Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of the world.
Ok maybe not the world, as Leonardo DiCaprio once declared, but definitely the US.
That’s all thanks to the 1976 Judgment of Paris, where California Cabernets were pit against their French counterparts and won. The 1973 Napa Valley Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon beat out the four top-ranked French Bordeauxs, including first-growths Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion.
And much like Leo’s performance in Basketball Diaries, it made the world take us seriously as winemakers.
The Thursday before Labor Day has become #CabernetDay so it’s the perfect time to pay homage to our red grape of choice.
It’s Actually A Mutation.
The Cabernet grape was born in France in the 1600s and came to fame thanks to French Bordeaux wines, where Cabernet is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
But Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a mutation. They did some DNA testing in 1996 at University of California at Davis and discovered its parents are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, both from Bordeaux.
It’s Got Thick Skin.
It’s a thick skin grape (think Leo in The Revenant), bluish in color and it grows in tight packed cluster. That thicker skin darkens the color of the wine — to an almost dark purple — and gives it richness and texture.
It needs sunshine and warmth — which is why it grows so easily in California — and is known to ripen late. That means other grapes, like Merlot and Pinot Noir, are picked before King Cab. But that creates risk. The longer the grapes are on the vine, the more opportunity for Mother Nature to screw them up.
This late harvest has caused a problem for wine makers in France. Before global warming hit us (a piece of the bigger climate change problem, says Leo) September in France was very rainy for many decades. And that rain often ruined the grapes. So that’s partially why they started adding other grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Franc, to their Bordeaux blends: they either didn’t yield enough Cab or it just wasn’t good enough to use.
(Harvests are earlier in France now, yes thanks to global warming, so it’s not so much of a problem.)
It’s High In Tannins And Needs a Steak.
The Cabernet grape is high in tannins — or that bitterness — because of the thicker skins. But those tannins and the acidity lends structure and allows the wine to age for years.
If you smell a glass of King Cab you will often get a whiff of green bell pepper. The pros will say they smell cassis too – which is black currant — though most of us don’t smell that regularly.
And because of the tannins and thickness of the wine, it screams for a burger or a steak. Or a mushroom pizza with red sauce. It’s rare you’re going to find a good fish pairing with Cab.
So channel your best Wolf of Wall Street and go big or go home when you try to pair it.
Old World vs. New World
And its your preference on the style. Do you prefer an Old World Cab, like an earthy, herbaceous Bordeaux? Or the New World fruit-forward, black cherry and licorice style from California?
Or better yet, try a Cabernet from places like Chile and South Africa which are combinations of both.
Any of them work.
It’s Good For You.
Oh and Cabernet — like Pinot Noir and Syrah — has Resveratrol — which has been shown to be good for digestion, reduce cholesterol and the risks of Alzheimer’s.
So celebrate the ambitious, Jay Gatsby of wines and raise your glass to King Cab.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.