It is often
said that the cabernet sauvignon grape makes the biggest or manliest wine on
the planet. Political correctness aside the physical nature of cabernet tends
to be robust, angular and tannic in youth and while it mellows with age even
the finest cabernet sauvignon seldom melts in your mouth the way merlot or
pinot noir eventually will.
sauvignon gained its fame in the Bordeaux region of France, primarily in and
about the Médoc and more specifically on the left bank in the communes of St.
Estephe, St. Julien and Pauillac. Think Latour, Mouton, Lafite, Les Cases,
Montrose and many more. The grape has been cultivated for centuries in Bordeaux
although its origins have only recently been discovered to have arisen
spontaneously between a field cross of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc
sometime prior to the 17th century.
set the historical standard for cabernet sauvignon, the rest of the world has
taken quick advantage of the grape’s ability to adapt to new sites and
climates. The vine itself is extremely vigorous but growth is easily controlled
by intelligent selection of rootstock, soil type, planting density and canopy
management. As shaded fruit tends to produce wine that is more vegetal and more
acidic, trellising and canopy training methods to expose the fruit to more
light are important to developing cabernet’s full fruit flavour and ripe
bunches grow best in well-drained loam or gravel/loam soils on hillsides. The
tough skin variety grows in mostly loose clusters with large pips and has a
relatively high skin to juice ratio. This results in wines high in tannin and
colour. On the minus side, it is a late ripener that requires added warmth and
growing time to develop fully ripe tannins and fruit flavours. Yet, if
subjected to too much heat cabernet can become overripe, displaying less
agreeable jammy, stewed fruit and prune characters. But it’s when perfectly
ripened that cabernet reaches a level of harmony and balance that makes it a
legend among red wine grapes.
cabernet has abundant but soft tannins with concentration and flavour
complexity. Winemakers strive to achieve blackberry, cassis, black cherry and
jam fruit flavours with black pepper and spice characters. Often, there is a
light overlay of herbal qualities such as ripe olives and mint; not the
undesirable green bell pepper, asparagus, green bean components often found in
less ripe cabernet. Oak barrels add extra spice, clove, vanillin and toasted
flavours. When fully aged, cabernet develops sublime bottle bouquets of cedar,
tobacco, violets, spices, soya, blackberry, mint and licorice.