Early in my restaurant career, I worked at a big budget steakhouse in Minneapolis, a couple of them actually. Cabernet Sauvignon portrayed a major role in the body of the wine program. I had the opportunity to drink big bold Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and of course the wines produced in Bordeaux, France that inspired the California Meritage style. They are hugely different products, to be sure.
When looking at Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon from Pauillac, Margaux, St Julien and St. Estèphe, it is important to recognize that these are the premier Cabernet Sauvignon in the world, but it is just as critical to discuss the fact that modern new world Cabernet Sauvignon pays homage, but is quite a different product all together. These Bordeaux reds are frequently 70-80% Cabernet Sauvignon with lesser sums of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. This practice is mimicked in the new world, but not at very similar ratios. Bordeaux wines are oak aged for years in small French barrels before bottling to maximize the integration of rustic aromatics, though you can buy French oak in the new world, you struggle to find a 400 year old cellar to keep your barrel in. Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in Tuscany as well, where it is frequently blended with Sangiovese into Super Tuscan red blends, which also benefit from extended barrel and bottle age. In no way do I prefer new world to old world, but in terms of discussing the grape, Bordeaux deserves it's own discussion, hours long, and I will tackle it with subscribers gradually, or by appointment.
Domestic Cabernet Sauvignon is usually blended in some ratio with Merlot, or Cabernet Franc. Also Malbec, is frequently used in the last decade or so. The decision to blend small ratios 15-20% is both an homage to the historical practice in Bordeaux, and a practical application of blending helps promote consistency. Yes, adding some Merlot can help keep the brand consistent. As consumers, if our Cabernet Sauvignon contains 17% Merlot in 2018, and my favorite producers fudges the ratio to 19% in 2019 I probably will not notice the slight fluctuation that permits that producer to select higher amounts of exceptional fruit. Slight changes in ratio occur to accommodate unseen variables in a growing year, but the overall product still shows it's brand identity.
In general Cabernet Sauvignon enjoys warmer climates, and because it has a fairly thick skin, coupled with a long hangtime on the vine the juice is tannic, full bodied, and balanced. Cabernet Sauvignon is a natural pairing for ribeye steak. Chewing a ribeye, marbled with delicious fat content, causes ones mouth to water. This offsets the presence of skin and oak tannin represented in Cabernet Sauvignon, and creates a union made for food pairing.
Other interesting and important areas of production include Australia, and South Africa. Here the wines show great texture, body and ripe fruit flavors of black currant and aromas of spice from oak ageing. A fun compare/contrast class could include Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington, Australia, and South Africa, or old world vs new with Bordeaux, Tuscany, California and South African blends. Build your own Cabernet Sauvignon class.