Cabernet Sauvignon is so ubiquitous that it’s often the first variety people think of when they picture a glass of wine. From legendary Bordeaux to modern Napa Valley labels, Cabernet is everywhere. It is also one of the dominant varieties on the fine wine market. Most collectors claim to be very familiar with this wine. However, there are several facts about Cabernet Sauvignon you may be surprised to learn, even if you’re an experienced collector. Whether you’re starting a collection from scratch or you want to improve your fine wine knowledge, here are ten of the most important Cabernet Sauvignon facts every collector should know.
Ten Essential Cabernet Sauvignon Facts
The most important Cabernet Sauvignon facts are those that help you make better decisions about which wines to add to your collection. Find your next top-rated bottle with these in mind:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted red grape variety in the world
There are more than 340,000 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon vines spanning every continent on Earth except Antarctica. Not only is this grape a crowd-pleaser, but it also is a core component of some of the most famous collectible wines in the world, including:
- Red Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style blends made outside of France
- Super Tuscans
- Cult Cabernet Sauvignon labels (primarily made in California)
These styles of Cabernet Sauvignon are generally more age-worthy and complex in flavor than mass-produced Cabernet.
2. Four regions are especially suited to the Cabernet Sauvignon grape
Although Cabernet Sauvignon can grow nearly anywhere, certain conditions make this variety shine. Cabernet is a thick-skinned grape, so it does well with exposure to sunlight and the fruit can endure high winds. Still, if conditions are too warm, the result can be overly ripe and alcoholic wines. Likewise, a climate that’s too cold won’t allow the grapes to ripen fully, leading to austere, “vegetal,” and overly acidic wines.
The best regions for Cabernet Sauvignon have a balance of warm days and cool nights. These four regions in particular produce valuable Cabernet worth collecting:
- Bordeaux, France: A slightly cool climate and mineral-rich soils give the wine balanced acidity, minerality, and earthiness, with bright red fruit flavors. The lightest and most elegant Cabernet is made here.
- Napa Valley, California: A warmer climate makes Napa Cabernet bold, fruit-forward, and deeply concentrated in flavor. However, these wines are often quite balanced, with excellent acidity.
- Tuscany, Italy: Warm weather produces a powerful wine with dark fruit flavors.
- Maipo Valley, Chile: Very warm summers produce some of the boldest and most fruit-forward Cabernets on the fine wine market.
While the Cabernet produced in each of these regions is quite different, all of these areas are home to top-rated wine producers that every collector should have on their radars.
3. You can tell Bordeaux’s Left Bank and Right Bank apart from the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend
Most red Bordeaux is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties. However, Bordeaux producers use Cabernet Sauvignon differently in their blends, or not at all, and this significantly changes the personality of the wines.
On the Left Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon is its most precious grape, accounting for the greatest percentage of the blend. A typical blend includes:
- Cabernet Sauvignon (60 percent or more)
- Merlot (30 to 40 percent)
- Cabernet Franc (10 percent or less)
- Malbec (10 percent or less)
- Petit Verdot (rarely used, and when it is, it’s less than 2 percent)
In other words, a Left Bank wine is largely Cabernet Sauvignon, with just a touch of other grape varieties to round out the flavors.
Meanwhile, on the Right Bank, Cabernet Sauvignon may not be used at all. The most common Right Bank blends are:
- 100-percent Merlot
- Primarily Merlot, with a small amount of Cabernet Franc
- 50-percent Merlot and 50-percent Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon gives Left Bank wines their distinctive tannins, which help them age for decades in a cellar. Without this grape variety, the Merlot-rich wines of the Right Bank are generally softer and rounder, as their tannins aren’t as firm. Both types of Bordeaux are highly valuable, sought-after, and age-worthy, but collectors need to recognize the differences. Cabernet Sauvignon is the key.
4. Single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon labels are becoming more popular due to the cult wine boom
The rise of cult wines has had a major impact on how modern winemakers approach Cabernet Sauvignon. A cult wine is a wine that’s made in extremely limited quantities and that has a high demand on the market. The most popular cult wines are made in California’s Napa Valley, and the vast majority of these are made from Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend of Cabernet.
Due to the popularity of cult Cabernet Sauvignon, California’s total share of the fine wine market has risen from 0.1 to 7.1 percent in just ten years. Currently, California is the second most expensive wine region in the world, according to Liv-ex, and this is largely due to its focus on fine cult Cabernet.
The increase in market share and popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t limited to California. In Australia (another region known for producing fine cult wines), exports of Cabernet Sauvignon have experienced an annual growth rate of 12 percent in the past five years. Exports of single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon (meaning the wine is not blended with any other grapes) have shown an even greater increase — 13 percent in just one year.
What this tells collectors is that single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon is in higher demand than it was in the past, so you may see more fine cult Cabernet on the market in the coming years.
