A Global Guide to Great Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s hard not to love Caber­net Sau­vig­non, but with so many good options avai­la­ble, it can be tough to know whe­re to begin.

From tra­di­tio­nal French exam­ples and ico­nic Bor­deaux esta­tes to New World cult clas­sics that hail from Napa, Aus­tra­lia and beyond, con­si­der this your go-to resour­ce for the world’s favo­ri­te red-wine gra­pe. You’ll get a glo­bal view of the best the variety has to offer, no mat­ter what cor­ner of the world you turn to. Explo­re the top regions, the typi­cal repre­sen­ta­tions and bottles to stock up on, and dis­co­ver the beau­ti­ful bounty of this ver­sa­ti­le variety.

cabernet wine bottles


Napa Valley

André Tche­list­cheff, a legen­dary Rus­sian-born, Euro­pean-trai­ned wine­ma­ker, was among the ear­liest cham­pions of Napa Valley Caber­net Sau­vig­non. He honed in on the region’s ideal set of cir­cums­tan­ces, from var­ying vol­ca­nic and allu­vial-influen­ced soils to its warm sum­mer days and cool nights.

When [Tche­list­cheff] first tas­ted Napa wines, he deci­ded that Caber­net Sau­vig­non grown in this cli­ma­te was des­ti­ned to beco­me one of the great wines of the world,” wro­te Leon Adams in The Wines of Ame­ri­ca (McGraw-Hill, 1973).

Tche­list­cheff per­sua­ded his emplo­yer, Geor­ges de Latour, to build a cellar to age Beau­lieu Vine­yard Caber­net Sau­vig­non in oak barrels for at least two years. That was follo­wed by another two years of aging in bottle. The 1936 Geor­ges de Latour Pri­va­te Reser­ve intro­du­ced fine Napa Caber­net to the world.

Some 30 miles long and four miles wide, Napa Valley’s long, narrow sha­pe masks con­si­de­ra­ble varia­tions in ele­va­tion, tem­pe­ra­tu­re and topo­graphy throughout its 16 Ame­ri­can Viti­cul­tu­ral Areas (AVAs), from Coombs­vi­lle to Calis­to­ga. Caber­net Sau­vig­non is plan­ted on more than 24,000 acres, 51% of the region’s acrea­ge plan­ted to wine grapes.

Napa Cab reflects the region’s warmth and sunshi­ne. It offers a diver­se exu­be­ran­ce of red to black fruit with plenty of power and con­cen­tra­tion, and cap­tu­res the variety’s com­pe­lling savory com­po­nents of cedar, clo­ve and sage. —Vir­gi­nie Boone

La Jota Vine­yard 2016 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Howell Moun­tain); $150, 97 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

 Ven­ge 2017 Becks­tof­fer Mis­sou­ri Hop­per Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Oak­vi­lle); $125, 97 pointsCellar Selec­tion.

Clos du Val 2016 Hiron­de­lle Vine­yard Esta­te Caber­net Sau­vig­non – (Stags Leap Dis­trict); $120, 96 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Heitz 2015 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Napa Valley); $63, 95 points. Edi­tors’ Choice.

Central Coast

From the 1960s into the ’90s, the Cen­tral Coast’s repu­tation for Caber­net Sau­vig­non was tenuous, as cooler regions typi­cally pro­du­ced reedy, her­bal wines. San­ta Cruz Moun­tains powerhou­ses like Rid­ge Vine­yards and Mount Eden Vine­yards never wave­red from their clas­sic, savory sty­les, but it was the rise of Paso Robles in the early 2000s that put Cab back on the region’s map.

With hot sum­mer days, Paso Robles puts out lush Caber­net bottlings of con­cen­tra­ted fruit cha­rac­te­ris­tics and vel­vety tan­nins. They offer a fami­liar pro­fi­le that many have come to expect from a Cali­for­nia Caber­net Sauvignon.

Meanwhi­le, as viti­cul­tu­re know­led­ge grew in San­ta Bar­ba­ra County, a wave of plan­tings took root in the Happy Can­yon AVA of the eas­tern San­ta Ynez Valley. Tho­se Cabs com­bi­ne sua­ve fruit with ele­gant dried herb and tur­ned earth tones. —Matt Kett­mann

Crown Point 2016 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Happy Can­yon of San­ta Bar­ba­ra); $150, 97 points.

J. Lohr 2016 Sig­na­tu­re Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Paso Robles); $100, 97 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Daou 2017 Soul of a Lion Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ade­lai­da Dis­trict); $125, 95 points.

Vina Robles 2017 Esta­te Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Paso Robles); $26, 93 points. Edi­tors’ Choice.

