The marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon with the soil and climate of Oakville produces some of great and highly coveted wines, from legendary wines like Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and Robert Mondavi, To Kalon, to modern classics such as: Opus One, Groth, Far Niente and Paradigm, to “cult” wines such as: Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle and Harlan Estate. Many of Napa’s most-respected, highest-scoring, and most-collectible Cabernet Sauvignon wines come from Oakville.
Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most widely planted wine grapes in the world, but it achieves true greatness only in those few special places where the ideal climate and soil for growing the variety prevail.
Native to Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is a comparatively young variety of wine grape that did not become a major factor in Bordeaux until the latter part of the 19th Century—around the same time the grape was first planted in Napa Valley.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s origins were not precisely known until U.C. Davis researchers examined the variety’s DNA. They determined conclusively that it was the result of a cross-pollination of Cabernet Franc and the white grape Sauvignon Blanc, likely the result of a serendipitous accident of nature in a French vineyard rather than the calculated tinkering of a grower or scientist.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a late-ripening grape variety, and it is not uncommon for the grapes to be left on the vine into the month of October so that they can develop their full flavor potential. While many Cabernet-producing regions, including Bordeaux, routinely receive fall rains that can dilute unpicked grapes or even cause them to rot on the vine, Oakville generally escapes rainfall until the grapes are harvested and safely under the care of the winemaker.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are notable for their small berry size and relatively large pips, or seeds, relative to the volume of pulp inside the berries. These physical characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce wines that have an unusual concentration of both polyphenols, which give red wine its color and antioxidants, and tannin, which contributes mouthfilling texture and structure and promotes the longevity or ageability of wines. Thus, Cabernet Sauvignon makes unusually complex and long-lived wines.
Prized for the intensity and range of its aromas and flavors, as well as its structure and potential to improve with age, Cabernet Sauvignon makes extremely complex wines as a stand-alone variety. It also makes dynamic blended wines when combined with other varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Two of the aromas and flavors most closely associated with Cabernet Sauvignon wines are black currants (sometimes described as cassis, a liqueur made from black currants) and bell pepper. Depending on where Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, it can show a wide range of aromas and flavors, like blackberry, black cherry, mint, dried herbs or cedar; but ideally, ripe Cabernet is identified by its signature black currant fruit and little or no vegetal bell pepper flavor.
Growing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that reflect the variety’s luscious black fruit flavors without unpleasant vegetal notes is impossible in some places, and difficult in most others. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Oakville achieves this fine balance year after year, reliably and consistently.
While Cabernet Sauvignon is a powerful wine and can be tannic when young, those are just the qualities that make it an ideal match for certain foods. Cabernet Sauvignon tends to taste best with meat dishes because high-protein foods tend to soften the tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon. Dishes seasoned with dried herbs or bitter greens like arugula or endive also tend to match well with Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Connoisseurs delight in Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a char-grilled steak or the bold flavors of roast rack of lamb. When showcasing a special or well-aged bottle, the simpler the recipe the better.