Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova
Photo credit: Nadezda Kuznetsova

There is more Cabernet Sauvignon planted in the world than any other variety: 290,000 hectares in 2010. It’s the number one variety in Chile and, with over 40,000 hectares dedicated to this variety, Chile has the second largest area of Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the world, after France, the birthplace of this traditional grape.

Time to eat


Much loved by the Chilean people, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of choice for accompanying barbecues, and, above all, for the annual national 18th September holiday, when the country downs tools for the best part of a week to eat, drink and be merry in celebration of the country’s independence.

Cabernet Sauvignon is beloved because it is a grape you can rely on for certain characteristics wherever in the world it comes from: the classic blackcurrant aroma, high tannins and medium to high acidity. The acidity level depends on how warm it is where the grapes were grown. If they are from a hotter climate, the wine will have lower acidity. With its thick, highly-coloured blue grapes, it gives deep-coloured wines.

When aged in oak, it can gain aromas of toast, coffee, vanilla or nuts, the mouth can become rounder and the tannins smoother.  Over time, the wine might develop notes of tobacco.

18 wineFresh and fruity or big and beefy?

Some Cabernet Sauvignon wines are made to have a lighter body, moderate, smooth tannins, refreshing acidity and lots of fruit aromas and flavours.  This style is quite versatile and will pair with lots of different dishes, especially red meat.

At the opposite extreme are full-bodied, tannic wines with oak-ageing, which can have a thick, “cigarbox” feel in the mouth, almost like you swallowed an ashtray. This is a style people either love or hate; it’s certainly very good with fatty, full-flavoured meat dishes.

Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon
Empanadas: traditional Chilean treat that pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon

Bordeaux blends

Cabernet Sauvignon originates in France and is one of the main grapes used for making red wine from Bordeaux, along with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. As in much of Europe, Bordeaux wines are blends for two reasons. Firstly Cabernet Sauvignon ripens late in the season and needs warmth to ripen fully. In cooler, damper years, it can fail to ripen fully in Bordeaux and so the other grapes grown in the region help make up for its underripe flavours and tannins. Secondly, by blending different varieties, a more complex and sophisticated wine is obtained. In a classic Bordeaux blend, the Cabernet Sauvignon will provide tannins and colour, while the plump and fruity Merlot rounds it out. Petit Verdot and/or Cabernet Franc are often used to give spice or perfume to the wine.

Many countries around the world, including Chile, make “Bordeaux blends” featuring Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and sometimes a touch of the other grapes. The result is usually a sophisticated wine with lots of upfront fruity aromas, some cigarbox notes and a meat-friendly mouth featuring lots of body, tannins and acidity that make such wines age well.

What style of Cabernet Sauvignon do you like? Do you have a favourite?

Our tasting panels have been hard at work this month, tasting Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

The first panel test-drove budget Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon during a barbecue and ranked them in order of how well they paired with barbecued meat. See the results here.

The second panel blind tasted mid-price Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wines. See the results here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *