Look at any list of award-winning reds, and you'll see more than a few Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-grown grape variety in the world.
But it wasn't always this way. Thirty years ago, merlot was the most widely planted wine grape. Over the past few decades, Cabernet Sauvignon has steadily increased in popularity, outpacing all other wines.
Now, more than 840,000 acres are dedicated to its cultivation.
Whether you want to become a wine fundi or just want to know how to serve Cabernet Sauvignon the correct way at steak night, this guide is for you.
We take a look at the origins of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, where it's grown, and its flavor profile. We also do a deep dive on how to serve Cabernet Sauvignon and what food to pair it with.
Keep reading to uncork everything you need to know about this beautiful red.
What Is Cabernet Sauvignon?
If you're wondering, "What is Cabernet Sauvignon?" it's a variety of red wine grape. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are what go into Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
However, the term Cabernet Sauvignon usually refers to the wine rather than the grape.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are red and have very thick skins packed with tannins, color, and lots of acidity. These characteristics are perfect for cellaring and long aging periods.
Speaking of age, Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively young wine grape.
The exact origins of Cabernet Sauvignon have been lost in the mists of history. But it's widely believed that Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
As far as we know, the cross originated in the 17th century in the Médoc area of the Bordeaux region in France.
Initially, Cabernet Sauvignon became a key player in a lot of different Bordeaux blends. It slowly spread out of the region and was cultivated in other wine regions.
During the 19th century, wine plantation owners brought Cabernet Sauvignon to the US, Chile, Australia, and other regions.
Grapes can be very picky about where they grow, but the Cabernet Sauvignon wine grape displayed an unusual (and valuable) ability to thrive in a range of climates and soils.
This adaptability wasn't just good for international wine-grape farmers. It also produced some beautiful and interesting nuances in flavors.
Today, wine farms all over the world grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, and the cultivar is a cornerstone of a multitude of iconic wines.
Because Cabernet Sauvignon grapes can be grown in so many regions, this has given rise to a huge array of expressions. Cabernet wines can taste very different depending on the climate, soil, and altitude where the grapes grow.
If the vintage was cloudy or the weather was cold, Cabernet can present a serious, structured flavor profile, heavy on green aromas.
On the other hand, if the climate is warm or the vintage is perfect, the Cabernet will freely give out black fruit aromas and alcoholic warmth.
Here are some of the primary wine regions renowned for their Cabernet Sauvignon production.
Bordeaux is definitely the "OG" Cabernet Sauvignon capital. Here you can find some of the most savory expressions, as well as the most age-worthy.
However, Bordeaux doesn't boast many single expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon. The lion's share is blended.
Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux tends to taste more intensely of herbal floral flavors, such as violets, graphite, and tobacco, underpinned by hints of licorice and black cherries.
South Australia has two regions that produce exceptional expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon. Their warm climates and iron-rich clay soils yield expressions with loads of depth and powerful tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines from this region also tend to have distinct notes of white pepper or bay leaf.
If you're shopping with a connoisseur's eye, here's a hot top. There are a lot of Australian Cabernets bottled with a screw cap. Don't let the bottle top drive your selection.
Chile offers some truly top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon wines at the best prices. The secret is to shop by region. Some of the best regions to look out for include the Aconcagua, Cachapoal, Colchagua, and Maipo Valleys.
Maipo Valley is perfectly positioned where the cool Pacific breezes and hot inland winds meet. The result? One of the best Mediterranean climates for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Alto Maipo, a sub-region of the area, produces some truly exquisite Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Napa Valley, USA
Napa Valley in California is also putting out some stellar Cabernet Sauvignon wine. The warm climate and diverse soils result in rich, fruity flavors and bold bodies.
If you'd like to try out a mid-range Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, we'd recommend Double Eagle by Grieve Family, the flagship wine of this fine estate.
The Stellenbosch wine area of South Africa is known throughout the world for its high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The coastal climate and varied soils produce wines with great aging potential, structure, and ripe fruity character.
If you want to sample a Cabernet Sauvignon from this incredible region, the Tokara Stellenbosch Cabernet balances rich flavors with standout value.
Cabernet Sauvignon is famous for its full body and intense tannins. It has a substantial mouth-feel, lots of depth, and a high level of complexity.
As we said earlier, the flavor profiles of Cabernet Sauvignon wines depend very much on the region they come from. Warmer climates usually produce flavor profiles that are sumptuous and fruity.
More inclement regions tend to yield more savory and smoky notes.
However, the primary notes you'll find in a good Cabernet Sauvignon include:
- Dark fruits like black cherry, cassis, and blackberry
- Herbal aromas, including green bell pepper, mint, and eucalyptus
- Earthy and woody characteristics such as tobacco and cedar
- Spices like black pepper or clove
Certain Cabernet Sauvignon wines can have hints of dark chocolate. If a Cabernet Sauvignon has been aged in an oak barrel, you might also detect hints of vanilla, oak, and even baking spices.
Wine has a higher alcohol content than a lot of people assume, and Cabernet Sauvignon wines have some of the highest. For instance, a California Cabernet Sauvignon can have an ABV of 13.5%-14.5%.
How to Serve Cabernet Sauvignon
If you're interested in wines, you now have the backstory behind the cultivar and some basic info on its flavor characteristics.
If you want to do this full-bodied red wine justice, you have to pay attention to how you serve it. A good Cabernet Sauvignon will never disappoint, but if you want it to really shine, there are a few best practices to follow.
