It’s doubtful you’ve encountered a wine list or visited a wine shop that didn’t have Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon prominently displayed. Among the most popular white varietals in the world, Chardonnay is cultivated almost everywhere and is produced in a slew of styles. Likewise, as one of the planet’s most widely planted red varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon’s ubiquity can be attributed to its reliability in diverse growing conditions.
Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are leading “international” varietals, or grapes that have the ability to thrive in many regions. Unlike “indigenous” varieties which rarely grow well outside their home region, these successful transplants have flourished in their adoptive homes in the New World.
Let’s learn more about why we drink so much Chardonnay and Cabernet!
Chardonnay: The Artist’s Canvas
Chardonnay is thought to be native to Burgundy, France and many believe it to have its best expression when planted in the limestone soils found there. But as the most diverse and planted white wine grape in the world, Chardonnay can be made in a wide range of styles to suit any palate. From rich and buttery—often called “California” or “New World” style—to light and crisp—more akin to its European roots—the varietal is also integral in the production of Champagne, the region’s famed sparkling wines.
Inherently neutral in flavor and aroma, the grape affords the winemaker the opportunity to showcase his/her style while using various techniques. It’s also one of the few white grape varieties enhanced by oak aging, which can impart vanilla or caramel flavors especially from new oak barrels. (Of course, there are many examples of “unoaked” Chardonnays that are aged in used barrels or in stainless steel tanks as well.) Another process called malolactic fermentation also gives the winemaker the ability to soften or give the wine more texture. “Buttery” or “creamy” Chardonnays are often crafted using this technique.
Chardonnay also displays distinctly different traits depending upon the climate in which its grown. Warmer climates (California, Australia) will produce wine with more ripe fruit flavors (pineapple, guava, mango), higher alcohol levels, and considerable body. Cooler climates (Burgundy, Chablis) yield wines with more tart flavors (green apple, lemon), more acidity, and lighter body.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The Workhorse
Originally hailing from the Bordeaux region in France, Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the world’s most revered red varietals and one of the most widely planted. A key component in traditionally blended wines from the region, these wines are recognized as some of the best in the world. It is no wonder then that pioneering winemakers experimented with planting Cabernet in new regions. It was soon discovered that these grapes not only survived, but thrived in a multitude of areas. From Chile to California, and Australia to Argentina, Cabernet Sauvignon grows well anywhere there is sunlight and warmth.
Cabernet Sauvignon’s reputation, therefore, comes from its consistency, reliability, and depth of flavor coupled with its capability to develop complex flavors over a long aging period. A smaller, thick-skinned grape, most of these traits can be attributed to its high level of tannins which ultimately give the wine structure. Cabernet’s also benefit from aging in oak barrels as this technique softens tannins and increases the wine’s ageability. In California—most notably in Napa—the oaked, bold style of these wines have achieved “cult” status…and stratospheric prices.
Most Cabernet drinkers will find flavors and aromas of black currant, black cherry, and bell pepper along with spices and caramel due to oak aging. In warmer California—and most of the New World—Cabernets tend to be more fruit-forward, higher in alcohol, and powerful. By contrast, Bordeaux blends and cooler climate Cabernets tend to be more restrained, less alcoholic, and more acidic.
It’s always Chardonnay and Cabernet Day in Erlinda’s world. But let’s not discriminate! Come celebrate all the grapes with me! Reach out to me at email@example.com or visit www.thevinicola.com, Instagram (@thevinicola), or Facebook (theViniCola) to join #WINESCHOOL.