Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most famous red grape variety in the world and is the backbone in many of the world’s most expensive wines.
Its versatility in the vineyard and ability to adapt to various terroirs allows winemakers around the globe to produce quality still red wines with plenty of tannic structure and complex flavors.
We provide you here with simple and practical information about the grape:
- A summary of its origin and history
- Information about the Top Cabernet Sauvignon producing countries and regions
- Infographic and aroma wheel to guide you through the wine’s flavor profile while tasting
- Wine & Food Matching suggestions
- TOP 10 Cabernet Sauvignon wines
You’re looking beyond Cab Sauv, find more Top Grapes Infographics & Information, or keep reading.
Social Vignerons would like to warmly thank the Team at Cellier Domesticus for designing the aroma infographics on this page based on an SV original concept. Learn more this mobile app and sensor that allows to precisely monitor your wine cellar storage conditions in real-time at Cellier Domesticus presentation page.
Origin and history in brief:
Cabernet Sauvignon originates from the Bordeaux wine region of France.
Its exact origin remained a mystery until the grape’s DNA was analysed at UC Davis, California at the end of the 1990s. The profiling revealed that Cabernet Sauvignon is a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
Thanks to its versatility and its ability to adapt and produce quality wines in many climatic and terroir conditions, Cabernet Sauvignon has spread all over the world. It now plays an important part in the winemaking of all major wine-producing countries, from Europe and the Old World to nearly all New World countries.
Top Producing Countries and Regions: Where is Cab Sauv Grown?
As the chart below reveals, France remains the largest producer of Cabernet Sauvignon by some distance with over 68,500 ha planted.
In France, Cabernet Sauvignon is mainly grown in its region of origin: Bordeaux. There, it is the key component of red wines made on the right bank of the Garonne River, the Médoc region in particular as well as the Pessac-Léognan/Graves area.
Together with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon is a key component of the Bordeaux blend: the traditional blend of the Bordeaux region grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec (in any possible combination and proportions).
Cabernet Sauvignon is also significantly planted in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon where it is commonly used for producing Vin de Pays or IGP wines.
Chile is the second largest producer of Cabernet Sauvignon by the vineyard surface area planted.
Cab Sauv grows particularly well all along the Central Valley (Valle Central) in the regions of Maipo, Colchagua, Maule, or Rapel.
Despite being ranked #3 Cab Sauv country in the world in terms of vineyard area, the United States and California in particular have become a second home for the grape.
Many of the most famous and expensive wines in the world, often coming out of Napa Valley use the grape as the backbone e.g. Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Opus One, and many more.
Cabernet Sauvignon is virtually grown all around the Australian continent.
The grape variety’s ability to resist dry and warm-to-hot growing conditions have made popular in all main wine regions of Australia from the Hunter Valley on the East Coast North of Sydney to Western Australia around Perth.
The most successful and famous regions growing Cabernet Sauvignon here are:
- Coonawarra and its famous limestone-based characteristic red soils called “terra rossa”
- the whole South Australia generally produces good if not great Cab Sauv, with the Barossa and McLaren Vale in particular
- Victoria has also widely adopted the grape, with the Yarra Valley using it often as part of Bordeaux blend wines. Heathcote and the Pyrenees are other examples of the success of the grape in the state
- Margaret River in Western Australia produces some of the most refined and elegant Cabernet wines in Australia, generally in a rather more-European style than others.
Australia was also famous for producing large amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with the iconic ‘local’ Shiraz variety, although the Aussie Shiraz/Cab wines have lost in popularity in recent times
Despite having a very important Cab Sauv vineyard surface area, Spain mainly uses Cabernet Sauvignon as a blending grape, providing additional tannic structure and aromas to the local Tempranillo, Garnacha, or Monastrell grapes. Catalunya in particular grows Cabernet widely, sometimes bottled as varietal wines.
In Italy, Cabernet Sauvignon has become particularly popular in Tuscany and is now with Merlot and the local Sangiovese a main constituent of modern Super Tuscan wines.
For plenty of valuable info about Super Tuscan wines, read my article on Snooth: The True Genesis of Super Tuscan Wine.
- Other Countries and regions
As the chart above highlights, China has planted over the past decade or so what has now become the 6th biggest Cab Sauv vineyard surface area.
Cabernet Sauvignon has always been very popular with Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, or Ukraine.
The grape has also been adopted all over the New World, most notably in South America like in Argentina (Mendoza), as well as South Africa, Mexico, or New Zealand.
Winemaking, Flavor and Aroma Profile
Cabernet Sauvignon grape has a very characteristic and easily identifiable aroma profile due to the intensity of its primary flavors coming from the grape.
To guide you through what the different Cabernet Sauvignon wines taste like, with our friends at Cellier Domesticus, we have assembled a simple yet complete Infographic that contains all the main aromas and flavors you will be able to commonly find in ‘Cab Sav’.
