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Is Cabernet Sauvignon Dry or Sweet? Our Palates Decide!

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Last Updated: September 13, 2022

The Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most well-known red wine varieties worldwide. While it is a dry wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon has a pleasant taste that makes it an excellent choice for casual drinking and food pairing. 

However, is the Cabernet Sauvignon dry or sweet? The taste profile of this red wine could be confusing because it has a dry mouthfeel and, at the same time, delicious fruity and spicy flavors. 

Let's begin studying this wine! 

What is Cabernet Sauvignon?

The Cabernet Sauvignon is a red grape varietal originating from the Bordeaux region of Southwest France. It thrives in cool and warm climates of the Napa Valley in northern California, Chile, Argentina, Australia, and South Africa. 

The Cabernet Sauvignon wine is the reigning grape varietal grown in the Napa Valley and accounts for about 40% of the wine produced there. 

Napa's other well-known wines include Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, also known as Shiraz, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Grigio, also known as Pinot Gris.

Carbernet Sauvignon vs Merlot

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes share a genetic parent in the Cabernet Franc vine. The grapes make delicious Bordeaux-style sweet wines when blended with the Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Shiraz, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Noir grape varieties.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon
Merlot
Merlot

The Cabernet Sauvignon is dry with a complex taste profile, the Merlot is a sweet red wine with a fruity taste profile suitable for serving meals or as dessert wines.

Taste Test: Try another wine for curiosity. Read our post regarding the shelf life of probably one of the world's popular liquors -- How Long Does Sherry Last.

Wine Styles

The Cabernet Sauvignon grows in almost every major wine-producing country and is currently the most widely planted red wine grape variety worldwide. However, it is a relatively new variety compared to other types like the Syrah/ Shiraz which is 5,000 years old. 

The wine is a cross between the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc vines created in Bordeaux during the 17th Century; hence, the name Cabernet Sauvignon.

It is an easy grape to cultivate as it thrives in various soil types and climate conditions, and is resistant to most grape diseases. Additionally, it produces Cabernet Sauvignon wine with a consistent structure and complex taste profile, characteristics that contribute to its popularity.

However, climate determines its suitability as a single varietal wine or a blending component for sweet red wine. In warm New World regions like California, the grapes stay on the vines a little longer, which increases the ability to produce varietal Cabernet Sauvignon red wines. 

In Old World places like Bordeaux, where they harvest grapes a little earlier due to inclement weather, the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are blended with the Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot varieties to make the world-famous Bordeaux Blend wines.

Taste Profile

Red Wine Smell

Due to early harvesting in cool climate wine-growing regions where the grapes are underripe, they produce Cabernet Sauvignon wines with blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry, mint, and cedar notes.

In a moderate climate, the red wine produced will have black cherry and olive notes, while in warm regions, the flavors tend to be jammy as the grapes are ripe when harvested.  

The Cabernet Sauvignon red wine also features some flavors and aromas resulting from the viticultural aspect of terroir. These include the green bell pepper flavor caused by the Pyrazine compound in underripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. 

Grapes harvested early in cool climate regions such as Monterey, California, tend to have green bell pepper flavor.

Mint is another known flavor found in some Cabernet Sauvignon red wine styles from parts of Washington State and Coonawarra, Australia. While mint might result from the soil type in these regions, eucalyptus flavors appear in wines grown in places indigenous to the Eucalyptus trees, such as Napa and Sonoma valleys and parts of Australia. 

We also have to consider how the aging process affects the flavor and aroma of the wine. Cabernet Sauvignon typically has an affinity for oak, and that's where we get the wood and spice flavors of cedar, tobacco, vanilla, and clove to soften the high tannins. 

As to the question is Cabernet Sauvignon dry or sweet, it is a dry red wine because it contains low levels of residual sugar. We can also describe this wine as bold due to its high alcohol and tannin levels.

Food Pairings

The Cabernet Sauvignon goes well with heavy meat dishes such as grilled steaks, lamb and pork chops, grilled poultry dishes, veal, and venison. The wine also pairs well with certain hard cheeses like Cheddar, Mozzarella, Blue Cheese, and Brie. 

Steak and Red Wine
Steak and Red Wine

Additionally, you can combine this wine with mushrooms, eggplant, roasted tomatoes, and greens like radicchio and endive. Dark chocolate is a typical aroma bridge for dry red wines as it helps to balance off the astringency.

Dishes flavored with herbs and mild spices such as mint, rosemary, black pepper, basil, thyme, and oregano also pair well with Cabernet Sauvignon wine. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Cabernet Sauvignon sweeter than Sauvignon Blanc?

Residual sugar is the sugar left behind in a finished wine after fermenting the grape juice. The sugar amount determines the sweetness of the red wine. 

Red wines typically have between 1 and 4 grams per liter, while an off-dry, also called semi-sweet wine, such as the Pinot Gris has between 4g/L to 12g/L. For comparison, a sweet wine such as a port has more than 45g/L.

The Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, dry, and fragrant white wine with low levels of residual sugar. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a genetic offspring of the Sauvignon Blanc and is a dry red wine as it has low amounts of residual sugar.

Is Cabernet Sauvignon good for cooking?

The Cabernet Sauvignon uses oak barrels in the fermentation process, which leaves wood and spice flavors to the wine. Therefore, it would not be a good choice for cooking, as the spicy flavors and tannin do not compliment the dish you are preparing. 

Generally, red wines such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese use stainless steel barrels that do not leave any flavors or aromas in the wine.

How do you serve Cabernet Sauvignon?

The Cabernet Sauvignon taste is better when left to breathe in a decanter for 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your taste. Breathing helps open up the flavor and aroma of the wine to its full potential. The wine is also best served at room temperature or slightly chilled to enjoy its flavors.  

Does the Cabernet Sauvignon have any health benefits? 

Studies show that consuming red wine moderately can provide some health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Red grapes are rich in antioxidants such as resveratrol, catechin, proanthocyanidins, and epicatechin. 

Antioxidants help to reduce inflammation and prevent blood clots. Resveratrol is a natural compound found in the skin of red wine grapes, and studies show that it can reduce the risk factors associated with Alzheimer's disease.


Conclusion

The Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the well-known red wines, with Merlot and the semi-sweet wine Pinot Noir following closely behind. It is grown in all the wine-producing countries and comes in various styles depending on the region. 

Generally, red wines tend to be dry or off-dry with varying acidity and tannin levels. However, most varieties are blended to create sweet dessert wines. The dryness and high tannin characteristics make the Cabernet Sauvignon an excellent choice for pairing with high cholesterol meat dishes, hard cheeses, and dark chocolates.

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