Lake and El Dorado Counties and Livermore Valley

Liver­mo­re, Lake and El Dora­do may not have the same ring to them as Napa, but the­se Northern Cali­for­nia wine regions punch abo­ve their weight when it comes to high-qua­lity Caber­net Sau­vig­non. They have value going for them, too, as the­se wines are usually pri­ced well below their more famous counterparts.

Southeast of San Fran­cis­co, the Liver­mo­re Valley enjoys coas­tal valley gro­wing con­di­tions simi­lar to Napa. The­se fac­tors, which inclu­de gra­velly soils and slo­ped vine­yard sites com­bi­ned with warm days and cool nights, favor qua­lity Caber­net Sau­vig­non production.

To the north of the Bay Area, Lake County, espe­cially the Red Hills Dis­trict, and El Dora­do County in the Sie­rra Foothills boast high-ele­va­tion vine­yards on vol­ca­nic soils. This means low yields of Caber­net gra­pes, for firm tan­nins and great fruit con­cen­tra­tion in the resul­ting wines. —Jim Gor­don

Obsi­dian Rid­ge 2017 Half Mile Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Red Hills); $65, 94 points. Edi­tors’ Choice.

Shan­non Rid­ge 2016 Ovis Caber­net Sau­vig­non (High Valley); $60, 93 points.

Michael David 2017 Earth­qua­ke Caber­net- Sau­vig­non (Lodi); $26, 92 points. Edi­tors’ Choice.

Josh Cellars 2017 Reser­ve Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Lodi); $22, 90 points. Edi­tors’ Choice.

wine bottles cabernet


Caber­net Sau­vig­non is the cor­ners­to­ne of many of the finest red Bor­deaux. It’s the buil­ding block for the wines of the Médoc, inclu­ding Appe­lla­tion d’Origine Pro­te­gées (AOPs) like Paui­llac, Saint-Julien, Mar­gaux, Saint-Estèphe and Pes­sac-Léog­nan. In some ste­llar years, it can make up more than 90% of a wine, which lea­ves only a small cor­ner for Mer­lotPetit Ver­dot or Caber­net Franc, the other pri­mary per­mit­ted com­po­nents in a Bor­deaux red blend.

The­se wines are dis­tin­cti­ve, with a domi­nant fruit fla­vor of black currant, and bold tan­nins and a firm struc­tu­re that give sha­pe and lon­ge­vity. Tho­se tan­nins never totally disap­pear. They keep some dry­ness at the core of the wines, but mel­ded with fruit and aci­dity, brin­ging ele­gan­ce and har­mony that can be heart-stopping.

The secret behind the suc­cess of the­se Caber­net Sau­vig­non-based wines is the gra­vel. The wide Garon­ne River and the Giron­de estuary that flow from the city of Bor­deaux to the ocean have depo­si­ted mounds of gra­vel on the flat left bank in var­ying depths. Caber­net Sau­vig­non thri­ves whe­re the­se depo­sits are dee­pest, bene­fit­ting from the gravel’s good drai­na­ge and retai­ned heat from the summer.

With cli­ma­te chan­ge, Caber­net Sau­vig­non is gai­ning rich­ness and the abi­lity to ripen easily without beco­ming too heavy. That’s why the variety is now suc­cess­fully cul­ti­va­ted in areas of Bor­deaux whe­re it never matu­red befo­re. The Côtes de Bor­deaux, Entre-deux-Mers and regions around Saint-Émi­lion have increa­sed Caber­net Sau­vig­non plan­tings, which have added struc­tu­re to their fleshy, higher-alcohol, Mer­lot-domi­na­ted bottlings. —Roger Voss

Châ­teau Lafi­te Roths­child 2017 Paui­llac; $585, 97 points. Taub Family Selec­tions. Cellar Selec­tion.

Châ­teau Smith Haut Lafit­te 2016 Pes­sac-Léog­nan; $130, 97 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Châ­teau Léo­vi­lle Bar­ton 2017 Saint-Julien; $75, 96 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Châ­teau Fon­ba­det 2016 Paui­llac; $37, 94 points. Edi­tors’ Choi­ce.

Châ­teau Car­bon­nieux 2017 Pes­sac-Léog­nan; $45, 93 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Châ­teau du Retout 2017 Cru Bour­geo­is (Haut–Médoc); $25, 91 points. Saranty– Imports.

cabernet wine bottles

Washington State

Caber­net Sau­vig­non is far and away Washington’s most plan­ted and pro­du­ced variety, but only within the last five short years has it moved from third in sta­te pro­duc­tion to its pre­sent domi­nan­ce. Not long ago, the grape’s pros­pects in the sta­te were uncertain.

In the 1970s, some thought the sta­te was too cool for the variety, whi­le others belie­ved its gro­wing sea­son too short. Howe­ver, pio­neers sho­wed that con­di­tions could be just right.

