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The Honest Guide to Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon

Armed with just a few basic facts, and maybe a rifle, you can walk into any party of wine lovers and impress them with your knowledge. But where do you find those facts? Reference books give you their version of the facts, but when it comes to wine grapes these facts are shamefully incomplete. Sure, they have little illustrations of different grape clusters, but how boring is that? “Did you know that Zinfandel ripens unevenly, sort of like how Scarlet Johansson’s left boob is smaller than her right.” Who cares?

Anyhow, reading a book about grape varieties that’s filled with stupid paintings of clusters is about as interesting as reading every Marvin Shanken “Letter From the Editor” in Wine Spectator. Marvin writes with all the flair of a turkey baster. So in this edition of The Honest Guide to Grapes I focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. Take notes, there will be a short quiz later.


Cabernet Sauvignon is the easiest grape to understand. Think of it like a Frank Gehry designed winery—big and ugly. There seems to be something in Cabernet that mesmerizes humans. It’s our desire for size instead of subtlety. So Celine Dion not Blossom Dearie. SUV’s instead of integrity. Glenn Beck instead of truth. And, naturally, when we speak of great Cabernet Sauvignon we speak about elegance because it has none, but we’re sure as hell determined to convince everyone it does. Cabernet is to elegance as Johnny Weir is to masculinity.

Cabernet Sauvignon is useful in assessing wine lovers as well. If a friend’s wine cellar is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, the person who assembled it knows about as much about wine as the average wine blogger. Insert joke here. In general, the best wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon command the highest prices of almost any of the varieties, so it’s also a sign of intelligence, or lack thereof.

Interesting Cabernet Sauvignon facts:

Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended into the finest Italian wines in order to make them understandable to stupid American wine buyers. It almost never makes them better.

In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is best when aged in enormous caves, the bigger and more elaborate the better. You know what Freud said about caves, “They are big, wet and filled with strange life forms, and I love to store my cigar there.” Freud preferred big Pinots.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant grape of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. “Left Bank” is from the colloquial expression for what prestige-seeking buyers have done after a shopping spree in Pauillac.

Other names for Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • HMS Ti-Tannic
  • Death Cab for Laube
  • Athlete’s Lafite
  • Cab Salve
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