Cabernet Sauvignon: A noble grape
If you have ever tried a red wine from Bordeaux, France, you will have tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon (cab-err-nay sew-vin-yon) varietal.
Whilst the Bordeaux region is the most famous in the world for Cabernet wines, there are many other regions that produce exceptional examples too – including Australia!
Today is Cabernet Sauvignon Day, so read on as we explore all things Cabernet Sauvignon, including how it became one of the most expensive and well-known wines in the world.
A noble grape variety
Cabernet Sauvignon was first produced in the 17th century in Bordeaux, France after the spontaneous reproduction of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It's pretty incredible to think this full-bodied, unctuous red was produced from a red and a white variety!
In comparison to other well-known French varietals such as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, the discovery of Cabernet Sauvignon was relatively recent, however its rapid rise to fame was unprecedented and it is now the most widely planted grape variety in the world, with around 350,000 hectares under vine.
The rich, dark flavours that Cabernet Sauvignon produce became famous amongst wine lovers from around the world and plantings are now found across Europe and in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa. Some of the most highly sought after and collected wines are those made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, 20 bottles of Bordeaux are sold around the world every second!
Cabernet Sauvignon rose to fame in Bordeaux, with the world renowned ‘Bordeaux blend’ of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sometimes small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. Over 90% of wines produced in this region are red wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
If you want to try a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend, look for wines from the ‘left bank’ in Bordeaux – the Médoc (Pauillac, Saint-Julien, Saint-Estephe, Margaux and Pessac-Leognan) and Graves appellations. In comparison, wines from the ‘right bank’ of Bordeaux are Merlot dominant.
Interestingly, due to the increasing pressure of climate change on wine growing regions around the world, in 2019 Bordeaux became the first French region to allow 'foreign' varieties to be planted. This included a native Portuguese variety Touriga Nacional, which has caused severe controversy with many winemakers speaking out against these experimental plantings.
Bordeaux blends were once commonly referred to as Claret in the United Kingdom. Claret was one of the most popular wines amongst royalty and high society in medieval England. It was even rumoured to have been served at the wedding of King Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152!
The popularity of Claret continued for hundreds of years, with hundreds of thousands of litres being transported to the UK across the English Channel from France in the 1700s and 1800s.
Beloved by Australia
Australian wine pioneer James Busby first brought Cabernet Sauvignon to our shores in 1832, however unfortunately the first vineyard sites planted were unsuitable for the variety to thrive and most of the vines did not survive. Due to this, Cabernet Sauvignon was initially not thought of as a high-quality wine and fruit was mainly used as a blending component.
After plantings were made in other regions of Australia, such as Coonawarra and the Barossa in the late 1800s, it became apparent that certain regions had the ultimate soil and climate for Cabernet Sauvignon and single varietal expressions became much more popular. The variety eventually made its way to Margaret River in the 1960s and arguably put this small Western Australian wine region on the world stage.
Australia is now home to the world’s oldest producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines, planted in 1886 in the northern Barossa, South Australia, however it’s more recent rise to fame in Australia can be shown in the numbers – in 1966 there were only 620 tonnes of Cabernet Sauvignon and nowadays there are over 260,000 tonnes crushed annually!
If you have seen the movie ‘Bottleshock’ you may be aware of the Paris Judgement, where wines from California were blind tasted against their French counterparts in the late 1970s. In this tasting, both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California were chosen in favour of the French wines, causing huge uproar amongst the French judges! This tasting and the media frenzy that followed, really put Cabernet Sauvignon from the New World on the map.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a late ripening vine that prefers moderate, dry regions. If it’s too hot the fruit characters become less defined, but can still be used in blends – adding tannin structure and body to the wine.
High quality Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its intense colour, firm tannin structure, rich dark fruits and herbal notes. Often extremely full-bodied when young, this is a wine that improves with age.
Because Cabernet Sauvignon is related to Sauvignon Blanc, it shares a common aroma family called methoxypyrazines – famous for green capsicum aromas and flavours!
Other common aromas and flavours are:
- Black cherry
Cabernet Sauvignon loves food
The acidity and tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon make it a wine that pairs excellently with food. Think rich meat dishes such as lamb, beef, game and braised meat dishes like ragu.
Single Varietal Cabernet Sauvignon
Best in Show, 97 Points - Decanter World Wine Awards 2023
"Matured for 15 months in French oak (22% new). Potently intense fruit here – the wine enters the mouth with fanfare and pomp; the fruit that gathers there is riddled with cassis, raspberry leaf, black tea, pepper, exotic spice and more. Classical Cabernet from Margaret River, from a great vintage. Exactly what we have come to expect from the Redbrook Reserve range."
- 96 Points, Halliday Wine Companion 2023
"The 2018 Moonambel Cabernet Sauvignon is fleshy and bright in the glass, but the fruit – succulent as it is – is underpinned by a foundation of rock and minerals. The tannins are firm for sure; they frame the wine and assist the fruit in its journey across the palate. Polished yet with an open weave and complex in a black way, this is a bit of a marvel."
- 95 Points, Robert Parker Wine Advocate 2022
"The panel enjoyed the vibrancy and dense floral/fruit concentration in this wine, so I was not surprised to find out there is 12 per cent Malbec in the blend. Value for money is through the roof. This is big on flavour, a little juicy up-front, finishing with plush, dry tannins. Classical blackcurrant, tapenade and cocoa powder. Drink now or cellar and enjoy for up to five years."
- 93 Points, The West Australian Wine Guide 2023
"Fruit from the Deep Woods vineyard in Yallingup (in the north). Up to 14 days on skins, seperate batches are sent straight to barrel for maturation in French oak (15% new). $25, and you know it's going to be good. Fine, shapely, powdery tannins (slightly chewy, too) back up the concentrated, ripe, red and black berry fruit. With a sprinkling of ground star anise, peppercorns and laced together with briny acidity, this is a cracking little wine. Super-smart."
- 94 Points, Halliday Wine Companion 2023
Cabernet Sauvignon Blends
"At once powerful yet contained with the varieties (percentage split unknown) beautifully matched. While the classy cabernet aromas and flavours come through, they are rendered more savoury by the malbec and oak. The fuller-bodied palate is alive and vibrant, flavours build and the tannins have presence, all textural and ripe. The finish lingers long as will this wine as in at least two decades."
- 96 Points, Halliday Wine Companion 2024
"Very deep and youthful red-purple colour, bright and shiny; intense cassis aroma, subtly briary, concentrated fruit evident. The wine is full-bodied and firmly structured, a powerhouse with lavish tannins which are in good balance with the considerable strength of the fruit. There's a lovely core of sweet fruit. This will be long lived and richly reward cellaring."
- 95 Points, The Real Review 2023
"Remarkable that this exceptional value red wine still sells for around $15. Over the years it has regularly been judged best value wine and this is another supreme example of the easy drinking style that has made it so popular. Spicy lift to the plush fruits is so appealing."
- 92 Points, Ray Jordan Wine Guide 2023
Browse all Fogarty Wine Group Cabernet Sauvignon wines and blends here and be sure to celebrate International Cabernet Sauvignon Day with a glass of wine and some delicious food!