Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are two of the world’s most famous and most widely grown wine grapes. The pair form the foundation of many of the great wines of Bordeaux, where this classic blend (often dubbed 'Bordeaux Blend') is thought to have originated. For centuries, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have been the quintessential Bordeaux wine grapes, but their fame and popularity have now taken them far beyond the banks of the Garonne, Dordogne and Gironde, to the furthest reaches of the wine world.
In California the blend is often labeled as Meritage – providing the producer meets the requirements of the Meritage Alliance. The Australian regions of Coonawarra, Margaret River and Yarra Valley are highly regarded for their unique expressions of the blend. South Africa’s Stellenbosch region also produces some earthen and savory examples that defy many of the commonly held perceptions about New World wine. In other New World countries the blend is often abbreviated to Cabernet Merlot, though this mix could include Cabernet Franc as well.
The Cabernet-Merlot partnership has proved itself in almost every major wine-growing country on Earth, most obviously France, Italy, Australia, Chile and the USA, but also such far-flung nations as Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and Israel. The exact proportions of each variety used varies by region, winemaker and style.
Cabernet Sauvignon typically provides the blend's structure, in terms of both tannins and acids. It also brings dark-fruit flavors of blackcurrant and bell pepper. Merlot is generally considered the juicer, 'fatter' variety; it has less structure, but is generous with its palate weight and fruit flavors. This is visibly reflected in the vineyard, by Merlot's larger, plumper berries, whose thinner skins give a lower skin:juice ratio. Cabernet's robust structure is fattened out with Merlot's juicy fruit – a marriage with excellent long-term potential when assembled with care.
Cabernet-Merlot blends have an excellent affinity for oak, and the vast majority are barrel-aged. From their time in barrel they take on notes of cedar, smoke and spice (from French oak) as well as sweeter aromas of vanilla and coconut (from American oak).
Other varieties sometimes added to the basic Cabernet-Merlot blend, in many regions around the world, include the other classic Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. These are all members of the Bordeaux Blend.
Wines bearing the Cabernet Sauvignon – Merlot label can be lean or generous, austere or fruity and short- or long-lived. They occupy every price bracket imaginable, from inexpensive table wines right through to some of the most expensive wines on the market.
Food matches include:
Europe: Steak with bone marrow (boeuf à la moelle); ravioli with a white truffle sauce (ravioli alla crema tartufo bianco)
Asia: Singaporean black pepper crab; Korean sautéed shiitake (pyogo muchim)
Americas: Five-spice braised bison; Chilean beef casserole (pastel de papas)
Australasia/Oceania: Seared venison rump with red wine and rosemary butter; crumbed, roasted eggplant with a tomato and basil ragout
Africa/Middle East: Lamb-stuffed baked vegetables (khoudar mahshi bil forn)