Cabernet Sauvignon: Your Guide to the World's Most Popular Red Wine
Even if you don't know much about wine, chances are you're familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon. As one of the most popular red wine grape varieties in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry, versatile, and reliable choice whether you're dining out with friends or simply unwinding at home. (No surprise that we chose it along with Zinfandel as part of our Usual Wines red wine blend.)
So, what makes this wine so special? Glad you asked. In this guide, we're sharing everything you need to know about this beloved beverage, including where it comes from, what it tastes like, and how it's made. We've also included the best temperature for serving, fabulous food pairings, and the type of glass you may want to use before uncorking your next bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
What Is Cabernet Sauvignon?
Often called "Cab" for short, Cabernet Sauvignon is a hybrid of the red Cabernet Franc grape and white Sauvignon Blanc grape. Also known as Petit-Bouchet, Petit-Cabernet, and Sauvignon Rouge, the black-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape is renowned for its thick skin, resilience against the elements, and ability to proliferate in a variety of climates.
It's grown in nearly every wine-producing country in a range of climates. Some of the most notable wine regions include France (Bordeaux), California (Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles), Washington state (Columbia Valley), Italy (Tuscany), Australia (Coonawarra), Chile (Maipo Valley), Argentina, South Africa, and New Zealand.
Tasting Notes on Cabernet Sauvignon
Flavors will vary a bit depending on where the grapes are grown and the specific winemaking process. But in general, Cabernet Sauvignon has dark fruit flavors of blackcurrant (cassis), black cherry, blackberry with notes of green bell pepper, spice, tobacco, wood, and vanilla (from aging in oak barrels). No matter which wine region it grows in, Cabernet Sauvignon is dry and tends to be full-bodied with medium-to-high tannins and palpable acidity.
As such, Cab often ages well — on average, you can keep it in a wine cellar for 7-10 years. Compare that to Merlot, which you can cellar for 3-5 years, and Pinot Noir, which you should drink within five years. For more ways to make your wine last, be sure to check out our guide on how to store wine.
How Is Cabernet Sauvignon Made?
Like all types of wine, Cabernet Sauvignon starts at the vineyard with the grapes being harvested and pressed before the fermentation process. However, when it comes to Cab, the winemaker also decides whether it's going to be a single varietal or blended wine. If it's the latter, the wine producer will also determine whether the blending will be done before, during, or after fermenting.
As we explain in our essential guide to viniculture, if the wine is interrupted before fermentation finishes, there will be more residual sugar, resulting in a sweeter wine. If the winemaker allows fermentation to run its course, it will be a drier wine with lower sugar content.
For blended Cabs, some winemakers ferment and age the different grape varieties on their own and then combine the wine before bottling. Likewise, many wine producers will let the fermentation or aging process occur in oak barrels, which imparts those signature woody flavors that give Cabernet Sauvignon its distinct notes of vanilla, wood, and spice.
Popular Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Blends
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are popular partners for blending in varietal wines. Here are some of the most popular combinations:
- Cabernet Franc
- Petit Verdot
- Syrah (Shiraz)
How to Enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon
While we're not keen on strict rules about how to enjoy wine, there are some practical tips and techniques you can use to help make the most of your wine-drinking experience. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when opening your next bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, including the ideal temperature for serving, tasty food pairings, and the type of stemware you may want to use.
Note: Because of its acidity levels, tannins, and alcohol content, it's probably best to enjoy Cab with food (especially if your palate isn't used to heavier wines).
When serving Cabernet Sauvignon, follow the basic guidelines for the best wine temperature. Common knowledge once dictated that room temperature is ideal for serving red wine, but the truth is that it's too warm. To avoid a soupy, bitter, and overly alcoholic glass of Cab, serve it just a bit cooler than room temp at about 60-65 degrees.
As with other full-bodied red wines, chill Cabernet Sauvignon wine in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour before opening. You can then decant it or let it sit in the bottle to breathe for 10 minutes before serving.
The robust flavor and rich tannin content in Cabernet Sauvignon make it a perfect partner for nearly all grilled meats, peppery sauces, and richly flavored dishes. Some ideal wine pairings include New York strip steak, filet mignon, short ribs, Korean-style beef, rack of lamb, hamburgers, salami, and pepper-crusted ahi tuna. For meatless pairings, you can't go wrong with grilled vegetables, including portobello mushrooms, eggplant, and peppers.
When it comes to cheese pairings, look for a firm-textured, complex cheese that stands up to Cab's long finish and rich flavor. Aged cheddar, Gouda, and Gruyere are all good choices. For dessert, pick up on Cabernet Sauvignon's dark fruit flavors and spicy notes with blackberry, cherry, or blueberry pie, or any dark chocolate treat.
Type of Glass
Believe it or not, the type of wine glass you use makes a difference when drinking wine. Researchers have found that the shape of a glass affects how vapor rises, influencing how you perceive the flavor and fragrance of the wine.
For Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux glass is ideal. With a smaller bowl and taller glass than a standard red wine glass, it enhances complex aromas and provides enough space to let the wine aerate. You can also use Bordeaux glasses for other robust, full-bodied wines such as Syrah, Merlot, and Bordeaux wine blends.
That said, you don't always need a glass to enjoy good vino. Our Usual Wines red wine blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon — made in small batches from sustainably farmed grapes — is as good as it gets straight from the bottle.
Swirl, Sip, and Savor a Glass of Cab
Arguably the world's most recognized red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon has become a favorite among seasoned oenophiles and newbies alike thanks to the rich and appealing flavors, full-bodied mouthfeel, and accessibility all over the world.
There's no need to hold off for a special occasion to drink Cab — opening up a bottle and drinking it is the occasion. Whether you're planning a wine tasting party or want to complement your next meal, it's hard to miss with this robust red.
Enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon with a variety of dishes, ranging from hearty meat dishes and grilled vegetables to richly flavored cheeses and chocolate desserts. For more fun and helpful insights to step up your appreciation and knowledge of wine, don't miss our Usual Wines blog.