Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely grown grape in the world. Many people believe Cabernet Sauvignon is king of Red Wine in Bordeaux (and rightly so as it celebrated its humble beginnings mainly in the Bordeaux region). However, on the Right Bank of the Garrone, just a little more inland, is where Cabernet Franc is king. Interestingly enough, although Cabernet Sauvignon typically makes up a large percentage of any Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Franc is the parent grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, crossed with Sauvignon Blanc. The characteristics Cabernet Sauvignon possesses is what makes it a great grape to blend with and one that is found as a single varietal wine worldwide. So…what’s in that grape that makes it so great?
The actual structure of the grape itself is where it all begins. Properly farmed and managed vineyards of Cabernet Sauvignon will produce low yields that result in tightly-formed bunches with small berries ranging in size from about a centimeter and a half or slightly smaller. The color of the mature grapes is an inky blackish-blue or the color of a fresh blueberry. If you were to eat one of these grapes, they are quite fleshy in their concentrated pulp and the skin is very thick and almost impossible to break down completely by chewing on it. Most of the time you would spit it out as it is quite tough. The flavors of the grape, rather than being sweet are oftentimes savory, like a bell pepper, or of a fresh blackberry, with nips of spice and other herbaceous notes. Sounds like a wine description a bit, does it not? This might sound like a silly detail to go into, but these are the characteristics that help make a good Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lower skin to pulp ratio creates a concentrated wine and one with a potential of complex aromatics and structure. The key is: if you begin with a quality ingredient you can create a quality wine. The thick structure of the skin of a Cabernet Sauvignon grape is what imparts the dark color into the wine along with the aromas described above from the flavors of the grape itself. Many other aromas are extracted during the fermentation process, sometimes hundreds of them, as this chemical processes changes and mutates the juice or wine the fastest. The skins also give way to the structure of wine, such as tannin (described in the article ‘What is a Dry Wine’). This tannic structure imparted into the wine is also what makes it so perfect for barrel aging. The barrel adds tannin which will balance out the grape tannins in the fermented wine. And finally, following what is usually a secondary fermentation (malolactic fermentation), softening harsh or tart acids in the wine, your result is that of a full-bodied Cabernet we all know and love.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christie Kiley, International Sommelier and Chef, has over a decade of experience in both restaurants and wineries. She began working kitchens under talented chefs. Nights off from the kitchen, she would work at the same restaurant as a server. Her passion for food grew into the wine industry. She has worked wine harvests in Napa, learning the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants and wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, has given Christie an in-depth knowledge in both food and wine throughout many aspects. She currently lives in Buenos Aires, where she has just received her International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study. She works as a wine and food writer and Sommelier at a boutique hotel in Palermo where you can catch her most nights of the week entertaining guests with her unique wine tastings.