees north (Okanagan in Canada) and 20 degrees south (northern Argentina), and in soils as different as the Pessac-Leognan gravels and the iron-rich Terra Rossa of Coonawarra. Secondary to this, but just as important, is that despite the diversity of terroirs in which the vine is grown, Cabernet Sauvignon wines retain an inimitable 'Cab' character, nuanced with hints of provenance in the best-made examples. There is just a single reason, however, for the durability of the variety's fame and that is simple economics; the familiarity and marketability of the 'Cabernet Sauvignon' name has an irresistible lure to wine companies looking for a reliable return on their investment.
Used as frequently in blends as in varietal wines, Cabernet Sauvignon has a large number of common blending partners. Apart from the obvious Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the most prevalent of these are Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere (the ingredients of a classic Bordeaux Blend), Syrah/Shiraz (in Australia) and Tempranillo (in Spain and South America). Even the bold Tannat-based wines of Madiran are now generally softened with Cabernet Sauvignon. (© All rights reserved, Wine-Searcher)
A vigorous vine (another characteristic in the variety's favor), Cabernet Sauvignon produces relatively high yields and a dense canopy, meaning that vineyard management is an important part of growing the vine successfully. This double-edged sword gives producers a fairly open choice between quantity and quality, although in exceptional vintages they may get both. As a late-flowering and late-ripening variety, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes mature slowly. This can also work for or against wine quality; in a cold season or climate there is a risk of the grapes failing to ripen fully, while in most other conditions the steady rate of progress offers producers a wider choice of harvest dates. Few would argue that the finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon wine are found in Bordeaux and California, a standpoint supported by the 1976 Judgment of Paris. The past two decades have seen a raft of quality Cabernets emerging from New World regions such as Maipo in Chile and Coonawarra in Australia. They are becoming more popular with an increasingly broad consumer base as the world's more famous Cabernet Sauvignons become prohibitively expensive. The variety has now made its way even into such established and traditional Italian names as Chianti and Carmignano, (albeit restricted to 15% of the permitted blend), evidence that even the oldest and most traditional wine institutions now recognize the value of this most famous of grapes.
Synonyms include: Bouche, Bouchet, Sauvignon Rouge, Vidure.
Related grape varieties include: Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc.
Food matches include:
Europe: Fillet steak with foie gras and truffles; veal and mixed bell-pepper stew (spezzatino di vitello)
Asia: Korean-style beef stir fried in garlic, soy and sesame
Americas: Five-spice braised bison; Texas barbecue
Australasia/Oceania: Crumbed, roasted eggplant with a tomato and basil ragout
Africa/Middle East: Lebanese fried mushrooms with garlic (fouter moukala)