Why is Cabernet Sauvignon the King of California Wine?
People often wonder how Cabernet Sauvignon became the quintessential varietal of California wine grapes. I’ll give you a little bit of history that should help explain the mystery.
Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a bit of a love child, with a purple parent and a white parent. It is the cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc, hence Cabernet Sauvignon. Legend has it that Cabernet Sauvignon was created when French vintners set out to create a new varietal. Whether by design or by chance, this combination of opposite parents created a timeless, rich, hearty and robust varietal perfect for winemaking that has established itself as the king of red wine varietals not only here in Napa Valley, but all over the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is what we call a Vitis Vinifera. All Vitis Vinifera varieties, including the grapes we grow in Napa Valley, originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Western Asia. These grapes are endemic to the Mediterreanean region, and they eventually made their way along man’s migratory paths from Western Asia to Western Europe.
Over the centuries, winemakers in the colder northern climates of Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne realized that varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay did well. In the south of France, Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Sensoux and Morvedre did best. In the maritime climates of Bordeaux, the Cabernet family of grapes thrived. Cabernet franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot grow very well there as well. It was in France during the 17th Century, that Cabernet Sauvignon was created, and became the king of Bordeaux.
When it came time for Napa to hang its hat on a global, noble variety (varietals that work well in the vineyard, are of a profile favorable to consumers and age well in the bottle-Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), Napa looked to follow in the footsteps of Bordeaux. We had the climate, the terrain and our amazingly fertile volcanic soil- perfect conditions to grow vinus vinifera. During the post-prohibition years, Napa as a community said “We want to be Cabernet. Cabernet is our variety.” It can be argued that as far as growing Cabernet Sauvignon is concerned, Napa Valley is not only as good as, but perhaps even better than Bordeaux. There, I said it because I’ve spent decades walking these vineyards, picking these grapes and tasting these wines. I know it is true! And of course the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 proved to the world that Napa Valley wines stand up to the very best in the world.
We make wines here in Napa Valley just like they do in Bordeaux, France. Cabernet is our base grape, but we blend in other Bordeaux varietals depending upon each year’s unique harvest, as well as our own personal style and taste. In Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon does it all. It thrives in the vineyard, it ages extremely well in the tanks and barrels, and it blends brilliantly with other varietals.
Known for hints of green bell pepper, blendability and compatibility with oak barrels, it’s no fluke that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red varietal. In a blend or on its own, Cabernet Sauvignon provides truly unmatched structure and balance. It has a very rich fruit flavor as well as supple tannins that provide depth and body. It also happens to do more on the palette than other varietals do. Asking why Americans love Cabernet Sauvignon so much is much like asking why we prefer beef to mutton or venison. We gravitated towards beef because our flavor profiles are more in tune with its texture and rich flavor. And what goes better with a juicy steak than a big, bold glass of Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Sauvignon is the primary grape varietal of all Yao Family Wines red wine offerings, and most great wines coming out of Napa Valley. From our Napa Crest Napa Valley Red Blend to our signature YAO MING Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and our very limited YAO MING Family Reserve, all Yao Family Wines red wines are Cabernet based wines, but they vary in their percentages. Napa Crest, our softer and more approachable blend, is 65-68% Cabernet, depending on the year. YAO MING Napa Valley Cab is always 87-91% Cabernet, and our Family Reserve is always around 97% Cabernet. We can add Merlot for cherry tones, Cabernet Franc for aromatics and hints of tea leaves and forest floor and Petit Verdot for deep color and tannin structure in the middle, but in each of these wines, Cabernet is king.
Why is Cab my personal favorite varietal? I love growing it, making it and drinking it. It’s a rewarding grape. If you pay attention to farming and treat it well, it will reward you back. During the winemaking process, Cabernet Sauvignon responds to fermentation techniques and creates incredibly haunting layers. It is not one-dimensional. You can smell, see and taste the layers: fruit flavors on top, florals in the middle and a finish of complexity and depth. There is no richer wine drinking experience. It’s got character and integrity. It ages incredibly well. It can be temperamental, unpredictable and surly when it is young, And as it ages, it becomes mature and wise. It’s like your most loyal pet. You love it and it loves you back.