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Thick skin, big pips – how Cabernet Sauvignon came to dominate

One of the most well known wine grapes in the world, one that crafts the age-worthy collectibles of Bordeaux and California, the red variety we call the “King of Grapes,” a grape planted in just about every wine growing region in the world, and the grape that has it’s own day (August 30) to celebrate it. That’s right. We’re talking Cabernet Sauvignon.

But from where did Cabernet Sauvignon originally hail? Due to its popularity and its ability to grow in so many places, one would think it dates back to the beginning of wine as we know it. But in fact, Cabernet Sauvignon is a fairly recent variety. Thanks to DNA testing, we now know that it spawns from a crossing between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Seems obvious given the name, but fascinating nonetheless. The grape can have what we call a “bell pepper” characteristic, something found in both Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

Cabernet Sauvignon established itself as one of the premier wine varieties of the world by having a number of distinguishing characteristics.

1. Thick skin, big pips. Kind of metaphor in our own life, too – you need those things to survive, flourish and become king, which defines Cabernet Sauvignon in the grape world! With a high pip to pulp ratio, and those thick skins, the grape is super high in phenolics. That makes wine with lots of color and pretty significant tannins.

2. A “varietal” flavor blended with a reflection from where it’s grown. This may sound like every grape, but Cabernet Sauvignon is in fact unique in this. Not only does it taste like Cabernet Sauvignon, it tastes like the region from which it comes.

3. Ageability. Chalk that up to those thick skins and big pips. High phenolics can make a wine that ages, and ages well. Examples of course are Bordeaux, some California Cabernet, and more new world bottlings that are proving what the grape can do.

Cabernet is also a blender. Rarely does it produce top quality wines on its own (though it can). Instead, it is backed by supporting roles from grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and, in the new world regions, grapes like Syrah and Carmenere. It is one of the most well-known grape varieties in the world. It’s unique, yet adaptable. It graces many a table, pairs well with a steak and is a go-to bottle for many.

So stock up on some Cabernet and celebrate the King of Grapes on August 30.

 

The ageability of Cabernet

One of the most attractive aspects of Cabernet Sauvignon, especially to collectors, is its ability to age. For a long time. The bountiful phenolics of the grape produce a wine able to age for a very long time in the cellar. Not that every Cab should age, but those made have that ability, and for those who have tasted the result, you are well aware of the benefits you reap when you age the right bottle.

So how do you know if a bottle is worth throwing in the cellar and for how long? For those not terribly experienced with knowing wines, regions, grapes and which wines are meant to age, it’s pretty difficult. A wine’s ageability can only be assessed once it is tasted. It has to have the structure, the backbone, the complexity, the balance and a certain weight to it to be age-worthy. Not to say it has to be a heavy wine, but it needs substance. So many wines taste good right now, right away, and they are meant to! Those that will benefit from age may taste delicious now, they may not. They may taste “tight” or “tannic.” Once you’ve tasted enough wines, you may know which can be cellared longer than others. Until then, take a few things into account.

Region- certain regions are known to produce age-worthy wines, like Bordeaux, Piedmont (Italy), Rioja… And others are known to produce drink-them-now styles, like Australia and Chile. However, regions known for aged wines and regions known for early wines both will produce the opposite as well.
Producer – may be a better way to gauge whether a wine has that cellar potential. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild certainly does not produce a bottle meant to be drunk the same year, while Yellow Tail probably doesn’t make many bottles that will last more than 2.
Price – I realize you should never judge a bottle on price, but if you find a Cabernet under $15, I’m going to take an educated guess that keeping it in the cellar 20 years will NOT make it taste better. Quality wines meant for long term ageing will probably have a higher price tag.
Reviews – I don’t mean ratings, I mean the actual reviews. Read what the critics have to say. They have been tasting wines for some time and have an idea of how long a wine might be able to age. They are not always right, but they often give ranges of when a wine could be drunk.  It may not be exact, but it could help in figuring out if it’s your ideal wedding wine or your 10 year wedding anniversary wine.

Remember, wine is not an exact science, there are no rules that cant’ be broken and it’s all about you. Also remember the majority (and I mean over 90%) of wines are meant to be drunk within the first few years of release. Cheers :)