I have been remiss! How, after all these posts, could I have overlooked the most regal of all grapes? Its charms may seem obvious, its appeal self-explanatory, but with great wine there’s always more to discover. So, without further ado, I present His Royal Highness, Cabernet Sauvignon served with Rib Eye Steak and Red Wine Sauce for my food and wine pair of the week.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s earliest documentation dates to the 18th century, which makes it a fairly late arrival. Nonetheless, it has quite a noble heritage. Born of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc along France’s Gironde River, the grape is arguably the most significant component of fine Bordeaux. Laws allow vintners to use to four other grapes in the famous blend, most notably Merlot, but none are used more than Cabernet Sauvignon. Though never so modest as to go unnoticed, it is a great team player, So good, in fact, that climate permitting, most major wine producing countries often blend it with their own favorite varietals. Whether it is Sangiovese in Italy, Tempranillo in Spain, Shiraz in Australia or Pinotage in South Africa, all have something to gain by teaming up with Cab. It offers its gifts freely, but needs nothing in return because this grape shines on it’s own, as California has proved over and over again.
Though it boasts deep cassis flavors and dark color, its greatest attribute is structure or tannins. When making red wine, the grapes are pressed and the juice macerates with the tannin-producing skins and seeds before fermentation. Because Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small with thick skins. there is a naturally high ratio of skin and pits to juice, hence the pronounced structure.
More of a feeling than a flavor, tannins have a slightly bitter and astringent quality. They literally alter the texture of your inner cheeks and gums, making them feel like velvet, suede or sand paper. The sensations can feel ripe, integrated and pleasing, or green, rough and off-putting, depending on how the grapes are handled. Tannins show well in wines with abundant fruit and decent acidity, and Cabernet Sauvignon has both. Best of all, the tannins combine beautifully with fatty foods such as cheese and marbled beef to create a wonderful combination of textures and tastes.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this varietal is its pure expression. Whether priced at 8 bucks or 80, Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like itself. Lush, dark fruit, generous body and abundant tannins appear at every price point. And, like most great monarchies, it can stand the test of time. Fine wines that improve with age must start with good fruit and structure; thus, a high quality Cab does so with ease.
Try one of the bottles below, and taste why Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys the popularity of Chardonnay and Merlot with none of the backlash. Here are a few favorites under $15:
Montes Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchaugua Valley, Chile 2005, $10
Approachable and velvety soft, blended with Merlot and aged in oak for 6 months.
Armador Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley, Chile 2003, $10
A concentrated wine with dark fruit and tobacco on the finish.
L de Lythe Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma California, 2005, $11
Plum and black fruit aromas with a hind of cocoa, black currant and coffee. Nice structure, even better value.
Station Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2003, $14
Balanced and full bodied, displays great dark fruit without being jammy. Nice structure.
These gems carry a slightly bigger price tag, but they are worth it.
Chateau La Fleur Peyrabon, Bordeaux 2001
A silky Bordeaux with structure, depth and backbone. A classic Paulliac with 40% Merlot to add softness. $29
Beckmen Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez, California, 2003, $26
100% estate grown this wine offers a rich mouth-feel with flavors of ripe blackberries, cherries, spice and earth. Fine producer.
Angus Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia 2004, $19
Down Under represents. Dark fruit, smoky vanilla and cocoa aromas. Full with soft tannins and a long finish.
Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2004, $50
Classic cassis and warm spice aromas with flavors of dried black fruits with subtle touches of cedar, leather and black olive. A great Napa Cab that can age for years.