Skip to main content

Wine 101: Everything you ever wanted to know about cabernet sauvignon

A no-nonsense cabernet sauvignon guide for everyone

Grapes on vine
Pixabay/Pexels / Pixabay/Pexels

Most people – even those who don’t have a particular appreciation for wine – have an opinion about cabernet sauvignon. Some drink nothing else; others steer clear, afraid of this variety’s bold, sometimes bullying reputation. But love it or hate it, cabernet sauvignon is the world’s most widely planted grape and, arguably, the world’s most famous wine. Cabernet sauvignon, lovingly nicknamed simply “cab” by most, thrives in its own unique way on every continent except for Antarctica, gifting the world with its velvety richness, robust flavors, and generous tannins.

A hybrid grape made from the crossing of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, the cabernet sauvignon grape is a favorite of winemakers for its ease of cultivation, dependability, and ability to perform beautifully in most climates. Cabernet sauvignon is made into both single varietals and blends, with the ability to add interest and depth to many other wines with its richness and power.

Hands toasting with red wine
rikkia hughes / Unsplash

What are the primary flavors of cabernet sauvignon?

While most cabernet sauvignon are full and robust, their flavors do have an extensive range. Standard cabernet sauvignon notes will include dark fruits like black cherry, blackberry, and black currant, with spicy tobacco, vanilla, graphite, leather, cedar, and oak notes. Where they fall between these fruity and earthy notes depends on many factors, including climate and the winemaking process.

Hands toasting with red wine
Kelsey Knight / Unsplash

What is the taste profile of Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet sauvignon is known to be one of the driest of wines due to its lack of sugar. During the winemaking process, yeast consumes most all of the sugar, resulting in the Cabernet’s signature dryness. It is a very full-bodied, moderately acidic red wine made from cabernet sauvignon grapes. It tends to have very grippy tannins and can feature considerable amounts of oak.

Table setting with red wine
Helena Lopes / Unsplash

Where does Cabernet Sauvignon grow?

While the most well-known and arguably best region for cabernet sauvignon is Bordeaux, France, it is also successfully grown all over the world in places like Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, China, Argentina, and Chile.

As with all varietals, the environment of cabernet sauvignon greatly affects how it will taste. When grown in a cooler climate, cabernet sauvignon will taste lighter and more delicate compared to warmer-weather cabernets, which are often intensely fruity and robust.

Red wine swirling in glass
Mauro Lima/Unsplash / Unsplash

How to serve cabernet sauvignon

This full-bodied red needs considerable time to breathe before drinking. For optimal enjoyment of this beautifully complex varietal, it’s important to decant for at least two hours before serving. The temperature of Cabernet Sauvignon should be between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grapes on vine
April Klein/Unsplash

What are the best food pairings for Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine to turn to when faced with a heavy, fatty, meaty dish such as thick, marbled ribeyes and Tomahawks. This is because the tannins in cabernet work together with the fat in the meat to soften the proteins and release a more robust flavor. For this reason, Cabernet is a beautiful choice for lamb and game meats like venison and wild boar.

Cabernet sauvignon is also deliciously paired with hearty, funky cheeses like Gorgonzola and a number of blue varieties.

Of course, Cabernet is also perfect with a classic such as homemade pasta with red sauce.

Wine being poured at dinner table
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

What is special about Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Sauvignon has a deserved reputation for being strong, bold, and elegant. The richness and complexity of Cabernet is beloved by wine lovers worldwide. This special variety is also a favorite of winemakers as it will show off its talents in almost any climate and stand up well against insect infestations and disease. For these reasons, cabernet sauvignon is also extensively grown and widely available, which very likely has a great deal to do with its popularity.

Bottle and glass of red wine on bench

How can you tell a good cabernet sauvignon?

