Many people will agree, myself included, that there isn’t much better than a nice glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. But, what really makes this red wine so special? And, when you are staring at the variety of bottles overtaking the shelves, how do you know how to find the best Cabernet Sauvignon?
The story goes that an accident dating back to to the 17th century led to the king of red wines—Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most popular red wines among American wine drinkers, and it is also one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the world—proving not all accidents are a bad thing.
This sophisticated full body wine has a rich flavor profile and spicy aroma that creates a unique experience for the senses. Because the Cabernet Sauvignon grape has been planted all over the world and has been transformed into a vast array of wines, it is not difficult to find an excellent Cabernet to fit the red wine lover’s taste and price range.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about this famous and unique wine and how to choose the best Cabernet Sauvignon for you.
Cabernet Sauvignon 101
First, there are a few things you need to understand about Cabernet Sauvignon to put you on the right track to choosing the best one.
Pronounced: kab-er-nay saw-vin-yawn
Cabernet Sauvignon wine, which is sometimes referred to simply as Cabernet, is sourced from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. For centuries the origin of this popular grape was clouded in mystery. It wasn’t until wine researchers at UC Davis proved where it came from in 1996 that the history of Cabernet Sauvignon was revealed.
In southwestern France in the seventeenth century, a breeding accident led to one of the most beloved grapes in the world. Being a cross between a red Cabernet Franc grape and a white Sauvignon Blanc grape, it’s easy to see how Cabernet Sauvignon got its name.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape varietal. It has thick, durable skin and the vine is known for its resistance to the elements. After Cabernet Sauvignon made its way into the world of wine, many winemakers began to adopt it for its durability and because it is relatively easy to grow. However, once it made its way into the region of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon found its true home.
Bordeaux winemakers fell in love with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Later, its popularity spread like wildfire across the globe. Before Merlot took its place in the nineties, this well-traveled grape claimed the title of the most widely planted grape.
Although Bordeaux made Cabernet famous, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape made its launch into the world when at the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags’ Leap in Napa Valley beat out the top Bordeaux Chateaus in a blind taste test.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grape has been grown all over France, Italy, the US, Chile, and Australia. It has also even grown in New Zealand, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, China, Lebanon, Israel, and many places in between. Cabernet doesn’t necessarily have to be from one of the ‘big name’ regions to be an excellent and tasty wine.
A few of the most popular regions where Cabernet grapes are more abundant are:
3. United States
- Napa Valley
- Sonoma Valley
- Alexander Valley
- Margaret River Valley
A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon is going to be deep red in color. Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied and has an alcohol content anywhere between 13% and 15%.
This is a dry wine rather than sweet. While many people simply enjoy the taste of Cabernet Sauvignon, some say they can pick up on flavors of green pepper, tobacco, dark fruits, and vanilla.
The taste of Cabernet will be different depending on where the grapes were grown and how the grapes were made into wine. For example, some Cabernet Sauvignon wines may be more fruity tasting while others are more savory and smoky.
Cabernet wines have higher levels of tannins which may dry your mouth out as you sip it. Some people say this wine can be overwhelming on its own because of its high acidity, tannins, and alcohol levels and is best enjoyed with food.
See some Cabernet Comparison here:
Overall, I think you should drink wine you like with food you like. There is really no hard fast rule about what to pair things with. But, traditionally Cabernet Sauvignon wines do pair well with cheeses and red meats. The tannins in wine are broken down by protein and the acidity cuts through fattiness which cleanses the palate.
This is a popular wine in steakhouses across the globe because it is excellent to pair with a nice steak. You may also want to try a glass of Cabernet with a gourmet burger, ribs, lamb chops, pizza, or mushroom stroganoff.
How to Serve
Here are a few tips on how to make your Cabernet Sauvignon experience more enjoyable or how to impress your friends at your next dinner party.
- A young Cabernet is between 1-4 years old. To help soften the tannins and release the full aromas of these wines, try letting it aerate before drinking it. Pour the wine and let it sit for about 15-30 minutes (if you can wait) before your first sip.
- If you choose an older Cabernet, you will need to decant and aerate it at the same time. But, you won’t need to aerate it for as long because the aging process has already softened the tannins.
