Is Cabernet Sauvignon The King of Wines?

While it might not be everybody’s cup of tea (so to speak), cabernet sauvignon makes one of the world’s most popular red wines. In the Bordeaux region of France, it is the basis for the most expensive, long-lived, and coveted wines you’ll ever have the pleasure to taste—if you get so lucky.

Fortunately, you can still enjoy the considerable joys of cabernet sauvignon without putting yourself in debt to do so. There are even some serious bargains to be had, provided you know where to look.

All About Cab Sauv

Cabernet sauvignon is known for its muscle. At its best, it makes a strong, bold, full-bodied red wine with a significant backbone. Cab sauv is high in tannin, a compound that produces a drying sensation in the mouth.

Tannin is also found in black tea, and most of us have experienced what it’s like to steep a tea bag a bit too long. Too much tannin can make a wine seem bitter, masking the fruit. Not enough, and the wine will seem a bit “flabby” and unstructured. But the right amount adds a layer of complexity and depth and helps it stand up to rich, flavorful meats like steak, roast lamb, and venison.

There are ways to tame the sometimes unruly tannins in cab sauv—all you have to do is decant it, get some air into it, and it will reward you with flavors that range from blackberry and black plum to lead pencil, forest floor, cedar, eucalyptus, and baking spices. Of course, it all depends on where the grapes are grown and what decisions the winemaker makes for the finished wine.

Where Cabernet Sauvignon Shines

Cabernet sauvignon requires a long growing season, so it does very well in hot climates. Ironically, France isn’t exactly hot, but the vineyards along the left bank of the Garonne are situated ideally to make the most of the warm summer sunshine.

Outside of Bordeaux, you’ll find excellent examples of cab sauv in California’s Napa Valley, Washington State, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and Australia’s Barossa Valley and Coonawara.

Napa Valley, in particular, is quite famous for its cab sauv as well. Top bottles from Napa Valley can cost hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars. Many, like Harlan Estates and Screaming Eagle, are highly collectible and have fetched six figures at auction. The good news is, even though Napa cab tends to be on the pricey side in general, there are plenty of bargains to be had. It’s easy to find excellent Napa cab in the $40-$50 range. Because it’s a hotter region, the tannins and acids are softer, making for a more easy-drinking style.

Cab Sauv Bargains for Everyday

Easily one of the best values you’ll find in cab sauv is in Chile. Chilean winemakers tend to follow a more old-world style of winemaking, meaning the wines are drier, less alcoholic, and a little more austere.

Bargain-priced Australian cab sauv can be good, but the mass-produced brands often lack structure, which can also be said of general appellation California cabernet sauvignon. If you’re okay with spending $25 or more, look for bottles from Henschke, Penfolds, Langmeil, Yalumba, or Wynns in Australia. In California, try Rutherford Hill, Paul Hobbs, Pine Ridge, Hess, or Merryvale.

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