5. A bottle of cult Cabernet Sauvignon was the second most expensive wine ever sold at auction
In 2000, six magnum bottles of 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon sold at a charity auction for $500,000. Only one wine has sold for a higher price: a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (for $558,000). While it is not typical to sell even the finest cult wines for a price this high, this fact is still notable. It shows that there’s a great deal of buzz around cult Cabernet Sauvignon from California — enough that someone would pay half a million dollars for one of the most sought-after vintages in California’s history.
6. Cult Cabernet Sauvignon from California can be just as valuable as fine Bordeaux
Speaking of cult wines, some wine collectors are surprised to learn that the top labels often sell for the same price as the storied wines of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Take some of the most popular labels from Bordeaux and Napa Valley, for instance:
|Average Price of Top-Rated Napa Cult Cabernet (per 750 ml bottle)
|Average Price of Top-Rated Red Bordeaux (per 750 ml bottle)
|Screaming Eagle: $3,000 to $7,000
|Château Lafite Rothschild: $1,000 to $8,000
|Harlan Estate: $1,000 to $7,000
|Château Latour: $1,000 to $8,000
|Scarecrow: $1,000 to $5,000
|Château Margaux: $800 to $8,000
|Opus One: $500 to $2,000
|Château Mouton Rothschild: $800 to $7,000
|Schrader: $500 to $1,000
|Château Palmer: $500 to $5,000
While Bordeaux is slightly more valuable than cult Cabernet Sauvignon as a whole, the cult wines are not far behind. The average bottle of Screaming Eagle is often just as if not more valuable than a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild, depending on the vintage.
So, if you’re looking for a valuable bottle of Cabernet to add to your collection or you want to expand your horizons beyond Bordeaux, cult wines are certainly an option.
7. The 1976 Judgement of Paris redefined what fine Cabernet Sauvignon could be
While cult Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine market leader today, in the past, California Cabernet was quite underrated, often overshadowed by Cabernet-based Bordeaux blends. A turning point came in 1976, when wine critics held the Judgement of Paris, a competition ranking the finest wines in the world at the time. To the surprise of some Bordeaux enthusiasts, a Napa Valley Cabernet won over the judges in a blind taste test. A bottle of flagship Cabernet from Stag’s Leap Cellars outperformed every Bordeaux bottle. This moment proved that the New World was capable of making fine Cabernet, and it paved the way for modern New-World producers.
8. Tuscany is having a Cabernet Sauvignon renaissance
Like California in the 1970s, Tuscany is having its own Cabernet Sauvignon awakening. The region is renowned for its “Super Tuscans,” blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia label (a very popular Super Tuscan) was the fourth most traded wine in the world in 2021. So, if you’re looking for your next bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, consider a blend from this iconic Italian wine region.
9. The finest Cabernet Sauvignon has excellent aging potential
If you invest in a bottle of high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s important to know when it will reach peak maturity. Cabernet typically needs a decade in the bottle before it approaches its ideal drinking window, and some top-quality vintages won’t reach their peak until at least 20 years after release. This is what makes Cabernet an excellent option for collectors who enjoy laying bottles down or who are looking for a birth year wine as a gift.
10. Cabernet Sauvignon is still evolving
One of the most surprising Cabernet Sauvignon facts is that this grape variety only dates back to the 1600s. It came into being when winemakers bred Sauvignon Blanc with Cabernet Franc. In just 400 years, the grape has come to dominate the wine market, and to this day, winemakers continue to refine it. Modern producers are discovering methods for producing the best Cabernet possible, including locating up-and-coming terroirs that are ideal for cultivating this variety, such as Red Mountain in Washington. We’ll likely continue to see improvements to Cabernet quality year after year, especially as trends move away from the fruit-forward styles that once defined New-World Cabernet. Modern winemakers are embracing the more nuanced qualities of this grape, showing just how elegant Cabernet wines can be.
Why These Facts Are Helpful for Collectors
Understanding these Cabernet Sauvignon facts helps you understand one of the most valuable, age-worthy, and collectible wine varieties in the world. With these facts in mind, you can make more informed choices about which wines to add to your collection. For example, knowing that red Bordeaux and single-variety cult California Cabernet Sauvignon sell at a similar price point could persuade collectors to expand their collections beyond French wine. There’s a great deal of diversity in Cabernet and it’s a variety worth exploring in more depth.
If you’re looking to start a collection of Cabernet Sauvignon or you’re interested in learning more about modern Cabernet styles, it might also be helpful to contact a wine investment expert. Vinfolio offers portfolio management services to those who are looking to invest in fine wine but who prefer to hire an expert to handle the details. Or, you might consider reaching out to a private client specialist to gain access to exclusive wine allocations, including some of the most in-demand California cult wines. Whether you plan on building a collection yourself or with help from experts, it’s worthwhile to take a closer look at Cabernet Sauvignon and the many top-quality labels that are on the market today.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.