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Requested Recipe:

Cabernet Sauvignon

"I bought frozen Cabernet Sauvignon Grapes from Peter Brehm
Vineyards in California. What is the best recipe or any recipe for
a good Cabernet? Do I add water to cut acidity like for Concord?
Will I have problems with only 3 1/2 gallons of juice in a 6 gallon
Robert G. Choals


Robert, who had acidity problems with an undiluted Concord grape wine, is understandably hesitant to take an unguided plunge into making a Cabernet Sauvignon. Had he been a frequent reader of The Winemaking Home Page, he would have known how to deal with high acidity native grapes. Still, I cannot fault anyone who demonstrates such unbridled enthusiasm.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are, in my opinion, one of the nobler red wine grapes gracing this planet. It would be folly, however, to lump all Cabs together. Distinctive regions grow this magnificent grape distinctively, and a premium Cab grown in Rioja, Spain will taste, smell and feel quite different from a similar premium Cab grown in Napa, California or Pauillac (Bordeaux), France. That being the case, the question naturally arises if the methods of winemaking in the various regions account for the distinctions. The answer is an unambiguous yes and no. Yes, different methods do account for different qualities in the finished wines, but no, the differences in methodologies are not so great as to override regional distinctions in soils, sunlight, micro- and macro-climates, and the adaptation of the vines themselves to these variables. Few other grapes display regional affinities as markedly as do Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Then, too, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is somewhat finicial. It tends to form hydrogen sulfide during initial fermentation on the cap. Treatment with diammonium phosphate at the crush usually corrects this tendency, and I certainly wouldn't be concerned with it for a juice purchased from an established vineyard. Cab is also capable of producing slightly off fragrances of berries, bell peppers and cigar smoke. These are caused by natural components, some of which are below detection thresholds, and are usually quite subtle if present at all. I, for one, would not worry about them--there is little the home winemaker can do to correct them anyway.

The usual method of making Cabernet Sauvignon is to crush the grape, treat with 40 ppm of SO2, place in open-top vessels, inoculate with Montrachet, Pasteur Red or Champagne yeast, and punch the cap down 2-3 times per day. When the Brix drops to 5, the grapes are pressed. Free-run and lightly pressed juices are combined and heavily pressed juices are separated. The juices are then inoculated with pure malolactic bacteria cultures and fermented to dryness. If the wine is too tannic, gelatin fining is added to reduce the tannins and the finished wine is treated with 50 ppm of SO2. The wine from the heavily pressed juices is blended in for additional flavor and body and the blend is aged several more months. It is them cold stabilized for several weeks, treated with another 25 ppm of SO2, and acidity adjusted if required to attain 0.65% tartaric. The wine is then placed in oak barrels and aged to taste, then filtered to 0.65 microns. It may then be blended with Merlot or another compatible wine to achieve the sought balance and complexity and bottled. It is ready to drink in 1-3 years but may be reserved for longer aging.

These methods are not practical for the home vinter, but the recipe below will serve. This recipe is for 5 gallons, but in the case of 3 1/3 gallons of juice, as Robert has, I would obtain a 3-gallon carboy and a 2-gallon carboy and make 3 gallons of pure Cabernet Sauvignon and 2 gallons of a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or another suitable red. For the 2-gallon blend, a commercial Merlot concentrate can be obtained which will prove adequate. The blend can later be blended into the pure Cabernet Sauvignon to taste, or bottled separately. Or, one can prepare 5 gallons of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend and ferment together. I believe either case will result in desirable wine, but the choice is not mine to make.


With a hydrometer, check S.G. of juice. Starting S.G. should be 1.095 or higher. Add finely granulated sugar if required and stir very well to dissolve. Add crushed Campden tablets and yeast nutrient. Cover and wait 12 hours, then add pectic enzyme. Wait another 12 hours and transfer to a 6-gallon carboy, add yeast and fit air lock. Ferment to 1.010 and rack into sterilized 5-gallon carboy, topping up if required. Refit air lock and ferment to dryness (S.G. at 0.990 or lower). Rack, top up, and set aside two months. Rack again and add 5 oz of American White Oak or French or Spanish Oak chips tied in a finely meshed nylon bag. Do not use any other kind of oak chips. Refit airlock and move to a cold or cool place (an old refrigerator set at 38 F. would be ideal). Taste wine after 30 days. If oak taste is sufficient, rack; if not, allow one or two additional weeks and then rack. Top up, refit airlock, and return to cool place for additional 2-4 months. Rack again, stabilize, and wait 10 days before bottling. May taste after one year, but better if aged two. [Author's recipe]

My thanks to Robert G. Choals, Michigan, for the request.

This page was updated on October 22nd, 1998.

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