What to drink…
In a new column about grape varieties, Richard Hemming examines Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is the quintessential French black grape – it’s as Gallic as garlic. Why? Because it’s stylish, world-famous and can sometimes be aloof – but it always smells great.
Wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon has several distinguishing features. Firstly, it’s opaque purple in colour. The fruit aroma is reminiscent of blackcurrant, often accompanied by woody aromas such as cedar or sandalwood. On the palate, it has full body, high acid and high tannin. That means you get a grainy, drying sensation from the tannin, yet mouth-watering crispness from the acidity.
This firm structure can make it seem aloof sometimes – especially if you drink it without food. However, it also means that it can age well, and the best examples will improve in bottle for decades. Drinking a good mature French Cabernet Sauvignon with steak frites is one of the greatest dining pleasures you can wish for.
Originally, Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the Bordeaux region, but you don’t often see it written on labels there. Instead, they prefer to emphasise the origin of the wine (known as its appellation), such as Pauillac, Médoc or Margaux. Most Bordeaux wines are a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but these three appellations usually have a majority of the former. These wines don’t tend to come cheap – another reason why Cabernet Sauvignon is typically French!
Here are three examples for a range of budgets which showcase Cabernet Sauvignon at its best. Enjoy!
Monastier Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc (£7.99 House of Townend) Like most Languedoc wines, this is a very authentic rendition of its grape variety at a great-value price. The fruit character is ripe and smooth with a light blackcurrant flavour, finishing with a delicate smoky note. The soft texture makes this very easy drinking.
Château Pontet Barrail 2012 Médoc (£15.95 Berry Bros & Rudd) There are hundreds of wine-producing châteaux in the Médoc, and choosing the right one can be tricky. Pontet Barrail is classified as a Cru Bourgeois, which is a good sign when looking for quality that doesn’t cost a fortune. The blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it has pristine blackcurrant fruit with classic cedar, violet and spice aromas. While you could mature this for another decade, it is drinking really well now.
Château Fonbadet 2011 Pauillac (£35 Berry Bros & Rudd) Some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world comes from Pauillac – but at a price! If you want to treat yourself, Château Fonbadet is a reliable under-the-radar producer. Composed of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, it has a sleek, succulent, but powerful cassis character that finishes with a long, savoury finish. The firm tannic structure means this wine needs to be paired with hearty meat dishes.