For many, Cabernet Sauvignon is the wine of kings. It is a complex and full-bodied red wine meant for equally challenging and bold dishes. While in many countries, it’s often a key varietal for blends, such as the famous Bordeaux wines of France or a Super Tuscan from Italy, in this article we will focus on Cabernet Sauvignon as a single varietal wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is not meant for light and delicate dishes; in fact, the wine will crush the meal, spoiling the flavours of the dish. Among its heavy-duty flavours are blackberry, black currant, plum, eucalyptus, mint, violet, black tea, dusty earth, cedar, tobacco, coffee bean, mocha, chocolate, vanilla and cut wood. Keep in mind, you won’t find this all in one glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, but you are bound to find a few of these notes or flavours.
Cabernet Sauvignon is also full of tannin and high levels of alcohol, and when paired against fish, or vegetables, it will have nothing to counterbalance the bitterness of the wine, making the pairing unpleasant. There are exceptions to the rule, meaty fishes, that aren’t overly oily go great with Cabernet Sauvignon. Tuna, and Shark when grilled will pair up quite nicely with this chewy red wine. Some say grilled Swordfish is a great match too, but I’d lean towards an aged and smoother Cabernet Sauvignon, as Swordfish is lean and mild (but meaty)
If you’re a vegetarian, fear not, it does pair well with bitter vegetables like eggplant, arugula or radicchio. As the bitter nature complements one another, the bitterness found in each component is significantly reduced.
Instead, you want dishes overflowing in protein and fat to tame the tannin and mesh with all of the rich flavours of the wine. Popular meats with Cab Sauv are steak, ostrich, buffalo, squab, wild pheasant, and duck. You don’t want to overcook the meats if you’re pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon (particularly young Cabernet Sauv), as you’ll have less fat and protein components to tame the tannin within.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Steak
You won’t find a more perfect pairing with Steak than a hefty glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Heavy in tannin, Cabernet Sauvignon makes your cheeks pucker due to its dry body. When mixed with the dense protein of steak, the tannin in the wine is mellowed, and you can taste more flavours of the red wine. On top of that, the oaky notes of Cabernet Sauvignon are highlighted as the astringency of the tannin whisks the fatty content of the steak away from your cheeks.
A rule of thumb, the fattier the Steak, the bolder Cabernet Sauvignon you can pick. For leaner steaks like filet mignon, select a mid-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or an aged Cabernet Sauvignon where the tannin has mellowed over time. Bolder Cabernet Sauvignon is higher in alcohol and tannin which loves fat, but when paired with leaner cuts of Steak, the pairing becomes more about the wine, rather than the meat. Thus, pair younger Cabernet Sauvignon up with prime rib, or fattier cuts of roast beef.
If you enjoy a sauce with your Steak, select dark and rich sauces like a dark mushroom sauce, red wine reductions, or a hearty peppercorn sauce for that perfect pairing.
I love a Southern Australian Cabernet Sauvignon with my Steak, as it features notes of white pepper, which enhances the pairing for my personal tastes. For fatty rib-eye steaks, I kinda lean towards a young and spunky Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Lamb Chops
Cabernet Sauvignon is a lamb-friendly red wine as its rich fruit flavours, and firm tannin structure complements the richness and texture of lamb. If you don’t appreciate the gaminess of Lamb, Cabernet Sauvignon is perfect for blocking that out with its ripe plum and blackberry flavours. Meanwhile, the earthy flavours and hints of chocolate are perfect with the caramelized crust of a Lamb chop.
In addition, you’ll find that the dried herb notes and of course, mint or menthol flavour you often find in Cabernet Sauvignon are divine with Lamb Chops!
Squab & Cabernet Sauvignon Pairing
Squab when prepared well, is absolutely decadent. It’s a lean meat, so it needs to be cooked a lot less than other game birds. Because it is so lean, there is not a lot of fat on it to combat the tannin in a young Cabernet Sauvignon. Thus you want to choose an aged Cabernet Sauvignon where time has smoothed out the tannin.
The juicy currant and blackberry flavours add to the decadence of squab. Meanwhile the mocha, tobacco, vanilla and chocolate notes complement the squab’s roasted skin.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Meatloaf
Sometimes Meatloaf can be a little dry and bland, and Cabernet Sauvignon injects additional flavours like blackberry, black currant, plum, eucalyptus, mint, black tea, tobacco, coffee bean, mocha, chocolate, and vanilla and cut wood into the mix.
The grippy tannin has no issue with the high protein content of Meatloaf. Meanwhile the cheek-puckering tannin of the wine is tamed, allowing all of its juicy flavours to come forward making Cabernet Sauvignon a refreshing pairing.
Cabernet Sauvignon and BBQ Ribs
Cabernet Sauvignon makes wonderful dance partners to grilled BBQ Ribs due to its full body and fruity flavours. Ribs are high in both fat and protein, and this one-two punch tames the tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon letting all of the rich fruit flavours explode in your mouth. Meanwhile the chocolate, vanilla, and tobacco flavours complement the smoky and grilled BBQ flavours of your Ribs.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Cheese Pairing
As for cheese, the standard rule of ‘matching intensity’ does not apply. Cabernet is best served with mild to moderate cheeses. If you pair this wine with heavy blue vein cheeses, the pairing will seem more like a showdown in your mouth, with the wine and the cheese duking it out to see who can win in capturing your attention.
Young Cabernet Sauvignon and Food Pairings
A young Cabernet Sauvignon loves grilled dishes, as the charred nature of the meat mirrors the bitter edge of the tannin in the wine. When you combine these two flavours, you’ll find the bitterness of both the meat and the wine are significantly reduced, allowing you to enjoy each component that much more. The full body of a Cabernet Sauvignon also loves ‘thick’ dishes like hearty beef stews or braised ribs. Although we mentioned above that Cabernet Sauvignon does not love fish, if you served this wine with pepper crusted grilled tuna steak, the pairing would be spectacular.
Young Cabernet Sauvignon on its own can come across as undrinkable, as the tannin is so searingly dry, your cheeks pucker inward. Yet when pitted against a hefty slab of roasted prime rib, the tannin softens up instantly, allowing the rich fruity flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon, like cassis and blackberry, to shine through.
Aged Cabernet Sauvignon and Food Pairings
As Cabernet Sauvignon ages, the tannin in the wine mellows making Cabernet Sauvignon a great pair with straightforward dishes such as beef stew, beef tenderloin, pot roast, or grilled veal or lamb. Aged Cab Sauv is also wonderful with leaner meats, or dishes that have been thoroughly cooked.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Dessert Pairings
Although there are cocoa and vanilla flavours found in this wine, stay far away from chocolate. Chocolate is too sweet to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon as the wine is far too dry (given its high alcohol level) If you must pair the two together, stick with a bitter and semisweet chocolate, or a not so sweet mole-sauce.
I myself don’t tend to recommend Cabernet Sauvignon with any dessert, but I would highly recommend it with cheese (where you have both the tannin and fat content to mellow this wine out)