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10 best cabernet sauvignon wines: Warming reds to sip this autumn

Pair with meats, cheeses and heartier dishes for the perfect dinner party tipple

Terry Kirby
Wednesday 25 August 2021 12:18
<p>With such big flavours, these are best enjoyed after being exposed to the air, so open them up a little while before drinking</p>

With such big flavours, these are best enjoyed after being exposed to the air, so open them up a little while before drinking

Cabernet sauvignon is the world’s most widely planted grape, grown in almost every wine producing region.

Not an ancient grape, it is believed to be a cross between cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc that was created somewhere in the 17th century. It became a key component blended with other grapes, firstly and most famously in Bordeaux where it is routinely partnered with various combinations of merlot and cabernet franc.

But now, it stands tall as a solo act. Cabernet sauvignon is a relatively easy grape to grow and tends to do best in warmer regions, which bring out its rich, dark, generous, brambly fruit flavours, with robust tannins. Other flavours to look for are green vegetal and herbal notes, mint, aniseed, eucalyptus and perhaps some liquorice and peppery notes, even hints of dark chocolate.

As a full bodied, robust red, which is best after some ageing in the barrel and bottle, cabernet sauvignon is a food wine rather than an aperitif or party guzzler.

It’s most at home with strong flavoured meat dishes: think big steaks, game, venison, roast lamb and casseroles as well as complex vegetable dishes, such as tagines and vegetable pasta bakes. It is also a perfect wine for hard and blue cheeses – more strong flavours again.

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How we tested

We tasted these wines with a variety of different foods – all of which are suitable for the coming autumn season and this is certainly a warming wine for cooler evenings.

One further tip – these big flavours work best after the wine is exposed to the air for a while, so we opened at least an hour in advance; decanting also helps with the more expensive wines. So, in honour of International Cabernet Sauvignon Day on 2 September, here are our top picks.

The best cabernet sauvignons for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Hollick old vines cabernet sauvignon 2017: £17.50,
  • For garden barbecues – Penfolds Max's cabernet sauvignon 2018: £17,
  • Best for an expensive steak – Grant Burge 'Corryton Park' cabernet sauvignon 2018: £35.99,
  • Best ethical buy – Gabb Family Vineyards cabernet sauvignon 2018: £14.99,
  • Best bulk buy –  Kleine Zalze Vineyard selection Stellenbosch 2018: £10.71,
  • Best luxury buy – Trefethen cabernet sauvignon 2017: £44.99,
  • Best wine for autumnal dishes – Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian wells cabernet sauvignon 2017: £19.05,
  • Best for picnics – Casa De Colores Valle central 2020: £7,
  • Best for vegans and vegetarians – Torres mas la plana cabernet sauvignon 2015: £44.75,
  • Best for lamb – Château Ksara cabernet sauvignon 2016: £20.20,

Hollick old vines cabernet sauvignon 2017, 14.5%, 75cl

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

Made by a boutique winery from vines up to 40 years old from vineyards in the Coonawarra and Wrattonbully region of South Australia, this is benchmark Australian cabernet. Like most cabernet sauvignon wines from the region, this is a big, bold, smooth mouthful, with great varietal character, some notes of green vegetables and intense black fruit flavours, and a long finish. Drinkable now, but plenty of ageing potential and suitable for a wide variety of foods, particularly autumn casseroles. 

Penfolds Max’s cabernet sauvignon 2018, 14.5%, 75cl

Best: For garden barbecues

Rating: 9/10

Penfolds is the name in Australian wine, responsible for a range of big punchy reds, most of which need some ageing. But this one, is about as typical Aussie red as can be imagined, so is ideal for those exploring the New World versions of the grape for the first time.

Named after Max Schubert, the legendary chief winemaker from 1948 to 1975, who helped create the brand’s reputation, it is packed with ripe, brambly fruits and has great freshness and vitality. And it’s perfect for some grilled sausages from your late summer barbecue

Grant Burge ‘Corryton Park’ cabernet sauvignon 2018, 14.6%, 75cl

Best: For an expensive steak

Rating: 9/10

The Barossa region of South Australia is most known for its big shiraz’s, but this power packed luxurious cabernet sauvignon shows what can be done with the rival grape. This is the ultimate full bodied red, with intense, velvety, spicy blackcurrant and blackberry fruit flavours, underpinned by hints of mint and vanilla. Decant well in advance and sip with a big organic steak.

