"I planted some Cabernet Sauvignon cuttings 4 years ago and have been picking
off the bunches to establish the vines. I am letting them fruit this year. Can you
tell me how to best make wine from these grapes?" Dean Moss, Monroe County, Arkansas
The most renowned Vitis vinifera variety in the world, Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier variety for the production of fine, long-lived, red wine. The variety originated in the Medoc and Graves areas of Bordeaux, where it is invariably blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and/or Petit Verdot. Elsewhere, it is successfully blended with Sangiovese or Syrah (a.k.a. Shiraz). In recent years it is grown elsewhere to produce pure varietal wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon's fruity flavor is most often described as blackcurrant and its nose as green bell pepper. But it is the grape's complex concentration of tannins, pigments and flavor compounds that make it such a remarkable wine grape. It is easily made into deeply colored wines ideally suited to long periods of maceration and French oak ageing. Its particular appeal, however, is due to the subtle flavor compounds that develop over years with an accompanying subtle bouquet.
The grape itself is distinguished by a small, blue berry, high pip to pulp ratio, and uncommonly thick skin. The latter accounts for the depth of color the variety is known for, while the pips contribute to the high level of tannins. It is the unabashed complexity of its flavor components, however, that make Cabernet Sauvignon the "chocolate" of wines as compared to Chardonnay's "vanilla."
Pick grapes when fully ripe, discarding any spoiled grapes from clusters. Crush and destem the grapes. Add pectic enzyme and ¼ tsp potassium metabisulfite to the crush and stir with wooden paddle. Cover and set aside overnight. Adjust acid if required and stir in yeast nutrient, Oak-Mor and activated yeast. Recover primary and punch down cap twice daily during primary fermentation. When free sulfur drops below 15 ppm (10 ppm is better), inoculate with malo-lactic culture. When specific gravity drops to 1.000, strain solids into press and extract remaining juice. Transfer wine to secondary and attach airlock. After 1 month, rack to sanitized carboy. Monitor MLF with chromatography and rack again when completed, adding ¼ tsp potassium metabisulfite at racking. Conduct two more rackings, 1 month apart, adding ¼ tsp potassium metabisulfite after last (4th) racking. Wine should clear on its own. If not, let sit another two months, rack, sulfite again, wait 14-21 days, then bottle. Cellar 6-12 months before tasting, depending on your self-control. [Author's own recipe]
My thanks to Dean Moss of Monroe County, Arkansas, for his request.