Life is a Cabernet: A classic grape variety ripe for rediscovery


Over the past few weeks, I have been taking a look at various classic grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the most famous of all, yet we don’t see the name very often on the shelves of our supermarkets and wine shops. This is partly because in its hometown of Bordeaux, it is almost always blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot, and often a combination of these.

The words Cabernet and Sauvignon rarely appear on the back label let alone the front. Yet a great many of the best-known names of the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan, including Châteaux Latour, Lynch-Bages and Mouton-Rothschild, will be made up of at least 70 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. It gives them the structure and tannins that provide longevity. And those words are key to understanding this variety. 

Traditionally young Cabernet was firm and tannic, and needed a few years in bottle to be drinkable. This explains why many producers in Bordeaux and elsewhere blend in softer, fruitier Merlot, or in the case of Australia, Shiraz. As you are permitted to add up to 15 per cent of another variety (25 per cent in the US) without stating it, even wines labelled Cabernet Sauvignon may in fact be blends. 

In California, Napa Valley Cabernet is arguably of equal quality and equal price of top Bordeaux. In Chile the Maipo, Aconcagua and Colchagua valleys are all capable of producing very fine wines, while Coonawarra is the premium Australian Cabernet region. Standing imperiously alone in the Languedoc, Mas de Daumas Gassac produces a superlative long-lived Cabernet heavy red.

In addition to the wines featured here, two other Cabernets I tasted recently were the fruit-filled Gérard Betrand Réserve Spéciale (€9.95, reduced from €14.95, O’Briens) and the very enjoyable Les Tours de Beaumont 2016 (€19.99 from Molloys). 

The flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon go from blackberries and blackcurrants in cooler climates to cassis and ripe plums in warmer regions. It can also have black or red peppers, tobacco, spice and vanilla, or cedar wood if aged in oak, as it often is, and usually good acidity too. Top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon will last and evolve for decades, although nowadays most are made to be approachable in their youth. 

Cabernet is one of those wines that calls out for food. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the great food wines. It tastes so much better when drunk alongside roast lamb or beef, but it is also good with any kind of red meat, including burgers. Vegetarian dishes containing mushrooms and red peppers are also very good, as is a cheeseboard featuring firm cheeses such as Gouda and Cheddar or sheep’s cheeses including Rockfield, Cáis na Tíre and Cratloe Hills.

Montes Classic Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Colchagua, Chile
14.5%, €15.99
Classic Chilean Cabernet with plenty of body, fresh brambly blackcurrant fruits with a touch of toasty oak, and some drying tannins on the finish. Drink it with a rare striploin or a ribeye steak.
From Baggot Street Wines, D4,; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock,; Fresh Outlets,; Martin’s Off Licence, D3,; McHughs, D5,; Power & Co Fine Wines, Lucan,; Sweeneys D3,; The Wine Centre, Kilkenny,;; Worldwide Wines, Waterford,

Château Camino-Salva 2016 Haut-Médoc
13%, €20 
Maturing very nicely with notes of leather and undergrowth to complement the blackcurrant and blackberry fruits. A well-priced, elegant claret to serve with red meats; a rib of beef sounds perfect. 
From Whelehan’s Wines, Loughlinstown,

Château de Glana 2016, Saint-Julien
13.5%, €41 
Harmonious blackcurrant and cassis fruits with a nice touch of mint and cedarwood. Decant and enjoy now with roast lamb or keep a few years. 
From O’Briens,; Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,             

Mas de Daumas Gassac Rouge 2018, IGP Haut Vallée du Gassac
14%, €56.95 
Decant (it has sediment) and marvel at how the subtle blackcurrant, cassis and cedarwood flavours slowly evolve and develop. Elegant, dry and long with very fine tannins. Drink it with rare fillet of beef with mushrooms, or a mushroom pie.  
From Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, D2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway,;; La Touche, Greystones,; Green Man Wines, D6,; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth;


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