The Capitols of Cabernet

One of nature’s successful accidents


Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular and widely planted red grape varietals in the world. Part of its attraction is that it has a distinctive and very recognizable taste no matter where it is grown—which is perhaps why today we can find it in just about any wine growing region which is reasonably warm.
According to Jose Vouillamoz, a botanist specializing in grape DNA, Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a relatively young varietal, only appearing in the 18th Century as the result of a “natural” crossing of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc in one of the many co-planted Bordeaux vineyards. Part of its immediate success came about because it’s a very obliging grape to grow: fairly disease resistant, and easy to vinify.  Baron Hector de Brane of Château Mouton and Armand d'Armailhacq, of Château Armailhac (later purchased by Baron Philippe de Rothschild), are credited with the promotion and promulgation of the variety in the Médoc, where it quickly became the most widely planted variety.
King Cab the Colonizer
In the last 50 years, Cabernet Sauvignon has been viewed as an aristocratic and magnificent grape variety capable of producing fruit-forward, powerful young drinking wines as well as complex and sublime long lived wines. Moreover, Cabernet Sauvignon has a distinctive and very memorable flavor profile, making it a consumer favorite. For many red wine drinkers, the wines and brands became increasingly, consistently recognizable. 
As its commercial success increased, so did the number of regions and countries where Cabernet Sauvignon was planted. Its genius ability to modernize and spice up most red blends added to its rampant colonization in vineyards all over the world.  
From winery to winery, the high concentration of phenolics in the varietal allows for extended maceration times, resulting in deeply colored and tannic wines. Furthermore, Cabernet Sauvignon’s startling affinity with new oak creates wines where black currant flavors seamlessly blend with vanilla and sweet spicy notes. The strong tannic structure, deep color and fruit-forward characteristic also are the reason why Cabernet Sauvignon tends to hijack most blends it has been added to. Its powerful personality seems to add the exact amount of “trendiness” to a traditional blend, giving it a broader appeal for most red wine drinkers.

King Cab, the brand, thus became the key that would open doors in restaurants and stores in the US, the UK, Asia and, eventually, the rest of the world.

Wine basket image via shutterstock
Blend or Single Varietal?

Whilst it’s true that Cabernet Sauvignon is relatively easy to grow in most wine regions which are warm enough, and will produce a wine that is easily recognizable, there are very few regions in the world where Cabernet Sauvignon by itself is better than the blend. Even in its native Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is rarely bottled as a single varietal. Instead it’s generally blended with the much fatter Merlot and perfumed Cabernet Franc. In Spain, Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with Tempranillo, especially in the regions of Navarra and Cataluña; in Tuscany, it is often blended with Sangiovese, though some super Tuscan’s are single Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines.
A lot of excellent single varietal examples come from the New World. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys are two regions in California which are well known for producing some excellent Cabernet Sauvignons. There is quite a big difference between hillside and valley floor wines: the hillside wines tend to have smaller berries and lower yields, resulting in more intense and austere wines, which are slower to mature and more elegant than the more opulent and fruit-forward valley floor wines.
Australia is another region were Cabernet Sauvignon fares very well as a single varietal, especially in Coonawarra and Margaret River. Both regions are coastal and a little cooler than more inland wine growing regions, and Coonawarra’s Terra Rosso soils tend to bring out the fine structure and more minty fruit flavors in Coonawarra’s Cabs. The wines from Margaret River are tightly structured, with a lot of black fruit flavors and kitchen herb notes.

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  • Snooth User: Mark Suss
    951226 137

    No love for Washington wines? I think they are doing some wonderful things with Cab. I prefer them over the fruit and oak bombs that are far too prevalent in Cali.

    Mar 05, 2013 at 3:48 PM

  • You left off Washington State Wines!

    Mar 05, 2013 at 5:08 PM

  • Snooth User: JonDerry
    Hand of Snooth
    680446 3,144

    Most of these are 100% Cabernet, Washington's great, but mostly blends, no?

    Look for CA to get less fruity and oaky in the upcoming vintages 09'-11'

    Mar 05, 2013 at 7:29 PM

  • Snooth User: Erokthered
    863297 16

    Perez Cruz. Maipo Valley, Chile. Stunning. Serious wine makers. Please look into it. I know they aren't available everywhere in the U.S. but they soon will be. A fairly large importer in the U.S. has just picked them up. Wine buyers...look for it soon. Fantastic Cabernet.

    Mar 05, 2013 at 9:34 PM

  • Remember that in CA you only need 75% of a variet,al to label the wine as that varietal. I would be willing to bet that having a titche of merlot, petit verdot and/or cab franc is not uncommon. Also, WA does make wines labeled as Cab Sauv that are wonderful. Omitting WA (and including Argentina? the land of malbec?) from any discussion of cab sauv was a bad oversight.

    Mar 06, 2013 at 7:59 AM

  • Snooth User: Caroline Henry
    Hand of Snooth
    332026 8,270

    I tried to give an overview of the capitols of Cabernet - as viewed internationally (I am not an American). I tried to include wines which are readily available world wide. Washington wine is very difficult to find outside the US & Canada (there is a small amount in the UK) that is why I did not include it. I am aware that Washington State makes great The Okanagan Valley is another producer of great Cabernets - again very difficult to find outside Canada and this is why it did not make the list. However please feel free to create lists of your favorite Cabernet's as I am always interested to discover new wines!

    Mar 07, 2013 at 7:24 AM

  • In addition to the remarks about argentine Cabernet Sauvignon,I have to say that before 1990,most of the wines this country use to make were blends mostly made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and a lot of Bonarda, these fact was because the creators of them, didn´t know which were the real grapes they were using, but when they started to identify them,Cabernet Sauvignon was the most used type of wine, the reason was that affter all Argentina´s main meal was meat specially grilled, as we call it "asado", so this wine became the perfect mach for pairing with our barbacue. But when we could breed Malbec alone, it became also a wine used for that purpose even now that were are making outstanding wines with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, I prefer Cab to be serve with meat, on the contrary the next grape that will take the place off the mentioned before, will be Cabernet Franc, and I have to say that actually the ones we are breeding now are excellent, they come from Mendoza, San Juan, Neuquen and Rio Negro, I feel this wine will be the new star, in our constelation of creations in the wine business.

    Apr 02, 2013 at 2:30 PM

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