Cabernet Sauvignon is a relatively recent varietal, resulting from a crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in the Bordeaux region of France. Based on DNA evidence, UC Davis estimates the age to be less than 600 years old, although historical records of Cabernet Sauvignon are only available from the 1700s. It likely arose based on a random event rather than plan. Since that time, Cabernet Sauvignon has become one of the most widely planted grapes in the world.
Although the grape's origins are in Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon has spread to virtually every area of the new world that produces Reds. Arguably the seminal event that led to Cabernet Sauvignon's mercurial rise was the 1976 Paris wine tasting where a 1973 vintage Stag's leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors ushering in a rapid acceptance of new world wines. Since then, its production has exploded and its now cultivated in virtually every red wine producing area in the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon vines are vigorous and easy to grow explaining one of its appeals. Relative to other Reds, it buds late and ripens late leading to problems in cooler regions where there is insufficient warm weather to allow the fruit to fully mature. Because of its vigorous nature, when grown in hot climates, it can over produce sugars creating a wine that's excessive in both alcohol and fruit with little acidic balance. Although it will grow in virtually any soil, it performs best in well drained, gravel or sandy soil. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are one of the last to ripen, which is why it needs a long growing season. Vineyard managers often face an agonizing decision whether to allow the grapes to further mature or risk frost damage, potentially ruining a large portion of the harvest.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are robust with thick skins and a high concentration of seeds, both of which create its characteristic tannins. Grapes clusters tend to be loose, allowing for some airflow between the fruit decreasing, the chance of mildew of fungus infection.
In heavier Cabernet Sauvignons, the crushed fruit can spend up to 4 weeks in fermentation tanks, continuing to absorb tannins from the skins and seeds. Traditional Cabernet usually spends between 12 and 24 months in oak.
Cabernet Sauvingon's status as the king of US reds has taken it to places never dreamed of prior to the new world wine revolution. Attempting to capitalize on Napa's fame with Cabs, many aspiring wine makers have planted it where other hot weather varietals would be better suited like those traditionally grown in Southern Italy or hotter regions of Spain. Some success can be attained by heavily dropping fruit cluster early in growing season to encourage more energy into the remaining fruit but more often than not, planting a more appropriate varietal would yield better results.
Red wine consumption is on the rise and the winemaking industry has been quick to bring the popular Cab to new wine consumers. These mass produced Cabernets usually are very fruit forward with little acid to balance the fruit. Often called 'approachable' or 'drinkable', these varieties are made to be consumed soon after release and while often looked down upon by many wine aficionados, they introduce Red wine to consumers who might otherwise shy away from more expensive, subtle wines.