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Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon makes the most dependable candidate for aging, more often improving into a truly great wine than any other single varietal. With age, its distinctive black currant aroma can develop bouquet nuances of cedar, violets, leather, or cigar box and its typically tannic edge may soften and smooth considerably.

It is the most widely planted and significant among the five dominant varieties in the Medoc district of France's Bordeaux region, as well as the most successful red wine produced in California. Over the last 20 years, it has become the most-widely-planted black wine grape in the world.

Long thought to be an ancient variety, genetic studies at U.C. Davis in 1997, determined that Cabernet Sauvignon is actually the offspring crossing of Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet sauvignon berries are small, spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. This toughness makes the grapes fairly resistant to disease and spoilage and able to withstand some autumn rains with little damage. It is a mid to late season ripener. These growth characteristics, along with its flavor appeal have made Cabernet Sauvignon one of the most popular red wine varieties worldwide.Cabernet Sauvignon leaf.

The best growing sites for producing quality wines from Cabernet Sauvignon are in moderately warm, semi-arid regions providing a long growing season, on well-drained, not-too-fertile soils. The highest quality cabernet sauvignon grows in mild to very warm climates, where seasonal temperatures average between 62° and 69° F.

Vineyards in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, much of the Napa Valley, and around the Paso Robles area of the Central Coast have consistently produced the highest-rated California examples. Since the very first cabernet sauvignon was planted near Yakima in 1957, many areas of Eastern Washington State have demonstrated great proclivity for growing and making world-class wine.

Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon wines smell like black currants with a degree of bell pepper or even weediness,1 varying in intensity with climatic conditions, viticulture practices, and vinification techniques. Climates and vintages that are either too cool or too warm, rich soils, too little sun exposure, premature harvesting, and extended maceration are factors that may lead to more vegetative, less fruity character in the resulting wine.

In the mouth, Cabernet can have liveliness and even a degree of richness, yet usually finishes with firm astringency. Some of the aroma and flavor descriptors most typically found in Cabernet Sauvignon are:

*Typical Cabernet Sauvignon Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Fruit: black currant, blackberry, black cherry

Oak (light): vanilla, coconut, sweet wood

Vegetal: bell pepper, asparagus (methoxy-pyrazine), green olive

Oak (heavy): oak, smoke, toast, tar

Spice: ginger, green peppercorn, pimento, anise Bottle Age: cedar, cigar box, musk, mushroom, earth, leather

Cabernet Sauvignon began to emerge as America's most popular varietal red wine in the mid-60s. By the mid-1980s, it had replaced "burgundy" as a consumer's generic term for red wine.2 This popularity was based partly on the flavor appeal of the grape and partly on its status or snob-appeal as a "collector's" wine. Indeed Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine most subject to inflationary climb, as fans, collectors, and the Nouveau Riche bid the supply ever upward.

by Jim LaMar

1. The compound responsible for "vegetative" smells and flavors in wine is methoxy-pyrazine. All of the Bordeaux varieties to some degree, as well as sauvignon blanc, share this chemical in their DNA. RETURN

2. Merlot supplanted Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1990s as the most popular wine with American consumers. Chardonnay similarly replaced "chablis" as the equivalent term for generic white wine. RETURN

1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

3. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

4. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

5. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

6. Julia Harding, Jancis Robinson and José Vouillamoz. Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. London: Allen Lane/Penguin and New York: Ecco/Harper-Collins, 2012

7. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996


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Page created January 31, 2002; last updated July 25, 2011
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