Impro­ved site selec­tion and vine­yard mana­ge­ment, with a hel­ping hand from glo­bal war­ming, have sin­ce allo­wed Washington’s wine­ma­kers to craft world-class Cabs in a ran­ge of styles.

Due to the warm sum­mer days in the desert-dry Colum­bia Valley, the state’s lar­gest gro­wing region, Washing­ton Caber­nets are known for ripe, plush fruit fla­vors. But the­se wines often bene­fit from other cli­ma­tic fac­tors, too. They tend to have a good mea­su­re of natu­ral aci­dity, loc­ked in by the area’s cool nights, and their tan­nins pos­sess a bit more fir­mness than many warm-cli­ma­te regions, thanks to the area’s windy and somewhat shor­ter gro­wing season.

Red Moun­tain, Hor­se Hea­ven Hills and Walla Walla Valley are Washington’s other Caber­net cen­ters. The state’s expres­sions still fly lar­gely below the radar, so the­se wines pro­vi­de excep­tio­nal value. —Sean P. Sullivan

Betz Family 2017 Père de Fami­lle Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Colum­ba- Valley); $78, 94 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Pas­sing Time 2017 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Hor­se Hea­ven Hills); $85, 94 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Fall Line 2017 Ver­ti­cal Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Yaki­ma Valley); $38, 92 points. Edi­tors’ Choi­ce.

L’Ecole No. 41 2017 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Walla Walla Valley); $40, 92 points. Cellar Selec­tion.

Three Rivers 2018 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Colum­bia Valley); $16, 91 points. Edi­tors’ Choi­ce.

Water­brook 2018 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Colum­bia Valley); $13, 90 Points. Best Buy.

cabernet wine red


After Shi­raz, Caber­net Sau­vig­non is Australia’s most-plan­ted red variety. The country is home to what many belie­ve to be the oldest-pro­du­cing Caber­net Sau­vig­non vines on earth, plan­ted in 1886 in the Baros­sa Valley.

Whi­le South Aus­tra­lia regions like Baros­sa, Langhor­ne Creek and McLa­ren Vale pro­du­ce Cab, three regions have emer­ged as epi­cen­ters. Each are bles­sed with dry, mode­ra­te, mari­ti­me cli­ma­tes whe­re the spon­ge-like Caber­net soaks up the uni­que terroirs.

In the west, a stone’s throw from the Indian Ocean, Mar­ga­ret River pro­du­ces Caber­net often like­ned to Bor­deaux, thanks to its fine tan­nin struc­tu­re, com­ple­xity and abi­lity for lengthy aging. But regio­nal cha­rac­ters like eucaly­ptus, graphi­te, currants and briny sea spray are unmis­ta­kably its own.

On the edge of South Australia’s southeast bor­der, Coonawarra’s rela­tionship with Caber­net stret­ches back 130 years. This cigar-sha­ped region’s uni­que, terra ros­sa soils pro­du­ce rich Caber­net, with struc­tu­red tan­nins enve­lo­ped in fleshy dark fruit and minty herbs.

Caber­net is at its freshest in the cool-cli­ma­te Yarra Valley appe­lla­tion of Vic­to­ria, loca­ted east of Mel­bour­ne. Red fruit, flo­rals and spi­ce min­gle with pow­dery tan­nins and medium body.

Like elsewhe­re, Aus­sie Cab finds happy com­pa­nions in other Bor­deaux varie­ties like Mer­lot, Mal­bec and Petit Ver­dot, as well as Shi­raz. —Chris­ti­na Pickard

 Leeu­win Esta­te 2014 Art Series Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Mar­ga­ret River); $60, 95 points. Old Brid­ge Cellars. Edi­tors’ Choice.

Wirra Wirra 2016 Dead Rin­ger Caber­net Sau­vig­non (McLa­ren Vale); $70, 93 points. Negociants–Winebow.

Cape Men­te­lle 2015 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Mar­ga­ret River); $72, 92 points. Moët Hen­nessy USACellar Selec­tion.

Forest Hill 2017 High­bury Fields Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Great Southern); $20, 92 points. Little Pea­cock Imports.

Pen­ley Esta­te 2018 Phoe­nix Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Coona­wa­rra); $20, 92 points. Old Brid­ge Cellars.

Châ­teau Tanun­da 2017 Grand Baros­sa Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Baros­sa); $23, 90 points. AUSA Pacific.

cabernet wine bottles


Caber­net Sau­vig­non is Argentina’s “other” big red, a relia­ble sup­por­ting actor worthy of its time in the spotlight. It works best along­si­de Mal­bec, the country’s heartth­rob sta­rring wine, but the­re are times when it deser­ves to be appre­cia­ted as a bold red wine capa­ble of enhan­cing a juicy steak, something Argen­ti­nes know a thing or two about.