- Serve a young Cabernet at a temperature between 60-66°F or 16-18°C.
- Try serving an older Cabernet closer to 68°F or 20°C.
- Serving Cabernet Sauvignon wines in an oversized glass will draw oxygen into the wine enhancing its unique aromas.
Choosing The Best Cabernet Sauvignon
Choosing the best Cabernet Sauvignon is completely subjective. Everyone’s tastebuds are unique, and overall you should go with what you like.
It may take some experimentation to find a bottle you adore. But still, staring at those aisles of bottles you’ve never tried can feel daunting. Here are a few guidelines to help you on your hunt for the best Cabernet Sauvignon.
Find some of the best options here:
Do Read the Label
Labels can get the best of a lot of people in search of the best Cabernet Sauvignon. You’re looking at the different bottles, see an interesting design on the label, and you go with that one. Sometimes this system may work, but overall it’s not very reliable.
Instead of going with a bottle because of the beautiful font, it’s time to start reading the label on the back. While the information may seem like too much at first, if you know what you are looking for it can become fairly simple.
You don’t need to worry about memorizing the definitions of the different words on the label. Read the description and see if it sounds like something you will like. Notice if the label has specific information about the region it comes from—how about the grapes? Generally, the more details, the better.
Do Take Note of Where It’s From
The label on the bottle will tell you what region the wine comes from. One thing you can do is keep an eye out for one of the popular regions I mentioned earlier. But, keep in mind that while a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa will likely be fantastic—it will also likely cost you a pretty penny.
You may want to try looking for more underrated regions for better value. Traveling slightly off the beaten path and not reaching for one of the ‘big names’ may surprise you. Start out looking for regions in Chile or Australia for an excellent bottle at a better price. Then, branch out from there to Italy, the United States, and France.
Do Keep Track of What You Try
Like I mentioned, finding the best Cabernet Sauvignon is all about what you prefer. Give yourself some time to experiment with different wines to find what you like.
Once you find a bottle of Cabernet you enjoy, make a note of it. Look at what region it’s from, what the winery is, or who the importer is. Tracking what you like or dislike will help lead you to that perfect bottle.
Because it’s the 21st century and you probably don’t carry around a pad of paper and a pencil everywhere you go, there are a lot of different apps that can help you with this process. Most of these apps also have reviews of different wines from other people to help guide you in the right direction.
These are all great apps to help you choose, buy, and track the different Cabernet wines you try.
Do Ask for Advice
You have already made a step in the right direction in finding the best Cabernet Sauvignon—you are trying to learn more about it. Take that same attitude with you when you go shopping.
Once you know a little bit more about what you like, communicate it to someone in the wine shop or restaurant so they can help point you in the right direction. Don’t worry about looking like you don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t, and hopefully, they do, and they can help you out.
Don’t Get Hung Up On the Age
While it’s a common belief that older wines are better, this isn’t always the case. Different wines are best after different aging periods. Only some taste better with age. Lots of various factors play into a properly aged wine including the region and amount of tannins, sugars, and acids it contains.
However, any wine you purchase from a store is ready to drink. You do not need to let it age after you buy it. In fact, most wines are meant to be consumed within five years of purchasing them.
With red wines like Cabernet, it is more important to look at the year. But, you can defiantly find a nice younger Cabernet. In general, if you are struggling to make a choice between two, go with the older one.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New
This goes along with keeping track of what you try. But, in order to keep track, you have to try new things. Don’t give up too easily. Experimenting here and there will be fun, and it will help you better understand what you like and dislike.
Although you may find a bottle you really like, if you only stick with that bottle, you may be missing out. Look for qualities you want and try a different region or a different winery. Who knows, you may find something you like even better.
Don’t Automatically Equate a High Price with High Quality
While it’s true that many expensive Cabernet wines are going to be exceptional, that does not mean that less expensive wines won’t be tasty too. Some of the best wines available are relatively inexpensive. Conversely, some of the more expensive wines have average scores and are enjoyed less by many people. If you like it, that is all that matters.
