Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king of grapes, especially here in Napa Valley. A serious collector’s cellar will always include great Cabernets, whether they’re from the Medoc, Napa Valley or Coonawara. It’s a variety that is capable of making a wine of tremendous power, structure and complexity, and somehow manages to carry it off in a very elegant way.
As a variety, Cabernet Sauvignon is a new kid on the block compared to the ancient Pinot Noir of Burgundy or the Syrah of the Rhone. It comes from the Bordeaux region of France, but it didn’t become important there until the late 1700s. It’s the child of two older grapes of the region: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. We assume the Cabernet Franc gives it its beautiful black currant character and the Sauvignon Blanc lends the hint of bell pepper. When it’s grown in a warm climate, like Napa Valley, it accentuates the luscious black fruit, and from a cold climate, like Bordeaux, the herbaceous and earthy character may be more noticeable along with the fruit.
Cabernet is a very small, thick skinned grape and the skins lend the Cabernet its famous structure and tannin. But, while 100% Cabernet can have what Jancis Robinson calls “sensational framework”, it may lack charm and come across as angular. This explains why it’s so often blended with other Bordeaux varieties, such as Merlot, which plumps it out a bit and accentuates its elegance. Adding highly aromatic Cabernet Franc is a bit like adding a dab of perfume. Another reason to blend is that it ripens late in the season. When it’s grown in a cold climate there’s a degree of risk that it won’t fully mature before the winter rains so it’s smart to plant an early-maturing variety like Merlot as a companion and insurance policy.
The magnificent structure makes Cabernet Sauvignon a great candidate for the cellar. Over the years the tannins soften and the prominent fruity character gains subtlety and complexity.
The rich, full flavors of the Cabernet make it a delicious accompaniment for flavorful foods such as grilled steak or slow-cooked dishes like lamb shanks or short ribs. Dry, aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or aged Gouda, make the best partners for full-bodied reds. You can find delicious recipes to pair with Cabernet or any other variety if you go to Colleen’s Kitchen.