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Pairing Cabernet Sauvignon with Food

McManis Cabernet Sauvignon and Food PairingFor 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 Super Tuscans of 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 simply 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. 
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.  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 tannins, and mesh with all of rich flavours of the wine.  Popular meats are steak, ostrich, buffalo, squab, wild pheasant, and duck.  You don’t want to overcook the meats if you’re pairing to Cabernet Sauvignon, as you’ll have less fat and protein components to tame the tannins within.

While this wine loves fat and protein, it doesn’t particularly love fish fats or cheese fats.  With fish, the oil simply does not tame the tannin in this wine, and will instead make the food and wine seem unpleasant and off.  There are exceptions to the rule, meaty fishes, that aren’t overly oily go great with Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tuna, Swordfish and Shark when grilled will pair up quite nicely with this chewy red wine.

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.

As Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark red wine, select dark and rich sauces like a dark mushroom sauce, red wine reductions, or a hearty peppercorn sauce. 

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 the Cabernet Sauvignon does not love fish, if you served this wine with a pepper crusted grilled tuna steak, the pairing would be spectacular. 

As Cabernet Sauvignon ages, the tannin in the wine mellows making Cabernet Sauvignon a great pair with straightforward dishes such as beef stew, pot roast, or grilled veal or lamb.

Although there are cocoa and vanilla flavours found in this wine, stay far away from chocolate.  Chocolate is simply 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.


Written by: Joel Baxter