That Caber­net Sau­vig­non per­forms well in the New World’s hot­bed of Mal­bec is not a shock. Both gra­pes are mem­bers of the “Bor­deaux Club,” appro­ved for use the­re along with Mer­lot, Caber­net Franc and Petit Ver­dot. Both were also brought to Argen­ti­na from Fran­ce around the mid-19th cen­tury. And both have adap­ted well to the country’s sunny, dry and moun­tai­nous terroirs.

Among pre­mium red gra­pes, Caber­net Sau­vig­non is the third-most plan­ted variety in Argen­ti­na, behind Mal­bec and the less-regar­ded Bonar­da. Within Argen­ti­na, Caber­net excels in regions that have a mix of high alti­tu­de and warm days coupled by cool nights that can help pre­ser­ve natu­ral aci­dity, a vital ingre­dient in any balan­ced wine.

Known to offer just tho­se ideal con­di­tions, Men­do­za is the sour­ce of the country’s best Caber­net Sau­vig­non. Northerly Sal­ta, southerly Pata­go­nia and inte­rior regions like San Juan and La Rio­ja also pro­du­ce Caber­net Sau­vig­non. —Michael Schach­ner

Pas­cual Toso 2017 Alta Barran­cas Vine­yards Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Mai­pú); $50, 93 points. Quin­tes­sen­tial Wines.

Fin­ca La Ani­ta 2017 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Agre­lo); $50, 92 points. Tri-Vin Imports.

Viña Cobos 2017 Bra­ma­re Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Luján de Cuyo); $42, 92 points. Paul Hobbs Selections.

Domai­ne Bous­quet 2018 Came­leon Made with Orga­nic Gra­pes Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Tupun­ga­to); $13, 90 points. WISD LLCBest Buy.

Las Ver­tien­tes 2017 Reser­va Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Men­do­za); $40, 90 points. Vino del Sol.

El Este­co 2017 Don David Reser­ve Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Cal­cha­quí Valley); $15, 89 points. Fre­de­rick Wild­man & Sons.

Cabernet wine bottles

South Africa

South Afri­ca has a long his­tory with Caber­net Sau­vig­non both as a varie­tal wine and in blends. The most widely plan­ted red-wine gra­pe in the country, it has pro­vi­ded many highly rated exam­ples throughout the last few deca­des. Yet, South Afri­can Cabs have lar­gely fai­led to be iden­ti­fied as a con­sis­tent exem­plar on the inter­na­tio­nal wine sta­ge. That over­sight is ripe for change.

Most of the variety’s plan­tings lie within the country’s lar­gest Wine of Ori­gin (WO) area, the Ste­llen­bosch dis­trict of the Coas­tal Region, with more than 7,300 acres under vine. It’s here that the cul­ti­var shi­nes, thanks to the appellation’s moun­tai­nous topo­graphy and pro­xi­mity to the ocean.

Along with the region’s warm cli­ma­te and cooling, southeas­terly winds, the­se fac­tors yield the defi­ni­ti­ve South Afri­can Cab: ripe and fruity, not overly jammy, with ample aci­dity and mode­ra­te alcohol. New World fruit meets Old World structure.

Beyond Ste­llen­bosch, superb Caber­net Sau­vig­non can be found in the Paarl and Rober­tson regions. Paarl, Stellenbosch’s northern neigh­bor on the other side of the Simons­berg moun­tain, gene­rally offers con­cen­tra­ted, dark-frui­ted pours with struc­tu­red tan­nins and medium-term aging poten­tial. To the east, vines in Rober­tson tend to pro­du­ce rich, full-bodied and vel­vety Caber­nets with ripe cas­sis, plum and mul­berry cha­rac­te­ris­tics. —Lau­ren Buzzeo

Rey­ne­ke 2015 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ste­llen­bosch); $136, 94 points. Vine­yard Brands.

Boe­kenhouts­kloof 2016 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ste­llen­bosch); $69, 93 points. Vine­yard Brands.

Keer­mont 2015 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ste­llen­bosch); $42, 93 points. Kyse­la Père et Fils.

Bota­ni­ca 2017 Big Flo­wer Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ste­llen­bosch); $20, 92 points. Pascal/Schildt Selec­tionsEdi­tors’ Choi­ce.

Noble Hill 2015 Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Simons­berg-Paarl); $22, 91 points. Canopy Wine Selec­tions. Edi­tors’ Choi­ce.

Gle­nelly 2016 Glass Collec­tion Caber­net Sau­vig­non (Ste­llen­bosch); $18, 90 points. Cape Classics.

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