Cabernet Sauvignon – How can the same grape taste so different from different countries?

My wine tonight was from Italy, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Di Majo Norante.  I have had this wine before and it is pretty reliable;  more on the earthy/peppery side (rather than fruity) but fairly complex and enjoyable (especially on a rainy night!).  And at under $15 it is still a great deal.

In trying it, I was reminded of an amazing thing about wine — the fact that the same grape can make wines that taste so different!

And Cabernet is the perfect example. In California and Australia, you get the classic flavour profile of blackcurrants and vanilla (from the oak). But in Bordeaux, the flavours move more towards wood (cedar and oak, without the vanilla) and herbs. And in some parts of Italy — like tonight’s wine — you get a third style, more earthy and peppery.

So why is this? Well, part of it is climate — California and Australia are hotter, on average, so the fruit can get riper and fruitier.

Another factor might be what some call “terroir” — the local character of the soil and climate (and how the winemaker uses them). This is a controversial issue (some think it is a pile of you know what), but you can’t deny that some wines taste more “Italian” or “Californian” in style.

Finally, technology can also play a role. Computers can now be programmed to create certain “styles” of wine, whether it is from a certain region or even a wine reviewer (sounds like sci fi, but it is true…check out the book The Accidental Connoisseur by Lawrence Osborne, recommended to me by my friend JH for more on this and terroir).

Personally, I don’t care what the reason is for such variation…I think it is great to get more options! Know what you like — in terms of style — as a guide, but then venture out and try a different style of Cab (like tonight’s wine). Either way, it will be an experience!



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