Wine on sale does not necessarily mean it’s bad wine either. Most likely, it is on sale because it is not in season or has been in inventory for a while. But, this does not at all mean that it is a lower quality wine or that you won’t enjoy it if it has the qualities you know you like.
In fact, choosing a Cabernet on sale can be a great way to get a good deal on a nice wine. It is also a fantastic way to try new wines and get a feel for what you like and don’t like without spending as much. Once you know what you like, then branch out and maybe spend a little more.
First, look at the label and then look at the price.
5 Best Cabernet Sauvignon Wines to Try Under $20
Even with all of the information in the world on how to choose the best Cabernet Sauvignon, it can still be difficult making the final decision. Like I mentioned before, a little advice or input can be helpful.
Most likely, if you want to enjoy a nice glass of Cabernet more frequently or you are looking to experiment with it, you aren’t going to want to invest a lot of money into an incredibly expensive bottle. But, whether or not your box wine is the best you have ever had, you may want to try stepping out of the box (pun intended).
There are a lot of inexpensive wines available. You don’t have to immediately head over to the box wines or those in jugs. Another small piece of advice, if you are headed to a dinner party, stay away from the boxes and don’t bring wines like Barefoot or Yellowtail as a gift. Trust me on this one.
Give these wines a try instead.
Top 5 Cabernet Sauvignon Wines Under $20
1. Mitolo Jester
- Winery: Mitolo Winery
- Region: McLaren Vale, Australia
- Year: 2012
- Average Price: $20
- Website: https://www.mitolowines.com.au
- Bright, lush, juicy, and rich with bold red fruits and soft tannins.
2. Clayhouse Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
- Winery: Clayhouse Wines
- Region: Paso Robles, California
- Year: 2012
- Average Price: $15
- Website: https://www.clayhousewines.com
- Rich and full-bodied with cherry and plum flavors and hints of licorice.
3. Stave & Steel
- Winery: Stave & Steel
- Region: Paso Robles, California
- Year: 2016
- Average Price: $14
- Website: https://www.staveandsteel.com
- Aged for four months in bourbon barrels. Flavors of California-Dark cherry, blackberry, and plum with hints of vanilla and caramel.
4. Substance Cabernet Sauvignon
- Winery: Substance
- Region: Columbia Valley, Washington
- Year: 2016
- Average Price: $13
- Website: http://winesofsubstance.com
- Aged in French oak with flavors of dark cherry, tobacco, and chocolate.
- Winery: Leese-Fitch Wines
- Region: Sonoma, California
- Year: 2012
- Average Price: $11
- Website: http://www.leesefitchwines.com
- Blackberry and bourbon soaked cherry flavors with hints of dark chocolate.
Final Thoughts on Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon is a world-renowned wine. If you haven’t tried it already, it is a must for anyone’s list. Now that you know how to find the best Cabernet Sauvignon, experiment at your local wine shop, try one of the bottles I recommend, or order a glass at a restaurant and enjoy Cabernet!
*Bonus Quick Q&A
What’s the best Cabernet Sauvignon under 20?
There are plenty of fantastic Cabernet wines under $20. If you are looking for a few to try, check out my list under “Top 5 Cabernet Sauvignon Wines under $20.” For the best Cabernet Sauvignon under $20, I would go with the Substance Cabernet Sauvignon at around $13.
What Should Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Like?
This depends on where the grapes are from but, a traditional Cabernet should be full-bodied with high tannins and acidity. This is a dry red wine with dark fruit, tobacco, green pepper, and vanilla flavors.
What Country Makes the Best Cabernet Sauvignon?
Many countries make fantastic Cabernet wines. It really depends on what your specific preferences are. The two most popular countries for their Cabernet Sauvignon wines are France and the US.
What is the Difference Between Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon?
Sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon is referred to as simply “Cabernet.” It’s shorthand, like when people refer to Pinot Noir as “Pinot.” However, they are essentially the same thing. There is no plain “Cabernet” grape.
Is Cabernet Sauvignon Dry or Sweet?
Cabernet Sauvignon is a dry wine. However, some may perceive its fruity taste as sweet.
Do You Chill Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Sauvignon is not typically a chilled wine. It is best served at room temperature. For more information check out the section “How to Serve.”