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L'Orval Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Nearly synonymous with fine wine and all things epicurean, France has a culture of wine production and consumption that is deeply rooted in tradition. Many of the world’s most beloved grape varieties originated here, as did the concept of “terroir”—the notion that regions and vineyards convey a sense of place that is reflected in the resulting wine. Accordingly, most French wine is labeled by geographical location, rather than grape variety, which can be confusing to the general consumer, who can benefit from a general working knowledge of the major appellations. Some of the greatest wine regions in the world can be found here, including Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, and Champagne, but each part of the country has its own specialties and strengths.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, always unblended, are the king and queen of Burgundy, producing elegant red and white wines with great acidity, the finest examples of which can age for decades and command astoundingly high auction prices. The same varieties, along with Pinot Meunier, are used in Champagne. Of comparable renown is Bordeaux, focused on bold, structured red wines that are almost always blends of some combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. The primary white varieties of Bordeaux are Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The Rhône Valley is responsible for monovarietal Syrah in the north, while in the south it is generally blended with Grenache and Mourvèdre. White Rhône varieties include Marsanne, Roussane, and Viognier. Most of these varieties are planted throughout the country and beyond, extending their influence into both the Old and New Worlds.
A noble variety bestowed with both power and concentration, Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes referred to as the “king” of red grapes. It can be somewhat unapproachable early in its youth but has the potential to age beautifully, with the ability to last fifty years or more at its best. Small berries and tough skins provide its trademark firm tannic grip, while high acidity helps to keep the wine fresh for decades. Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes in temperate climates like Bordeaux's Medoc region (and in St-Emillion and Pomerol, where it plays a supporting role to Merlot). The top Médoc producers use Cabernet Sauvignon for their wine’s backbone, blending it with Merlot and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and/or Petit Verdot. On its own, Cabernet Sauvignon has enjoyed great success throughout the world, particularly in the Napa Valley, and is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious and sought-after “cult” wines.
In the Glass
High in color, tannin, and extract, Cabernet Sauvignon expresses notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, currant, spice, and tobacco. In Bordeaux and elsewhere in the Old World you'll find the more earthy, tannic side of Cabernet, where it's typically blended to soften tannins and add complexity. In warmer regions like California and Australia, you can typically expect more ripe fruit flavors upfront.
Cabernet Sauvignon is right at home with rich, intense meat dishes—beef, lamb, and venison, in particular—where its opulent fruit and decisive tannins make an equal match to the dense protein of the meat. With a mature Cabernet, opt for tender, slow-cooked meat dishes.
Despite the modern importance and ubiquity of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is actually a relatively young variety. In 1997, DNA revealed the grape to be a spontaneous crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which took place in 17th century southwestern France.