Cabernet Sauvignon is the mother of big red grapes. It’s generally full bodied with flavors of blackberry, cherry and black currant with some undertones of plum and black licorice, depending on the region the grapes are from and what types of oak were used in aging.
Cabernet Sauvignon is ideally paired with red meat like steak, roast beef, short ribs or beef stew where the wine can really stand up to the abundance and depth of flavor from the food.
Some of the most popular areas where Cabernet Sauvignon is grown is in the Napa and Sonoma valleys, where Napa really reigns (in my opinion) as the dominant force. There are multiple areas inside Napa that are worthy of exploration including Rutherford, Oakville and Stag’s Leap as well as all of the hilly areas surrounding the valley that produce excellent Cabernet (Howell Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Atlas Peak). In Sonoma make sure to explore Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley for great Cabernet.
Many of the big names in Napa and Sonoma produce special blends frequently led by Cabernet that include other grapes such as Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and you are now seeing a rise in Malbec. Some of these wines, such as the Joseph Phelps Insignia, can run upwards of $200 and are really spectacular.
A good tip is to find vineyards such as Joseph Phelps, Franciscan, Chimney Rock or Heitz who are known for their higher end red blends but offer straight Cabernet wines for much less. The grapes that are grown for the high end blends are likely grown within eyeshot of these lesser priced Cabernet bottles, so they can be excellent values.
Great Cabernet can also be found in Washington State which has really started to shine in recent years. You’d be remiss not to try Cabernet as well as other reds from here.
Cabernet Sauvignon is prevalent in Bordeaux, France and is frequently blended with other Bordeaux varietals including Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The left bank area of Bordeaux is world renowned for producing some of the finest Cabernet dominated wines in the world, and while prices can run high you can find areas tucked in the middle of the big boys that produce great Cabernet blends for under $25 such as the Medoc (pronounced May-Dock) region. I would recommend trying wines from almost any Chateau in the Medoc or Haut-Medoc regions. Bordeaux Superior too is an additional value area to explore. Cabernet is also grown, albeit in smaller quantities, on the right bank of Bordeaux (the two “banks” are separated by the Garonne River) where the blends are more Merlot based with smaller parts Cabernet Sauvignon, and they are excellent wines as well.
I’m also a big fan of Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Argentina and Chile. The Mendoza area of Argentina, which is known for its Malbecs (we will cover those soon) produces world class Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of character. Two other areas of Argentina to keep an eye out for are Salta and Patagonia which you are seeing pop up in more stores around the US. Great wines. Maipo Valley in Chile is a monster Cab area and the wines are big in the mouth and on flavor. They are fantastic with hearty red meat meals and you can find several for under $10, but they really get good in the $20-50 range.
The Coonawarra region of South Australia is another world famous Cabernet Sauvignon growing region. Some major names from here are Penfolds, Mildara and Parker and prices are going to start at $15 and go into the several hundreds. You will also find Australian Cabernet blended with Shiraz, which also grows well in Australia and the combination is perfect.
If you were interested in the blends I mentioned from Napa Valley, you may also want to explore what’s become known as Italian “Super Tuscans.” These are hearty red blends from Italy that include a good chunk of Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot and Sangiovese.
These are lovely wines and can run the gamut from $8 to $500 or more. I find many in the $10-20 range to be excellent bargains. One of my favorite wines of all time is a Super Tuscan, the 2007 Antinori Solaia. Granted it’s not inexpensive but it’s worth every dollar.
South Africa is another area to keep an eye on. They are producing some fantastic Cabernet there, and because it is still a bit off the radar, the wines are typically very good values.
Your Cabernet Sauvignon Check List:
– Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
– Napa Valley Red Blend
– Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon
– Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon
– Left bank Bordeaux (St Julien, St Estephe, Margaux, Medoc)
– Right bank Bordeaux (St Emillion)
– Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina
– Cabernet Sauvignon from Maipo Valley in Chile
– Cabernet from Coonawarra (South Australia)
– Italian Super Tuscan
– South African Cabernet Sauvignon
Fast Fact: The lead singer of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, Maynard James Keenan, founded Caduceus Cellars in Arizona, defying many who believed that good grapes couldn’t be grown in the desert. But after a string of successful releases, including Cabernet Sauvignon and some red blends, Keenan has firmly planted Arizona on the wine growing map (and the wines are excellent, try them).