Red Wine Grapes and Their Personalities
We use the terms “black grapes” and “red grapes” interchangeably. In either case, these grapes produce what is commonly termed “red” wine. Red grapes vary immensely as to the climates they prefer, the acidity they bring to the table, and their levels of tannins (the compounds in grape skins, seeds and stems that bring astringency, a drying sensation felt in the mouth). Like people, wine grapes seem to have different personalities. We take the liberty of giving them these human attributes.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The Hero
Cabernet is relatively young, only appearing in its native Bordeaux region of France in the 17th century. The grape is a cross between the red Cabernet Franc and the White Sauvignon Blanc. It replaced Malbec as the most popular red grape in Bordeaux in the 18th century.
- Buds and ripens later than most varieties.
- Tough, thick-skinned, very small berries
- Ratio of seeds and skins to pulp is very high
- High level of tannins are extracted from skins and seeds during the maceration process
- Classic Cabernet – full-bodied wines with high tannins and acidity, with great aging potential
- Typical flavor profile:
- Black currant (cassis)
- Green bell pepper
- the result of chemical compounds called pyrazines, in grapes that have not been allowed to fully ripen
In Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is usually blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
- Cabernet Sauvignon provides structure, tannins and acids, dark-fruit flavors of blackcurrant and bell pepper.
- Merlot is the juicer, “fatter” variety; has less structure, but good palate weight and fruit flavors.
- Cabernet’s robust structure is fattened out with Merlot’s juicy fruit – a marriage with excellent long-term potential when assembled with care.
California Cabernet Sauvignon
- Began to be produced in Napa and Sonoma in the 19th century
- Buena Vista winery in Carneros grew Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as early as 1857
- 1976 “Judgment of Paris” – Stags Leap Napa Cabernet beat out Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion in a blind taste test, with similar results in another test 30 years later
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
- Grapes picked not only on the basis of their sugar level (physiological ripeness), but also on tannin ripeness (phenolic ripeness)
- Ripe tannins result in wines that can be uncorked and enjoyed at much younger ages and that do not need to be blended
- New American oak was overused for aging for many years in Napa, but the trend now is to age in less aggressive French oak, often used.
Australian Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet is the number two red grape in Australia after Shiraz, with which it is often blended. It is produced all over Australia, but one distinctive region is Coonawarra in the state of South Australia, known for its “terra rossa,” red earth soils.
Italian Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon has been produced in Tuscany for over 250 years and is an important grape in “Super Tuscan” wines like Sassicaia.
Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
- Maipo Valley is a leading region
- Cool Pacific breezes, warm days, cool nights
- Red fruit, green pepper, menthol, eucalyptus
- Does well in Bordeaux style blends