Cabernet Sauvignon in
Cabernet Sauvignon is South Africa’s most planted red grape variety. It is now used in single varietal wines, as well as in blends. But the famous SA blends of the past were traditionally often blended with Cinsault or Shiraz (and who knows what other grapes) to soften the tannins.
Stellenbosch, Paarl and Robertson are where it does extremely well in SA. The Swartland, to a lesser extent, although there are significant plantings.
Cabernet is the most planted red grape in SA with 11% of the total vine plantings in South Africa.
The exact date is unsure, but Cabernet probably arrived in SA two centuries ago. It has been associated with premium single variety wines since the 1920’s.
South African Cabernet Sauvignon straddles the border between Old World and New World. The fruit is ripe and fruity, without being jammy.
Each region offers their own variation based on soils and climate. A typical Stellenbosch Cabernet shows plum, mulberry, blackberry, cassis, chocolate and cigar box from the inevitable new oak.
Watch and learn
Vino Noir on Cabernet Sauvignon
Join dynamic duo Qhama and Thulani from Vino Noir as they chat through more about the red grape variety - Cabernet Sauvignon and what it is.
South African Cabernet Sauvignon displays flavours of blackcurrant, cassis, plums, and black cherries with the oak coming through as vanilla, spices, mocha, cigar box and smoke.
Cabernet Sauvignon will always be high in tannins. They are necessary to provide enough backbone, structure, and harmony to the wine. Tannins also help the wine age for decades. They’ll also often show herbaceous notes (green pepper) from the high levels of methoxypyrazines.
Cabernet Sauvignon will always be high in tannins. They are necessary to provide enough backbone, structure, and harmony to the wine. Tannins also help the wine age for decades.
You’ll notice the tannins as a dryness and mouth-puckering quality that is felt on your gums. Watch out for green, austere, astringent, or bitter tannins - none of these are a good thing. Rather look for tannins that are ripe. When you eat meat, mushrooms, or heavy food dishes, the tannins will dissolve in your mouth, and you won’t even know that they’re there. Don’t be afraid of the tannins, focus instead on how balanced they are.
Cabernet Sauvignon will always have high tannins, high acidity, and it will always be full-bodied and will almost always be dry. The alcohol will usually be 13,5% or higher. Look for aromas and flavours of blackcurrant, cassis, plums, and black cherries. They’ll also often show herbaceous notes (green pepper) from the high levels of methoxypyrazines. With the oak coming through as vanilla, spices, mocha, cigar box, and smoke.
Across the world
It’s hard to over-emphasise the important influence that Cabernet Sauvignon has in the wine industry. From both a business-to-business and business-to-consumer perspective, Cabernet really is an incredibly important grape variety.
It’s the most planted grape in the world because it’s the easiest to sell, the most accepted, and it’s the gold standard for wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It is a late-ripening cultivar that needs a warm climate to fully ripen. Cabernet Sauvignon works well on a variety of soils, but it does best in gravel (arguably the absolute best) as well as volcanic, loam, sandy, and clay soils.
The key things to remember about Cabernet Sauvignon is that it’s always dark in colour - thanks to its high levels of anthocyanins and high polyphenols in the thick skins and numerous seeds. The wine is always tannic, always high acidity and always full-bodied.
It is not an elegant ballerina. It is a powerful, muscular, superhero type of wine.
When working with Cabernet (other than a rosé), it’s difficult to make something that isn’t dry, tannic, powerful, and assertive. But these properties give it a great ability to age and express where it’s made. It can tell you exactly where it comes from. And it works just as well on its own as it does in a blend.
Because of the natural polyphenols, anthocyanins, tannins, and acidity, it’s best to leave Cabernet wines to sit for a longer period of time as they generally need time to come around in the bottle. Great Cabs need at least five years in bottle to really start strutting their stuff.
In the vineyard
The food world is your oyster when drinking Cabernet. Though, if we're being honest, oysters wouldn't make a great pairing!
Cabernet Sauvignon and red meat are made for each other. The high tannins and high acidity in Cabernet help break down the proteins in the red meat. And the red meat seems to tame the tannins in the wine.
Try your Cab with a steak served with a peppercorn sauce. The peppercorn will marry well with the cloves and smoke of the wine. As does chargrilled meat like braaivleis. Sometimes you just want a good juicy burger - that doesn't mean you can't have one alongside your fancy bottle of Cab that costs triple the price.
Braised beef dishes like short ribs, lamb chops, or a lamb roast are classic family meals that work well with the wine. And when you're relaxing on the couch in front of the tv, could anything be more lekker than a bowl of salty biltong? I quite like kudu biltong because the gamey flavours add more complexity.
Whilst we're speaking of game - you have to try venison, especially when it's cooked in red wine. Ostrich drizzled in a red wine reduction on a bed of herbed mash. Rich, dark sauces like red wine reductions or peppercorn sauce will always do well with a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Other than red meat, consider these food options:
Roasted mushrooms and vegetables, veggie Lasagna or moussaka are all able to hold their own against the power of a big Cabernet.
As far as the cheese course goes, harder cheeses like cheddar are wonderful.
Dessert anyone? Chocolate! But with the caveat that it’s proper dark chocolate that's made with bitter cacao. Dark chocolate ganache, a chocolate torte, or just a slab of high-quality dark chocolate will do just fine. If it’s commercial sweet, milk chocolate... you’re better off having a fortified wine.