Food and Drink 

Call me a cab-ernet

It is often said that the cabernet sauvignon grape makes the biggest or manliest wine on the planet. Political correctness aside the physical nature of cabernet tends to be robust, angular and tannic in youth and while it mellows with age even the finest cabernet sauvignon seldom melts in your mouth the way merlot or pinot noir eventually will.

Cabernet sauvignon gained its fame in the Bordeaux region of France, primarily in and about the Médoc and more specifically on the left bank in the communes of St. Estephe, St. Julien and Pauillac. Think Latour, Mouton, Lafite, Les Cases, Montrose and many more. The grape has been cultivated for centuries in Bordeaux although its origins have only recently been discovered to have arisen spontaneously between a field cross of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc sometime prior to the 17th century.

If Bordeaux set the historical standard for cabernet sauvignon, the rest of the world has taken quick advantage of the grape’s ability to adapt to new sites and climates. The vine itself is extremely vigorous but growth is easily controlled by intelligent selection of rootstock, soil type, planting density and canopy management. As shaded fruit tends to produce wine that is more vegetal and more acidic, trellising and canopy training methods to expose the fruit to more light are important to developing cabernet’s full fruit flavour and ripe tannins.

Cabernet grape bunches grow best in well-drained loam or gravel/loam soils on hillsides. The tough skin variety grows in mostly loose clusters with large pips and has a relatively high skin to juice ratio. This results in wines high in tannin and colour. On the minus side, it is a late ripener that requires added warmth and growing time to develop fully ripe tannins and fruit flavours. Yet, if subjected to too much heat cabernet can become overripe, displaying less agreeable jammy, stewed fruit and prune characters. But it’s when perfectly ripened that cabernet reaches a level of harmony and balance that makes it a legend among red wine grapes.

The best cabernet has abundant but soft tannins with concentration and flavour complexity. Winemakers strive to achieve blackberry, cassis, black cherry and jam fruit flavours with black pepper and spice characters. Often, there is a light overlay of herbal qualities such as ripe olives and mint; not the undesirable green bell pepper, asparagus, green bean components often found in less ripe cabernet. Oak barrels add extra spice, clove, vanillin and toasted flavours. When fully aged, cabernet develops sublime bottle bouquets of cedar, tobacco, violets, spices, soya, blackberry, mint and licorice.

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