Ah… cabernet. This popular red wine is well-loved by wine enthusiasts and novices alike. It’s accessible and even somewhat predictable. Basically, it’s your best friend in a bottle.

Yet, what is the deal with cab? Is there a “right and wrong” way to drink it? Or, can you simply pop the top, pour it in a glass and pass it around the table?

What you might not know about cabernet is that its taste varies based on its region of origin, the soil it was grown in — and even how it’s stored. While cabernet might seem predictable, it’s actually one of the most versatile varietals. Find out where to buy it, how to store it and the best way to serve cabernet sauvignon.

Crash Course in Cabernet

Cabernet originally hails from the Bordeaux region of France. It’s a dry, red wine that is possibly one of the most well-known varietals (along with merlot). In addition to its homeland in France, cabernet grapes are also now grown in Napa Valley and Australia.

This wine is known for its juicy, fruity flavors. You might also taste a little spice in your cabernet, including notes of black and green pepper. Since the producers age cabernet in oak barrels, you’ll also note an oaky flavor as well.

How to Make Cabernet

Cabernet grapes are usually harvested immediately after they ripen. They are then fermented (sometimes in large oak barrels) and crushed. The wine goes back into an oak barrel. Many winemakers filter the wine to remove some of the tannins before its bottled.

You might also find many cabernet-merlot blends. Since cabernet is very acidic and dry, it’s often blended with merlot to lessen its intensity.

Where to Buy Cabernet

Luckily, cabernet sauvignon is readily available — well, pretty much anywhere in the U.S.! It comes in a variety of price points, and you’ll find it in high-end wine stores, grocery stores (and even Trader Joe’s). Since cabernet is bottled all over the world, you’ll find different notes in each bottle. Cabernet from Italy could taste very different from cabernet from California, France or Australia.

How to Choose Cabernet

If you’re buying a cabernet, chances are that you’re into bold wines. We don’t blame you — we’re kind of rebels ourselves.

Yet just because you like one cabernet doesn’t mean you’re going to love them all. The taste of cabernet can depend on where the grapes were grown, the fermentation process and the age of the bottle. You’ll also find plenty of cabernet blends, so don’t forget to check the label.

Yes, you might be tempted to purchase the bottle with the coolest label. (No judgment.) Or, you could check the label for some pertinent information. Check the flavor profiles. Does the producer describe the wine as dry or tannic? What fruits are listed? How long was the wine aged?

Restaurants and wine bars are the perfect spots to try new wines; you can ask to try before you buy. Make note of what you like and try to find out where and when the wine was produced. You can be on the lookout for other wines with similar characteristics.

Storing Cabernet

Like with most wines, you don’t want your cabernet to get too hot, too cold or too humid. Don’t save a cabernet for too long — unless it was one that was meant to be aged. Try to keep the wine as still as possible (please, no shaking). You should aim for finding a storage spot that is around 55 F (or 65 F tops).

Keep your Cabernet on its side. And when it comes to cab: bigger is better. Larger bottles age better than smaller ones.

How to Serve Cabernet

When it’s time to break out your bottle, there are a few things you can do to ensure you and your guests enjoy the best red wine experience.

  • Serve cab at 60 F; this might mean allowing it to warm up or cool down, depending on how it was stored
  • Let it breathe (decant) for up to two hours
  • Drink in glasses meant for red wine

Pairing Cabernet With Food

Cabernet is such a bold wine that it needs bold food — otherwise, you might find your food’s delicate flavors lost in a sea of dark berries and pepper.

The good news is that many of your favorite foods (think: red meat and fried and starchy foods) go great with cabs. You can also get creative with flavorful cheeses, such as blue cheese, Brie and Roquefort. This is also the perfect wine to drink at a barbecue in the summer or with a holiday meal.

You can also pair cabernet with spicy foods as it goes well with both Mexican and Tex Mex.