1- Primary Aromas is the term to describe the smells and flavors that come from the fruit itself, from the grapes (as opposed to the winemaking). Depending on the climate and the soil, whether it’s a cool climate or a warmer one, the primary aroma profile can vary greatly.
In a relatively cool climate like in Bordeaux where the grapes do not reach a very high level of maturation, wines can show typical herbaceous or herbal notes (green capsicum or bell pepper, eucalyptus, grass, green olive) together with ripe red fruit and berries aromas (strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant).
On the other end, in a warm or hot climate (like certain parts of California, Australia, or Chile for example), grape berries and their flavors will reach a higher level of ripeness revealing notes of darker fruits or jam like blackberry, black cherry, or plum/prune.
Most Cabernet Sauvignon wines combine several of the above fruit flavor families.
2- Secondary aromas describe the smells acquired by the wine thanks to the winemaking process. The natural flavors present in the grapes (primary aromas) combine and interact with the yeasts and bacteria that run the fermentation to create further aromatic complexity.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines are often put in contact with oak, through ageing in barrels and oak vats, or more cheaply through flavoring with toasted oak chips.
Maturation and contact with oak develop aromas of spices like clove or nutmeg.
The notes provided by ageing in wood vary depending on:
- the type of oak used: French, American, or Hungarian
- the level of toast of the oak, that is to say how high a temperature was used to toast the wood.
Light toast and French oak in particular bring aromas of hazelnut, cocoa, vanilla, or cedar.
Heavier toast levels (like a piece of bread left long in the toaster) add darker notes of coffee, charred wood, or smoke.
The use of American oak is famously identifiable for its important amount of coconut and cooked banana notes (think about what a Bourbon Whiskey smells like, plenty of American oak used there).
3- Tertiary aromas are developed in the bottle with age, as the wine’s molecules interact with each other and with oxygen, changing their aromatic profile. Typically, Cabernet Sauvignon develops notes of mushroom, leather, tobacco, and wood ashes.
If these flavors are too pronounced and become dominant, they can become negative. With time and bottle ageing, tertiary aromas become more and more intense, while fruity primary flavors slowly fade away until they disappear.
Most wine drinkers like when primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas are all equally present and combine to provide the maximum level of complexity. In the lifetime of a wine in bottle, there is a period of a few years where this wine aromas are perfectly balanced and provide the best experience and enjoyment: the ideal “drinking window”.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines generally age well:
- the affordable ones can easily endure for 3 to 5 years
- the best examples of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world like in Bordeaux (Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Sain-Estephe, and many more) or California can age and improve for decades.
To help you identify these various types of aromas at your next tasting, we’ve put together the following aroma wheel. Print it out and go through the different aroma sections while smelling the wine. If any smell rings the bell and seems to be present in the wine, you are not imagining. It is probably there and you hopefully know why now.
Wine and Food Matches:
Top 10 Cabernet Sauvignon Wines France & USA:
The most popular (and often expensive) fine wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon are without a doubt from France or California.
We’ve listed below 10 of the very finest examples (links below get you to their producer websites):
- Baron Philippe de Rothschild Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, France
- Chateau Margaux, France
- Opus One, Napa Valley, California
- Chateau Haut-Brion, Pessac-Leognan, France
- Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
- Domaines Barons de Rothschild Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Pauillac, France
- Caymus Vineyards Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA
- Chateau Cos d’Estournel, Saint-Estephe, France
- Chateau Lynch-Bages, Pauillac, France
- Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, USA
Some Top Cabernet Sauvignon Wines from around the World:
To try top examples of Cabernet Sauvignon wines in other countries, we’ve also selected a few from various regions around the globe:
- Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia
- Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto, Chile
- Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore, Tuscany, Italy (Bordeaux blend with 56% Cabernet Sauv)
- Mas de Daumas Gassac, IGP Pays de l’Herault, France
- Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, Australia
- Miguel Torres Mas La Plana Cabernet Sauvignon, Penedes, Spain
- Gaja Darmagi Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
- Meerlust Rubicon, Stellenbosch, South Africa
You’ve liked this Cab Sav profile and want to learn about other grape varieties?
Give us a hand by sharing this one on Social Media, then check out more Top Grapes Infographics & Information
Find further useful information about Cabernet Sauvignon grape’s history and countries of production on Wikipedia.
Jancis Robinson also publishes a very comprehensive article about the grape.
Check out all of Social Vignerons’ Cabernet Sauvignon-related articles and reviews.
Again Social Vignerons would like to warmly thank the Team at Cellier Domesticus for supporting the production of this page and designing the aroma infographics on this page based on an SV original concept.
Learn more this mobile app and sensor that allows to precisely monitor your wine cellar storage conditions in real-time at Cellier Domesticus presentation page or click on the images below: