The four red varieties considered classic- Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah- are used to make the majority of the world’s greatest red wines.
The preeminent classic red grape variety is Cabernet Sauvignon. More than any other, Cabernet has vast ranges of quality, of structure, and of maturity. It is astounding that a wine so often a bit angular and introverted when young can metamorphose into a satiny, rich, and complex wine with several years’ ageing. Cabernet can be like the awkward, seemingly unremarkable kid who grapes up to be a Full-bright Scholar and sexy to boot.
Not all cabernet sauvignons have this ability, of course. Many moderately priced versions, such as those from Chile or France’s Languedoc- Roussillon, are made in a style that is intentionally modest. Relatively soft and easy drinking, these cabernets lack the structure, depth, and intense concentration of , say, Chateau Latour from Bordeaux, Sassicaia from Italy, or Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select from California, but they can still process cabernet charm.
Cabernet sauvignon’s aromas and flavours are so compelling that we’ve come to think of them as the cynosures of red wine: blackberry, black currant, cassis, mint, eucalyptus, cedar wood, leather, and plum. These elements are then swirled into a delicious amalgam as the wine ages. In fact, because of the grape’s powerful fruit and linear structure, great cabernet needs both oak and bottle ageing to pull it into harmony. Poorly made cabernet sauvignon, like poorly made sauvignon blanc, usually tastes vegetal, like a dank mixture of bell peppers and the water cabbage has been boiled in.
Historically, the world’s most prized cabernets came from the Medoc communes of Margaux, St Julien, Pauillac, and St Estephe in Bordeaux, where the wines were(and still are) ranked into growths, from first growth, the most renowned, down to Fifth Growth. However, world-class cabernets are now regularly being made in California (where leads in vineyard acreage fro red grapes), Italy, and Australia; Washington State is poised to join this group soon, too.
Cabernet sauvignon is grown and made principally in: Argentina; Australia; California; Chile; France, in Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon; Hungary; Italy, in the Tre Venezie and Tuscany; New York State, on long Island. New Zealand; South Africa; Texas; Virginia; and Washington State.