Monday, May 9, 2011

Motherfucking Booze Time: Cabernet Sauvignon

Young Earth Creationism at work
Wine has been around for eight thousand years. According to many young Earth creationists, the earth has been around for just less than 10,000 years. What does this mean? Well, first it means that young Earth creationists are fucking morons. Second, it means wine must be pretty fucking important for it to be on a list with "name all the animals", "figure out what this 'sex' thing is for", "avoid dinosaurs", and "plant fossils to confuse people 10,000 years from now". Over the centuries, lots of wine has been made, drank, and debated. It stands to reason then that the most popular wine in the world would be tried and tested throughout the ages. A taste so studied and reflected on that its very name evokes the essence of what wine is and should strive to be. Whatever it is, it certainly couldn't be an accidental creation less than three hundred years old that we didn't really know anything about until the 90s.

The History of Cabernet Sauvignon or Hangin' Tough by New Wine on the Block
Cabernet sauvignon originated in the 17th century. That's right, Cab is about as old as the Liberty Bell. Compare that with pinot noir, which has been grown in the Burgundy region of France alone since 100AD. Wine has been around practically as long as grapes, so it's not surprising that the history is somewhat hard to pin down for most varietals. Within the past 20 years, they've actually begun doing DNA testing on grapes to see where certain types come from. Before the late 90s, rumor had it that cabernet sauvignon was an ancient grape use to make Roman wine around the time of legendary historian Pliny the Elder. That was complete fucking horseshit. Cab is actually the offspring of Cabernet franc and Sauvignon blanc, likely a chance crossing sometime in the 17th century. To recap: a grape called Cabernet sauvignon is a cross between a grape called Cabernet franc and a grape called Sauvignon blanc. We needed DNA to tell us this.
Despite its relative new comer status, Cabernet sauvignon is possibly the most well-known red wine in the world. It is planted in virtually every vineyard in every corner of the globe. Only Merlot is more widely available, a fact only true as recently as the 1990s.

How'd It Get So Fucking Popular?
Simply put, the grape is fucking hard to kill. It has a thick skin, with vines very resistant to frost, rot, and disease. It's like the dandelion of grapes... cab can grow pretty much anywhere. This has also helped make it widely available, giving it another mark in the popularity column. Cabs have very high tipicity (which is wine douche-speak for tasting the same as other wines of the same varietal) so you have a pretty good idea what you're getting when you pick up a bottle. Cabernet sauvignon is also a wine that gets better with age, making it a hit with collectors and wine snobs the world over. It's also very high in alcohol content... so, there's that.
I've seen a few places that also claim the ease of pronouncing Cabernet sauvignon has led to its growth and popularity. I couldn't resist sharing that fucking little nugget of craziness with you. Enjoy it.

So, What Does It Taste Like?
Cabernet Sauvignon is known for tasting like bell peppers. If that sounds pretty fucking gross, you're not alone. While wine nerds go out of their way to stress that this taste isn't exactly a bad thing (a "wine fault" if you want to be a tool about it) most winemakers do their damnedest to get rid of it. This taste comes mostly from under-ripened grapes, which are more common in wines that come from cooler climates.
Cabs also have naturally high tannins. Tannins cause that dry, puckery taste in your mouth during and after drinking. It loses this bite with age. Fermenting and aging in oak barrels also helps cut down on tannins, which works especially well with cabs.

I'm pretty firmly against the well-known process of describing the taste of wine. Describing wine as tasting like "gasoline" or "pencil box" is just fucking stupid. Cabernet sauvignon most often has a nice, even dryness with some hints of fruit. Barrel aging is going to give you the biggest variation in flavor (and lessening of tannins): light oak gives you a much more mellow flavor, while dark lends a more smoky flavor. Overall, I would describe a good cab as being extremely full bodied. It isn't for the weekend wine drinker who likes their vino to taste like Hawaiian Punch.

Goes Well With a Big Mac, I Assume?
Actually, yeah... though, as with any food pairing suggestion, I say do what you want. Cabernet sauvignon, being an extremely fucking aggressive wine, tends to go well with any other strong flavors, especially red meat and thick tomato sauces. Personally, I love a nice ball-busting cab with anything on the grill or barbecued (especially ribs). There aren't a lot of flavors that will overpower it, so feel free to enjoy a nice, rich dessert and light up a cigar or pipe after dinner. Bottom line: stay away from light or delicate flavors and you'll be all right.

As for a specific bottle recommendation... you aren't going to get one. One of the bad things about the ease and availability of Cabernet sauvignon is that it has had a tendency to hurt local and regional grape varieties. It's like Walmart moving in next to the local Mom & Pop and knocking them out of business. If you want a Cabernet sauvignon, buy something that originated locally. That way you can get shithoused and stimulate the local economy at the same time.

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