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A Short history of Cabernet Sauvignon........

Surprisingly enough Cabernet Sauvignon is not one of the oldest wine grape varieties in the world. Professor Carole Meredith from the University of California at Davis was searching for the origins on Zinfandel. She found another unexpected relationship showing Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc to be Cabernet Sauvignon's parents. Professor Meredith also established Cabernet Sauvignon to be less than 600 years old, a relative newcomer in the wine grape world. The oldest recorded reference to Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the 18th Century and Chateau Mouton. Baron de Brane ripped up the white varieties and planted a red variety called Vidure. Vidure comes from the French words Vigne Dure or hardy vine in reference to the tough nature of Cabernet Sauvignon. The name's still used today in some parts of the Bordeaux where over 50% of the Merdoc and Graves districts are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The massive spread of Cabernet Sauvignon came in the 1800's when it was used to replant the phylloxera ravaged vineyards of Europe.

Other names that Cabernet Sauvignon has been or is known by include: Petit Cabernet, Petit Vidure and Vidure, and in Italy, Uva Francese.

Cabernet Sauvignon berries are small, spherical with black, thick and very tough skin. This toughness makes the grapes resistant to disease and able to withstand autumn rains. It's a late season ripener. We'll often be picking the Cabernet Sauvignon as late as May that is well and truly into autumn. This is a gamble for us in Gippsland as the winter rains can ruin a spectacular crop, but thankfully this doesn't happen often.

Bunches are large with average bunch weights up around 130g. Many of the colder Australian wine regions are pulling out their Cabernet Sauvignon vines or grafting them over to earlier ripening varieties as they can't consistently ripen Cabernet Sauvignon.

Unripe Cabernet Sauvignon will produce wine having green, grassy, capsicum flavours, not the rich ripe berry flavours we love a good Cabernet Sauvignon for. The vines themselves are vigorous and do best in well-drained soils. All vines do their best in well drained soils, but Cabernet Sauvignon will not survive in poorly drained soils. The small berries have a high pip and skin to pulp ratio and if not treated gently during the early winemaking process can give very harsh and tannic wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with other varieties to soften it. Adding Merlot or Cabernet Franc fills in the middle palate and gives a soft fruit finish. Adding Shiraz gives a wonderful fullbodied wine with lots of fruit berry flavours and spicy pepper at the back of the palate. Sangiovese is often added in Tuscany to produce a unique blend and some Malbec and Petite Verdot seem to regularly crop up as blends. The trend is turning back towards more straight Cabernet Sauvignons. The blends are easier to drink and quicker to mature than straight Cabernet Sauvignon, but they lack the complexity that a good Cabernet Sauvignon has on its own.

And Cabernet Sauvignon loves oak. Lots of tannins and often high alcohol contents react well to slow wood maturation. Cabernet Sauvignon can be aged in new oak for anywhere up to a year to produce spectacular results. Try this with a Chardonnay and you'll end up with lots of oak and very little grape flavour.

The earliest recorded appearance of Cabernet Sauvignon in Australia is in 1820. The Macarthur's at 'Camden Park' vineyard, enlarged their Camden estate with the first commercial plantings in the area. Varieties grown include Pineau Gris, Frontignac, Gouais, Verdelho, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Grenache and Mataro. In 2001 there were 28,609 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Australia. By contrast the most widely planted red grape variety in Australia was Shiraz accounting for 33,676 hectares. If you consider that the total area planted to red wine grapes in Australia at that time was 90,933 hectares, there's a lot of Cabernet Sauvignon out there.

* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans

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