Cabernet Sauvignon; the rough red

Cabernet Sauvignon is the single most planted red variety around the world and is probably the best recognised red amongst wine consumers.

Historically speaking, it is a relatively new variety that appears to be a spontaneous cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc originating in France and having its first significant impact on the Bordeaux region in the last half of the eighteenth century. Interestingly the oldest known cabernet vines in the world are in the Barossa Valley, in Penfold’s Kalimna vineyard near Greenock. (Robert Geddes, A Good Nose and Great Legs).

These vines were saved from the Phylloxera epidemic that wiped out most of the grapes in France in the late nineteenth century. Cabernet Sauvignon has a very distinctive palate in that it is quite intense at first but a bit weak mid-palate (about the time it is swallowed) and then the intensity of the tannin builds in the back palate producing what is known as the donut effect or a hole in the middle (the rough red).

Winemakers often graph the palate curve with the vertical axis representing intensity of flavour and the horizontal axis time. The perfect curve starts quite intense but builds to mid palate and then slowly tapers down to a long back palate with lingering flavour and mouth feel. Every grape variety is unique and typically fits a specific palate curve.

Winemakers and vignerons have a number of tools available that can accentuate or soften this particular curve. Vine management and winemaking style can affect the palate curve and each variety is assessed each year in accordance with the season to anticipate what style of vine management and winemaking will best suit the variety.

Options such as: the amount of sun exposure to the fruit, density of the leaf cover, timing of water (including rain) ripeness of the fruit at harvest, crushing/pressing method, length of time the grape skins are in contact with the juice, yeast selection, ferment temperature, lees contact time, oak style, malo-lactic fermentation, aeration, oak maturation period, bottle closure type, bottle aging period and temperature are just a few of the options to consider.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a very bold and assertive wine that has potential to overwhelm light and delicate dishes. It typically matches best with cooking methods that involve robust flavours or charring and grilling.

As the wine ages and the tannins lessen, more subtle and less bitter dishes will pair better with Cabernet Sauvignon.

I love a complex cabernet with a bit of age on it. I’m proud of the cabernets I’ve produced, and excited by complex flavours the grapes have developed with our long slow autumn ripening.

We are on the cool side of Orange and it’s is sometimes a big stretch to ripen the grapes. Last year we got dusted with snow while the grapes were still on the vine, and most years, the first hard frost it the signal to bring the grapes in.

With the long slow autumn this year, it looks like a classic Cabernet Sauvignon year, but because I love an aged red…….I’ll let you know in about six years.

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