If you have the luxury of trying a wine before purchasing, there are a few things to look for once the wine is poured. Color is the key to detecting the best cabernet sauvignon without even picking up a glass. These wines are known for their deep, inky hues, and a good glass will look velvety and rich. As far as taste is concerned, a good cabernet sauvignon will have bold but not overdone levels of acidity and tannin. Flavors should be robust and bold, showcasing their terroir.

If you find yourself in the wine aisle of the store without the ability to uncork a bottle, however, there are ways to detect a good cabernet sauvignon by the bottle alone. A safe bet is to look for labels from highly regarded cabernet-producing areas, such as Napa Valley or Bordeaux. While not every wine from these regions is outstanding, it’s usually safer to select a bottle that comes from a region famous for that particular varietal. Some of our favorite California bottles include Josh cabernet sauvignon, Caymus cabernet sauvignon, and Decoy cabernet sauvignon.

Editors' Recommendations

Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
These are bartenders’ favorite value single malt Scotch whiskies (all under $100)
Bartenders tell us the best value single malt scotch whiskies
Scotch

If you don’t know much about single malt Scotch whisky (only the US and Ireland use the ‘e’ in whiskey), you might have some preconceived notions about its price. Like with any whisk(e)y, there are many uncomfortably expensive bottles of single malt whisky. There are also countless flavorful, reasonably-priced bottles. That’s what we’re most interested in today.

When we talk about value, we specifically talk about complex, rich, sippable single malt whiskies priced under $100. And these under $100 (and often much less) gems aren’t from lesser-known brands. They’re award-winning expressions from some of the most respected distilleries in Scotland.

Read more
The best vodka and vodka mixers for no hangover
The best hangover cure is to never get one in the first place
Cold cocktail with lime, lemon, tonic, vodka and ice on vintage background

Hangover side effects are unpleasant in every sense of the word, leaving us feeling unproductive and even sick the night after drinking. Most of us know drinking too much will lead to a hangover, but did you know the type of alcohol you drink and the mixer used can also contribute to the severity of your hangover? Carefully selecting the type of liquor you consume and opting for specific mixers can help you feel your best after drinking. Here's why vodka might be the smartest choice for no hangover symptoms.

Why vodka is the best liquor choice to avoid hangovers
While a hangover is nearly impossible to avoid if you drink too much, even moderate or casual drinking can lead to hangovers, too. No matter what your alcohol drink preferences are, it might be worth considering a switch to high-quality vodka if you're looking to minimize hangover effects. All types of alcohol contain ethanol. However, the differing fermentation and distilling processes of every alcohol can leave every kind of liquor with different chemicals remaining. The substances created as a byproduct of the fermentation process are known as congeners.
What do congeners do to the body?
Unfortunately, however, some types of alcohol are left with more congeners than others, resulting in worsened next-day hangover symptoms. Like ethanol, your body must also work to break down the congeners in the drinks you consume. If you've ever noticed tequila seems to lead to a worse hangover, it might be because tequila is a type of alcohol that is higher in congeners. Our bodies are left trying to break down two substances at once, which makes each process less efficient. In turn, this is why consuming alcoholic drinks that are high in congeners can lead to a worsened hangover.
Which types of alcohol are lowest in congeners?
A comprehensive study performed in 2013 explored the amount of congeners in many types of alcohol, including all liquors. The results of this study found that vodka was the option that had the least congeners per serving. But this doesn't mean that vodka can't give you a hangover; instead, it just means that it is less likely. Furthermore, the more times it is distilled in the production process, the more congeners will be removed. For this reason, choosing a high-quality vodka brand can help you reduce your chances of a hangover even more.

Read more
The best sommelier-approved wine picks for date night
Need some wine recommendations for date night? We've got you
Hands toasting with red wine

Wine has captivated the senses for what seems like an eternity. And while a solid Sauvignon Blanc is great for everyday sipping, special occasions call for special pours.

We’ve assembled a list of great wines worthy of your special somebody, whether you’re on a date or celebrating your 10th anniversary. The options come courtesy of seasoned pros representing restaurants all over the nation.

Read more