Welcome to the fourth installment of our WG “Tasty Twosome” Series! We’ve already tackled Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Malbec and now we’re onto the robust, well-loved varietal popular in steakhouses everywhere: Cabernet Sauvignon.
What is Cabernet Sauvignon?
One upon a time, somewhere in southwestern France, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc got together and had a baby and they called it Cabernet Sauvignon. Though Cab Sauv remains a major part of the French wine world – Bordeaux, anyone? – the fact that the varietal has such thick skin and hardy constitution means it has spread to the far corners of the earth.
These days, you can find great Cab being produced all across Europe (check out this beautiful example from Lebanon) as well a California (Napa Valley is a big one!), Washington State, New Zealand, Australia, South America, and South Africa.
A quick primer on the wine’s characteristics:
- Fruit Aromas: Currant, Blackberry, Blueberry, Black Cherry, Plum
- Non-Fruit Aromas: Mocha, Eucalyptus, Graphite/Pencil Shavings, Bell Pepper, Cedar
- Acidity: Medium
- Body Weight: Full
- Oak Presence: Medium to High
Cabernet is often mixed with other varietals to create distinctive and interesting blends. Some of the most renowned wines in the world are made either entirely or mostly of Cabernet, including many examples of Bordeaux, cult classics from Napa, and Italy’s Super Tuscans.
Perhaps the best thing about Cabernet Sauvignon, at let for the purposes of this piece, is that it often shines brightest when sampled alongside food. From the tannins to the acidity to the typically high alcohol level, Cab has characteristics that can be overwhelming on their own but that bring even simple dishes to vivid life.
The 5 Best Pairings for Cabernet Sauvignon You’ll Ever Taste
Three things to know here:
- A great ribeye has tons of well-integrated marbling – that’s a fancy way of saying it’s fatty and delicious
- Good beef has a ton of rich, complex flavor (especially grassfed or aged beef)
- Cabernet Sauvignon is a voluptuous wine with a good amount of acidity and tannins
All of those things together lead to gastronomic magic. The acidity and tannins in Cab help cut the ribeye’s fat so it doesn’t feel quite so heavy or overwhelming on the palate and, in return, the ribeye’s fat mellows the Cab, making it taste smoother and mitigating the drying effect of harsh tannins.
(Note: Why bone-in ribeye in particular? The bone adds more flavor, and we love flavor.)
Try This Recipe: Butter-Basted Ribeye
Lamb is a protein that changes its profile greatly depending on the age of the animal, how the meat is prepared, and what else is on the dish. Lighter preparations lend themselves to lighter wines like Beaujolais and roasted versions scream out for Rioja, a red from Rhone, or a phenomenal Cabernet. Reach for a fruitier New World Cab or a lighter-style Cab blend from Bordeaux so you don’t overwhelm your lamb, but if you go for a deeper application such as a braised lamb shank, you can opt for a heavier Cab without concern. Just remember, lamb with Cab can be amazing but only if the lamb has developed deep flavors to coincide with the robustness of Cab – no lightly seared chops with edamame, please.
Try This Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Rosemary
Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Maytag, Danish Blue – it’s all stinky and creamy and crumbly and full of scary/awesome mold and darn it if it’s not delicious. True, blue cheese is one of those hate-it-or-love-it items that can be fairly polarizing, but try it with the right wine and the entire dynamic changes. People love to pair blue cheese with sweet fortified wines like Sauterne and port, but especially funky blues respond well to Cabernet’s heft. Blue cheese is fairly acidic, too, just like Cab, and the “like with like” rule means that this pairing meshes particularly well.
Try This Recipe: Olivia’s Blue Cheese Burger
The number one descriptor for duck is “gamey,” which is a shame because there is so much complexity and flavor to this underappreciated bird. The meat is fatty, peppery, and wild duck or birds that are farmed with the right feed can have an earthy, nutty, almost herbaceous quality to them. As with lamb (and most other things), the right pairing for duck depends on the sauce and other accoutrement. For a Cab pairing, choose an herb-rubbed duck or one that’s either crusted with nuts or served with a nutty or berry-based sauce.
Try This Recipe: Crispy Duck with Blackberry Gastrique
You can’t pair sulfurous and bitter vegetables like brussels sprouts and kale with anything… right? Wrong. While it’s true that these veggies are notoriously difficult to pair and match-up can go very bad very quickly, the right pairing can be absolutely sublime. With brussels sprouts, it all rests on roasting and caramelization – you need those deep, rich flavors so the Cab has something to grab onto. Please don’t boil brussels sprouts – ever. Grilled radicchio, oven roasted broccoli rabe, etc., are all lovely.
Try This Recipe: Grilled Treviso Salad (Swap out the goat cheese for blue cheese for extra points!)