Planted and harvested over 741,300 acres of vine area across the globe, the Cab also happens to be the most widely-used  wine grape variety on the planet. Join us here at Singapore Wine Vault as we pay homage to the King of Wine Grapes through this highly comprehensive Cabernet Sauvignon wine profile.

The Birth of a Super Grape

What do you get when you combine the genetic properties of Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Franc? A ‘super grape,’ of course! As its name implies, the Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of a natural cross between the above-mentioned white and red wine grape varieties. The French vintners of the 17th century soon discovered that this new breed of vines exhibited a unique resistance to a number of grape diseases. The fruit’s thick, sturdy skin and abundance of tannins also made it a great candidate for winemaking, wine storage, and oak aging. The French vintners knew instinctively that Cab would mix well with their existing wine grapes, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Soon after, the modern Bordeaux blend was born.

Over time, winemakers from the New World also caught whiff of the Cabernet Sauvignon’s unique properties and distinct flavors. Importing its vines from France, the vignerons of California began growing and producing Cabs. In the 1976 Judgment of Paris, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (Napa Valley) made winemaking history when its Cabernet Sauvignon placed first in the red wine blind taste test conducted by leading French wine experts. The brand’s 1973 vintage emerged victorious over fellow California Cabs and an array of esteemed French Bordeaux first and second growths. The victory helped place California on the global winemaking map.

Over the years, California Cabernets have continued to grow in prestige. Today, these wines are the go-to liquor in many steakhouses and first-class restaurants around the world. Wine enthusiasts also toast to the glorious tipple every 30th of August, which is known to the wine community as the International Cabernet Sauvignon Day.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Flavor Profile

The Cabernet Sauvignon is a medium- to full-bodied, dry red wine that offers a myriad of aromas and flavors. It balances generous notes of dark fruits, (think blackberries, blackcurrants, boysenberries, cherries, and plums), and touches of piquant elements, (think tobacco, leather, black peppers, and bell peppers). Combine all of that, and it becomes a wine that offers tremendous complexity and depth. Its healthy tannin structure and punchy acidity are instrumental in creating layers in its flavor, making the Cab one of the most multifaceted reds in the wine world.

Oak aging also plays a huge factor in the wine’s development. Depending on the vintner, Cabs can spend up to 18 months aging in French, Hungarian, or American oak barrels. As the wine ages, savory elements develop in the tipple, adding to its structure and introducing a wide array of new tastes, including vanilla, tobacco, leather, char, coffee, chocolate, and warm spice. Even the more budget-friendly Cabs undergo a form of aging technique. Though not oaked, these bargain reds can be ‘aged’ using oak chips and staves.

Although it’s possible to drink ‘young’ Cabernet Sauvignon, its tannins will remain grippy and rigid. It makes the wine very dry. But with a bit of aging, the wine’s tannins will become better integrated, smoother, and with less bite. This is why the best Cabernet Sauvignons are usually silken, round, and flavorful. It offers complex tastes and scents without sacrificing drinkability. On the nose, you’ll sense  saccharine berries, crème de cassis, violets, cedar wood, leather, and hints of forest earth. And on the palate, you have the fine marriage between the savory and the sweet, with a long and thrilling finish.

Regional Differences: Old World vs. New World Cabs

Due to the vine’s hardy nature, Cabernet Sauvignons can grow in a number of wine countries. Its foremost growers include France, the United States, Chile, Italy, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa.  The wines cultivated in these varying regions, with differing climates and soil compositions,  create  marked differences in the wine’s structure, flavors, and aromas.

In the New World,  particularly in the warmer climes of California, the grapes are able to ripen more fully. So the wines in the region tend to be more fruit-forward, with softer tannins and higher alcohol levels than their Old World counterparts. In fact, alcohol content for Cabs produced in the United States, Chile, and Australia can reach up to 15.5% ABV. Cabs produced in these regions are also sold as varietals, whereas Old World wine countries like France, Spain, and Italy, generally use Cabernet in blends for Bordeaux, Priorat, and Super Tuscan wines.

While Old Wine countries like France, tend to produce Cabs that contain more floral and herbaceous elements. Dominant bouquets include touches of graphite, tobacco, licorice, green bell peppers, and violets with underlying hints of black cherries. These wines tend to be lighter and more subtle, but with more pronounced tannins and higher levels of acidity compared to the Cabs of Napa Valley. These nuances allow Old World winegrowers to easily use Cabernet Sauvignon to add depth to their blends.

Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairings

When it comes to food pairings, it’s best to find dishes that can match the Cabernet Sauvignon’s savory elements while highlighting its fruity undertones. This is a wine that beautifully complements food that’s high in fat, protein, and umami. Think grilled red meat and game, well-done burgers, marinated steaks, lamb shanks, and braised short ribs. Earthier wines also work extremely well with mushroom dishes, like mushroom stroganoffs and sausage-stuffed Portobello, and flavorful cheeses, like Gruyere and cheddar.

Wine Aging Potential

The best Cabernet Sauvignon can be kept in the wine cellar for decades. But, generally speaking, most forms of this varietal can be bottled and  aged anywhere from 4 to 20 years. For the most part, the wine’s aging potential greatly depends on its quality.

Budget-friendly favorites, priced USD $12 and below, are meant to be consumed as soon as possible. While you can house them for a few months, this won’t do much to improve the tipples’ flavor. Mid-range Cabs, priced USD $12-25, can be toasted upon purchase but may also improve after a few years in the cellar. But do note that mdi-range Cab’s maximum aging is usually six (6) years after its vintage date.

High-end Cabernet Sauvignons are the ones to truly benefit from bottle aging. These pricier tipples tend to unwind and become smoother after a decade of cellaring.  

Recommended Brands and Vintages

2006 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon. Bold, fruit-forward, and sumptuous, the 2006 Cardinale is a stunning Cab that delivers tremendous flavor and depth. Its fruity and floral nose offers hints of ripe cherries, blackberries, violets, and a touch of cigar box and cedar. There’s just enough piquancy and acidity to bring intricacy to the tipple.  It offers a full and excellent finish.

2004 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. This soft, supple, and well-concentrated wine offers gorgeous notes of black cherries and crème de cassis. It has a unique, mouthwatering tobacco and coffee nose, further sweetened by hints of homemade caramel. This win has great structure and balance.

2008 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. We found this wine highly enjoyable, with its mouthwatering bouquet of espresso, crème de cassis, and ripe red plums. Interestinngly, its balanced by a fleeting woodsy undertone.  Its flavor is on the denser side of the spectrum, but with enough mocha and vanilla notes to complement its fruit flavors. This is  very focused and rich, with superb acidity.

Wine Storage

Serious wine collectors must understand the importance of proper wine storage. Keep your bottles in a space too warm and you risk oxidation. Stick them in the fridge and you’ll numb out their flavors. Ideally, your wine should be kept in a space with a constant temperature of 55-58 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity levels of 55-75 percent.

So, unless you’re planning on investing in specialized wine fridges or building your own wine cellar, we highly recommend letting the experts take care of your precious liquid investments. Here at Singapore Wine Vault, we’ve made it our goal to make sure your liquid assets are kept in optimal storage conditions. Learn more about our services by taking this virtual tour around our vault.