With its immense depth, full body and capacity to age, Cabernet Sauvignon has long been called the “King of Grapes.” And, like many rulers throughout the course of time, Cab has certainly had its share of partners.
Merlot may be its most known companion, thanks to the grapes’ iconic relationship in the red wines of Bordeaux, but read on to learn about the other grapes with which Cabernet blends well.
Cabernet / Syrah
In the 1960s, the combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, or Shiraz, is what catapulted Penfolds from obscure Australian producer to global icon, both with its Grange bottling, which incorporates just a small percentage of Cabernet, and Bin 389, a near-50-50 blend.
The combo is increasingly common in California, where winemakers like Scott Shirley of Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles use Cab to add “a bit of structure, ageability and length on the finish,” to balance Syrah’s “rich texture, soft tannins, and big, bold fruit up front,” he says. When done right, Cab-Syrah blends are plush in mouthfeel yet firm in structure, with savory and ripe flavors that dance in unison. —Matt Kettmann
Cabernet / Malbec
Malbec is a Bordeaux grape, so this duo has a long history together. It’s rare, however, to see a wine from France made with just the two. Usually, there’s at least one other. It’s in Malbec’s adopted home of Argentina that you’ll most often find them spending time alone together. There, Cabernet Sauvignon is usually used in a smaller proportion to add texture and body to fruit-forward Malbec, resulting in rich wines with dense tannins. The duo also shows up occasionally in California and Washington, although most often in Bordeaux-style blends with other grapes. —Layla Schlack
Cabernet / Sangiovese
In this pairing, the dark fruits and tannic structure of Cab support the bright red fruits and acidity of Sangiovese. The combo is synonymous with Italy’s Toscana Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), where it’s been produced since the 1960s. Its popularity was the driving force behind the creation of the IGT denomination as well as the Bolgheri Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). The great majority of these blends are still produced in Tuscany at a wide range of price points and quality levels. However, the blend can also be found in California, in the handful of regions where Sangiovese has a foothold. —L.S.
Cabernet / Cabernet Franc
Widely known for their three-part harmony with Merlot in the red wines of Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also good as a duet. So good, in fact, that the two have taken their act on the road to tour other parts of France, as well as Chile, Italy (most notably under the IGT Toscana designation) and California’s Napa Valley, where it’s relatively typical to find a small percentage of one thrown in to balance the other. Generally, Cab Franc brings finesse, lift and a touch of herbaceousness to the partnership, while Cab Sauv is all about the base: structure, caliber, color and aromatic complexity. —Sarah E. Daniels
Cabernet / Cinsault
With typically high yields, low tannin levels and generous acidity, Cinsault (or Cinsaut) is one of the wine world’s favorite grape varieties to blend. Yet, its success with Cab remains largely limited to South Africa and Lebanon.
In South Africa, Cab was one of the grapes to usurp Cinsault’s position as a leading variety in the 1960s and ’70s. But it didn’t do so overnight: When it first gained popularity, Cab was in short supply as vineyards were still developing. Provisions were implemented to allow wine to contain up to 75% Cinsault and still be labeled as Cab Sauvignon until the middle or later half of the 1970s. In Lebanon, the combination is increasingly popular among many producers, including perhaps the country’s most internationally famous winery, Château Musar. —S.D.
Last Updated: May 8, 2023