Cabernet Sauvignon: The King of Grapes


It’s versatile, it grows easily, and everyone knows it. What’s not to love about this favorite wine?

Long referred to as the world’s most famous wine grape, Cabernet Sauvignon also possesses immense depth. Grown in almost all wine regions around the globe, from Sicily to Sonoma, Chile to Bordeaux; the red wine grape expresses its flavor differently depending on the region. A detection of green bell pepper might emerge on the palate with one bottle, but with another it’s all about silky notes of chocolate and cherries.

Those diverse flavor profiles, and that you can explore the world simply by sniffing, swirling, and tasting this grape, continue to make Cabernet Sauvignon an easy sell to diners. Not only is it familiar to many, it’s also a wine that’s been available in the U.S. since the middle part of last century, first as an import from Bordeaux, France; and later as a New World varietal stemming out of wine production pockets in California.

In 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon was California’s second-leading table wine sold within the U.S., representing about 16 percent of total volume, according to Gomberg, Fredikson & Associates. Similarly, sales of Cabernet Sauvignon inside American supermarkets spiked 6.5 percent during 2009, compared to the previous year, according to data by the Nielsen Company.

“Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the biggest red wine varietal in the U.S. You can take it all the way back to Bordeaux,” says Austin Hope, winemaker at Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, which began making wine in this Central Coast area of California in 1978. Cabernet Sauvignon wines fall within its Liberty School and Treana brands.

“Cabernet has changed dramatically over the last 10 years but it’s definitely the go-to wine. It used to be much more brawny, with a tannic edge,” Hope says, “but they’re silky now.”

The King of Grapes

What was once an oaky, husky red wine is now lighter and delicate, but with equal amounts of dark fruit and complexity.

“Over the years it’s been less about aging and more about drinking immediately,” says Stephanie Putnam, director of winemaking at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley. “The focus now, instead of extraction, is about velvetiness and softness.”

Yet one of the challenges restaurateurs face is getting customers to look beyond Napa Valley, where the winemakers are traditionally celebrated for turning out bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon that score high with wine critics. In fact, within one of the most storied, legendary wine regions—Bordeaux, France—is where the world’s most expensive bottles are produced, including Chateau Lafite Rothschild (a majority Cabernet Sauvignon blend); a bottle of the 2002 vintage will set you back about $1,000.


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