Lesson 06 – Grape Talk : Cabernet Sauvignon
Bordeaux’s Lafite-Rothschild, Mouton-Rothschild and Latour, America’s Screaming Eagle, Silver Oak Napa Valley, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, Opus One and BV George de Latour and Italy’s Sassicaia, what do these legendary wines have in common? It’s a grape called Cabernet Sauvignon.
What is it about Cabernet Sauvignon that makes such legendary wines and they seem be forever young?
- The thick skin of Cabernet Sauvignon produces a lot of tannins for the wine to develop structure for a well-balanced wine.
- Long hang-time (length of time spent on the vine before the grape is ripe for harvesting) enables the grape to develop richer phenolics which are essential for a wine to be complex otherwise all we get is a simple wine quite easy to forget.
- The acids in Cabernet form the foundation needed for the fruit flavors of the wine to stay fresh while it improves with age for many decades.
So why doesn’t everybody just forget about the other 1000 grape varieties and plant only Cabernet Sauvignon then?
- Not all locations are suitable for Cabernet Sauvignon. It is quite partial to moderately warm and slightly arid climate. Too cold or too warm, in very rich soils or in locations starved for sun light and the resulting wines become herbaceous and lacking in fruit flavors.
- It ripens later than many other varieties such as Merlot, so harvest takes place later in the year. This means it is particular susceptible to late season rains which can ruin an otherwise perfect vintage. Planting Cabs in places prone to heavy rains during that part of the year is really asking for trouble.
- Cabernet Sauvignon wine tends to be a bit too firm and muscular. To make it more approachable, other grapes such as Merlot for example is frequently planted for blending to add flesh and makes the wine a little suppler. Straight 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines are more of an exception than a rule these days.
ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEW WORLD AND OLD WORLD CABS?
Old World Cabernet Sauvignon red wines are packed with aromas of violets, cassis and cedar. From the New World regions, aromas lend towards chocolate, blackberry and pepper, with various degree of oak and earth. But Cabernets from both worlds converge on food pairings of red meat, intense pasta, venison and lamb. For the more sophisticated palates and armed with a matured say 15-20 year old vintage Cabernet, try kangaroo or quail with wine reduction sauce served with some high-protein quinoa.
Second to Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon comes packed with a high concentration of resveratrol which researches prove to help our bodies increase our good (High Density) cholesterol. Viticulture tells us that Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce resveratrol to protect themselves, not us. Humans are not the only ones with a keen interest in longevity. Wines need a long life span to have any chance of achieving greatness.
Like all varietals, there are great renditions and there are the mediocre versions. And then there are the superstars from which legends are born such as these wines, recognized as wines of the last century. They are based primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild
- 1961 Château Latour
- 1959 Château Lafite-Rothschild
- 1900 Château Margaux
- 1929 Château Haut-Brion
- 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
- 1968 Beaulie Vineyard George de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Down a notch, there are hundreds of labels to choose from. Try a Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon, a Silver Oak Napa Cab or a classic like Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou and Calon Segur. Bear in mind that Cabernet Sauvignon needs time to age and mature before it can show you what it’s got. Drinking a Cab too young is punishment on both the palate and the wallet. A minimum of 10 years of age would be a good rule for a good Cab. Even the good wines from New-World regions are beginning to emphasize cellar-worthiness.
Merlot, Shiraz, Zindanfel, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, they come, they shine and they retire. If there is any constant in the fluid world of (red) wine, it that the fact that Pinot Noir will always be noble but Cabernet Sauvignon will always be poured when the minds are tired of making choices and decisions.