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By: Darren Gall Posted: November-19-2009 in
Darren Gall


Cabernet Sauvignon is arguably the most famous and widely planted red wine grape variety in the world, bringing prominence to regions from Bordeaux in France to the Napa Valley in California, Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia, Chile, South Africa even Tuscany Italy, where it helped establish the ‘Super Tuscans’ when blended with the local Sangiovese.

Yet the crown of this noble variety has been visibly slipping of late, much like the ubiquitous Chardonnay which has abruptly lost its mantle as the number one choice in white wine, Cabernet Sauvignon has come to be seen as something of a generic ‘everywhere’ red in some sections of the market and amongst many in the wine media. It has even been accused of being a ‘colonizer’ variety that takes over wine regions at the expense of native varieties.

I have to confess that I’ve never really been a great ‘Cabernet’ man; I was brought up in a wine school where you were inducted through Bordeaux but graduated through Burgundy, with lots of delightful detours along the way. However, that said, there are some magnificent wines made from this proudest of grape varieties, some of them regarded as amongst the finest wines in the world. These are wines that are worthy of the merit and respect they receive and the very examples of vinous excellence achieved with the variety; even a cynic like myself has to conceded they are indeed mighty fine wines.

One of the appealing aspects of the variety to grape growers and winemakers the world over is its robust nature; Cabernet Sauvignon will produce adequate (at the very least), wine grapes in just about any wine region in the world and the wines produced will still taste distinctly like Cabernet Sauvignon; unlike many more demanding and site specific varieties. The variety is also capable of producing wines that can have tremendous aging potential, due to their inky concentration of flavour, good retention of natural acidity and the firm tannins picked up from their thick skins. Some of the world’s most impressive ‘aged’ wines are indeed Cabernet Sauvignon based, fetching some of the highest auction prices in the global market. For consumers these points relate to the fact that the variety can be dependable when selecting a wine, can improve with time in the cellar and may present rewarding opportunity for the collector/investor.

The palate profile for Cabernet Sauvignon wines is most notably that the wine has a big fruit entry on the front of the mouth and a long lingering finish. However, the wines are also noted (particularly when young), to have a bit of a lull or weak mid-palate. This is why small additions of a favourable variety that has a rich mid palate is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, to add evenness to the palate profile of the wine. Most typically the varieties used are other noble Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec; in Australia, Shiraz is sometimes used to produce the classic Aussie red Claret blend. Most New World wines labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon do still have the addition of a small amount of Merlot or other complimentary varieties in them, because label laws allow for this under certain thresholds.

In Coonawarra, celebrated winemaker Ralph Fowler - who had learnt his craft under the revered Murray Tyrrell and was already very much a winemaking legend with some thirty odd vintages under his belt when I began working with him at Leconfield- used to compare the addition of some Merlot into the Cabernet Sauvignon base wines as like “putting the jam in the doughnut”. Together we would spend sometimes us long as several months in blending trials, seeking to add just the right amount of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc to the Cabernet Sauvignon; so as to add complexity and evenness to the palate without detracting from the core Cabernet Sauvignon flavours and qualities.

Cabernet Sauvignon displays typical primary flavours of herbaceousness through to mint and tobacco leaf characters in early ripeness leading to black olive and black current fruit characters in full ripeness.
Cabernet wines are almost always matured in oak barrels and the secondary, developed characters of cedar, cigar box, chocolate and coffee grinds lend further complexity to the wines. In youthful Cabernet Sauvignon these characters are wrapped in fine, persistent tannins to help ensure the wines aging potential.

The wines are perfectly matched to a variety of fuller flavoured dishes from beef, through to game meats like venison and duck; my perfect match given a Cabernet Sauvignon with a typical touch-of-mintiness has to be roast lamb with garlic and rosemary, surely there could be simply no better option in the entire world of wine -even for a skeptic like me!

Check your local wine retailer or wine menu for the following local examples of exceptionally good and relatively inexpensive

Cabernet Sauvignon:

Australia: Katnook Coonawarra Estate, Trentham Estate Cabernet / Merlot, Penfolds Bin 407, Majella Coonawarra, Parker Estate Coonawarra, Zema Estate Coonawarra, Xanadu Margaret River

Bordeaux France: Chateau Hostens Picant LUCULLUS Bordeaux, Chateau Meyney, Chateau La Gaborie, Chateau Des Tuquets, Chateau Grangenueve

California USA: Kendall Jackson

Chile: Anakena

An edited version of this article was published in last week's 7 Days Liftout of the Phnom Penh Post


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