Even though 69% of wine-drinking adults favor red as their wine of choice, many people don't realize the impact that serving can have on a vintage.
Here's how to serve Cabernet Sauvignon to show it off to its full potential.
Letting It Breathe
The first step to serving Cabernet Sauvignon like a pro is to let it breathe.
Letting wine breathe allows the flavors and aromas to "open up" and helps to soften the tannins. Highly structured wines like Cabernet Sauvignon can have "closed" flavors and aromas upon opening.
When the wine comes into contact with oxygen, these subdued flavors start to open, the tannins soften, and more aromatic compounds can become active.
There are two ways to let a Cabernet Sauvignon breathe. You can just uncork the bottle, or you can decant it.
If you choose to simply uncork the bottle, leave it uncorked for about an hour before pouring. If the wine is young or cut with chunky tannins, you can increase the breathing time to two hours.
If you're dealing with a light-bodied wine, 30 minutes of breathing time should be enough.
If you're short on time and want to pour as soon as possible, decanting is a good option. Slowly decant the wine and let it breathe. Decanting allows the wine to come into contact with more oxygen, so you won't have to wait as long.
Most Cabernets do best when decanted for 30-60 minutes.
Decanting is also preferable for very mature wines.
If you're dealing with a Cabernet Sauvignon that's been aged for more than 8 years, decanting will reveal the best flavor compounds. But you will only have a small window of aeration, as the older the wine is, the more fragile it becomes and the faster it will react with oxygen.
For Cabernets that are older than 15 years, don't decant for more than 15 minutes.
Temperature is another thing to think about when serving Cabernet Sauvignon. Red wine is traditionally served at room temperature. But things get a little more complicated when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a very full-bodied red wine. If you serve this type of wine too warm, the alcohol will overpower the flavor profile and throw the structure out of balance.
Ideally, the best Cabernet Sauvignon serving temperature is between 59-64 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is far cooler than the ambient temperature in most homes. It's also warmer than the average refrigerator setting. If you have a dedicated wine cooler, and you only stock it with Cabernet, you can set it to the warmest setting.
If you don't have a wine cooler, or want to use it to chill other wines that require a lower temperature, here's what to do.
Simply place your bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon in your refrigerator for about 45 minutes before you breathe or decant the wine.
Another secret to serving Cabernet Sauvignon like a pro (or a sommelier) is to choose the right glassware.
Ideally, you should serve your Cabernet Sauvignon in a wine glass with a wide bowl and a narrow rim. This will allow the perfect amount of oxygen to reach the surface of the wine.
A big bowl and tapered rim also gives you ample room to swirl the wine, which can infuse more oxygen into it.
Besides knowing how to serve Cabernet Sauvignon, you also need to know what to serve it with.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of those wines that can take a meal to new heights, but its robust body means you can't pair it with just anything.
A light meal with a white meat main isn't the best Cabernet Sauvignon pairing. If you're drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, you should definitely be enjoying it with dishes that can contend with its tannins.
Here are a few time-tested options to consider.
Red meats are a go-to mains option if you're planning on serving Cabernet Sauvignon. The big body, bold flavors, and strong structural components make it a perfect pairing.
Cabernet Sauvignon can complement just about any red meat dish. But if you're after ideas, here's some inspiration to get your culinary creative juices flowing:
- Grilled steak
- Roast lamb
- Roast beef
- Beef stew
- Short ribs
- Beef burgers
- Smoked meats
- Braised pork
Out of all of these, the simplest and most classic choice has to be a great cut of steak enjoyed with a glass of fine Cabernet Sauvignon.
Venison is also a standout pairing. Its strong gamey flavors can be more than a match for most wines. But the robust flavor profile of Cabernet Sauvignon can more than hold its own against any game.
Speaking of robust flavors, Cabernet Sauvignon makes a great pairing with most strong-flavored foods, such as aged cheeses and smoked meats.
It's an ideal wine choice if you're serving a charcuterie board, graced by smoked sausages, cured meats, and strong cheeses.
"Anything oily" might not be the most mouthwatering thought, but hear us out. If you're going to serve a rich dish, such as oxtail or anything else that can contain a lot of oil, a great bottle of cab sav is your friend.
Why? Because the tannins and acidity can perfectly counterbalance and cut through the richness of fatty dishes. This can help to cleanse the palate and prevent it from becoming heavy.
Tomato-based dishes are another classic Cabernet Sauvignon pairing. Tomato sauces have a certain intensity that Cabernet Sauvignon can match to a tee.
Think bolognese, pasta with red sauce, ratatouille, etc.
A Perfect Match For Mushrooms
Mushrooms are packed with umami flavors, and most mushroom dishes pair beautifully with Cabernet Sauvignon. Anything from mushroom pizza to mushroom risotto can make for a perfect combo on a night when you want to uncork a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Browse Our Selection of Cabernet Sauvignon
It's no accident that Cabernet Sauvignon is the world's favorite red wine. This full-bodied cultivar yields complex, rich flavors and aromas. Its high tannin content means it can age superbly and pair perfectly with strong-flavored dishes.
Now that you know how to serve Cabernet Sauvignon like a certified sommelier, do you need to stock up on a great cab sav?
Here at Liquorama, we stock a wide range of wines. Browse our selection of Cabernet Sauvignon to add this robust, full-mouthed wine to your home cellar and enjoy delivery to your door.