Cabernet sauvignon brings a depth of flavour few wines can match. As perhaps the world’s most important red grape, it characterises the most famous wines everywhere from Bordeaux to the Barossa.
for Cabernet sauvignon – cab sauv to its friends – is a truly hearty wine. Dry, full-bodied and overflowing with tannins, it’s second only to shiraz on the leaderboard of intense Australian reds. You’ll be able to taste black cherry, blackcurrant, liquorice, leather, vanilla, tobacco and cedar in cab sauv, although these notes can change from region to region – Australian cabernets tend to be fruitier, herbier and more intense than their famous French cousins, which offer an earthier, more floral taste. Thanks to their unique soils, regions like Coonawarra and Langhorne Creek are famous for their very distinct versions of Cabernet Sauvignon. Black plum, chocolate, bay leaf and pepper notes come from the iron-rich earth that this fruit grows in.
Like almost all Australian reds, cabernet sauvignon is classed as a dry wine, as it has zero residual sugar added to it during the production process. But while sugar isn’t added, it could be argued that cab sauv is sweet enough. It has a natural fruitiness from the robust berry and plum flavours, so is far from the driest red, being similar in sweetness to shiraz, merlot and malbec.
As a wine that’s high in tannins, to get the most out of your cabernet sauvignon tasting experience it’s best to allow the wine to breathe. Decant it an hour before drinking, as this aeration will open up the bouquet, soften and broaden the flavour, and just make the whole event more enjoyable. Cabernet sauvignon is best served at a touch below room temperature – around 16C. This doesn’t change the wine itself, just how your palate interacts with it. Most cab sauv cellars extremely well, with the finest examples doing their best work after a decade in the rack.
In short, no. The term ‘cabernet’ is just a case of wine lovers being lazy. There’s no such thing as a cabernet grape, only cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. When a winemaker, wine seller or wine drinker uses the term cabernet, they mean the more popular of these two grapes, cabernet sauvignon.
Cabernet sauvignon and shiraz - similar in body, similar in tannin, and similar in popularity, so what are the differences between Australia’s two most popular reds? The most obvious difference between these two heavyweights is in their aromas and flavours. Where cab sauv is all black fruits, leather and cedar, shiraz is more smoky, spicy and meaty, with red fruits dominating. You’ll also note where these flavours hit on the palate – cab sauv starts strong and has a bold finish, while shiraz has a rich mid-palate.