Gabb Family Vineyards cabernet sauvignon 2018, 14%, 75cl

Best: Ethical buy

Rating: 8/10

Originally from Shropshire, the Gabb family have been making wine in this part of the Stellenbosch region of South Africa for 25 years, which is one of the best terroirs in the country. Solar powered and Fairtrade certified, they have been recognised for their ethical and sustainable practises, awarded with WWF Conservation Champions status. And, they make great wine too – this bottle is from their top GFV range. This is smooth, mellow, plummy and spicy, with a long savoury finish.

Kleine Zalze Vineyard selection Stellenbosch 2018, 13.5%, 75cl

Best: Bulk buy

Rating: 8/10

This is a terrific value Stellenbosch wine which punches well above its price point. At just over £10 for six bottles, it’s ideal for stocking up for your next barbecue or buffet, so long as there are some rich foods on offer. Made with grapes from 30-year-old vines and aged in oak, the ripe flavours of blackcurrant, chocolate cassis and some woody, cedary hints, combine to create a powerful mouthful, with a long, satisfying finish.

Trefethen cabernet sauvignon 2017, 14.%, 75cl

Best: Luxury buy

Rating: 9/10

The Napa Valley region of California is, for many, the home of some of the best cabernets in the world – where a combination of climate and soils create the right conditions for great wine such as this. This is from a small family winery in the Oak Knoll district, which was one of the pioneering wineries to give the area its reputation.

This is a benchmark cabernet and has classic flavours of lush ripe blackberries and hints of chocolate and tar, with a long, long finish. It will age for many years and develop in flavour, but is very fine for drinking now on special occasions.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian wells cabernet sauvignon 2017, 14.5%, 75cl

Best: Wine for autumnal dishes

Rating: 7/10

Not many wines from Washington state reach these shores, so wines like this tend to be celebrated and snapped up quickly. This is from the oldest winery in the state, established in 1912 to challenge the growth of its southern neighbour. The style is mellow and relaxed, with smoky notes of dried cherries and autumnal fruits, and there is just a small amount of shiraz added to the mix to give a hint of spice. One for autumn casseroles, particularly with mushrooms.

Casa De Colores Valle central 2020, 13%, 75cl

Best: For picnics

Rating: 7/10

There is a touch of merlot in here to give some smooth balance to the cabernet sauvignon, but this is another example of how M&S have radically improved their under £10 range over the past year. A lovely, juicy, succulent, approachable and medium bodied red from Chile’s central valley, it’s a good example of a cabernet sauvignon that doesn’t need bottle age. It also demonstrates that 2020 was a fantastic vintage around the Southern Hemisphere. And the screw top makes this perfect for Indian summer picnics on the beach or riverside.

Torres mas la plana cabernet sauvignon 2015, 14.5%, 75cl

Best: For vegans and vegetarians

Rating: 8/10

Wines which are solely cabernet sauvignon are actually quite rare in Europe. So, this wine, from one of the biggest names in Spanish wines, is something of a one-off and quite certainly a flagship wine. It’s known as the “black legend” because of its label and Burgundy style bottle.

Made in limited quantities, from selected grapes, from a small vineyard in the Penedes region, it’s aged for 18 months in French oak barrels to deliver complex, resonant flavours of dark red fruits. As a vegan or vegetarian wine, it is obviously a match for big plant-based main courses but is, of course, also terrific with roast beef or lamb.

Château Ksara cabernet sauvignon 2016, 13.5%, 75cl

Best: For lamb

Rating: 9/10

Most red wines in Lebanon are European style blends, so this wine from the country’s oldest winery, established by Jesuit priests in 1857, is something of a rarity. This comes from high altitude grown vines in the Bekaa Valley, the main wine producing area of the country, which has continued to produce great wines despite periods of war and strikes.

Like all Lebanese wines, despite the European origins, there is a definite whiff of the exotic here – some spicy touches amid the plum, blueberry and leathery flavours. So this is a great wine for Middle Eastern cuisine – slow cooked lamb, mezze dishes and flatbreads.

The verdict: Cabernet sauvignons

All of these are big full-bodied wines that demand equally substantial foods to bring out the best in them. A couple are special occasion bottles – the Trefethen and the Torres wines. While, the Chateau Ksara stands out as a great wine for Middle Eastern lamb dishes, and the Casa De Colores is a terrific bargain bottle to grab for a picnic.

However, overall we feel the Hollick Old Vines cabernet sauvignon is a great price for a really outstanding bottle that works well with all kinds of foods and occasions. Whether it’s a midweek treat or a weekend special occasion, making this our cabernet sauvignon best buy for 2021 was a no-brainer.

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