What Is Cabernet Sauvignon Wine?

A Guide to Buying, Drinking, and Pairing Cabernet Sauvignon

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In This Article

Cabernet sauvignon (sometimes simply referred to as "cab") is one of the most popular red wine grapes and is grown in wine regions around the world. The deep blue grapes are a cross between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc with thick, durable skin and hearty vines. It's best known in the Bordeaux region of France, where it is used in the popular Bordeaux blend. The resulting wine tends to be robust with medium acidity and tannins and flavors of rich, dark fruit. It has slightly elevated levels of alcohol for red wine and pairs well with food.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa, Australia, Argentina
  • Origin: Bordeaux, France
  • Sweetness: Dry
  • Color: Deep purple-red
  • ABV: 13.5–15.5% 

Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot

Since cabernet sauvignon and merlot are popular red wine grapes that are frequently blended together, they can sometimes be confused. The two varietals are actually related, making them a natural pair. Merlot is thinner-skinned and ripens earlier than cabernet. It's a softer, fruit-forward wine that can stand alone or balance out grapes like sauvignon blanc in a blend.

Taste and Flavor Profile

Cabs are decidedly dry in style and range from medium-bodied to full-bodied. They are characterized by higher tannins, which serve to provide structure and complexity while supporting the rich dark fruit characteristics. The popular red wine displays medium acidity and is commonly paired with food. The most common aromatic and flavor components found in cabernet sauvignon are dark fruits like plum, black cherry, and blackberry along with warm spice, vanilla, licorice, and black pepper. You will frequently whiff aromas of tobacco and leather.

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a good look at the wine, examining the color and opacity through the glass.
  2. Smell: Swirl your glass for 10 seconds and take a quick whiff. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (berries, spice, wood) and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Cabernet sauvignon has its historical and regional roots firmly planted in France, specifically Bordeaux. Cabernet sauvignon grapes grow well in a variety of soil conditions in warmer climates with plenty of sunshine. A late budding and late harvest grape, cab is typically grown in the spring and summer months and are harvested in the fall.

Cabernet sauvignon is a grape that shows riper fruit character from warmer New World wine regions like California, Washington, Chile, and Australia. Napa Valley has built a reputation on the back of cabernet sauvignon, creating some serious palate power and remarkable aging potential. In Old World regions, like Italy and France, cab is most often blended. Bordeaux's best blends consist primarily of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cab franc. In Italy, cabernet sauvignon is typically found in the gutsy "Super Tuscan," a red wine blend that falls outside of Italy's strict DOC appellation regulations.

Food Pairings

Thanks to the tighter tannins in cabernet sauvignon, this wine is built for fat and protein. Red meat is its first love. Everything from burgers and brats to prime rib and hearty sausage dishes pairs perfectly with the red wine. Strong-flavored cheese (think Stilton, cheddar, or Gruyere) and umami-rich mushroom dishes marry well with cab. A mushroom Swiss burger with truffle aioli would make a delicious pairing.

Cabernet sauvignon is aged in oak, with some more affordable, fruit-forward bottles meant for immediate consumption, while others can be successfully cellared for a decade or more. Decant cabernet sauvignon for at least 30 minutes and serve in a red wine glass to allow its complex aromas and flavors to open up. The roomy glass also allows you to swirl the wine when tasting.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

Cabernet sauvignon is easy to find in wine shops around the world—it often has its own section of the store. You'll also find plenty of blends heavily featuring the grape. If you can't find a good cab at the right price, look for a merlot.

There are countless vineyards making cabernet sauvignon in Napa and beyond. Here are some quality winemakers to get you started:

  • Heitz
  • Caymus Vineyards
  • Amici
  • Markham
  • Gallo
  • Columbia Crest
  • Stack House
  • Sterling Vineyards
  • Jardin