We’re in the thick of our Big Fall Countdown, and as you’ve seen, we’ve been releasing the biggest and best Napa Cabs of the year in series of late. But what to pair with them? Here’s our handy guide to help you find your best match for these types of wine.
A bit about Cabernet Sauvignon:
- Cabernet Sauvignon is a child of Sauvignon Blanc (giving it its trademark acidity) and Cabernet Franc (giving it most of its best qualities, and depending on your preference, maybe some of its worst too)
- Old World styles are known for being lower in alcohol and terroir driven, New World expressions are more fruited, fully structured, and have grown historically higher in alcohol as the fruit gets much riper on the vine
- Cab is great for aging, but that also means it’s heavy in the tannin department
- Cab is the world’s most widely planted red grape
Time to talk food (think like a chef):
New World Cabernet is the great steak of the wine world. Meaty, sometimes imbued with irony, bloody aspects, and tannins like a great steak meat fibers. The most sought after styles are rich, robust, dark, extracted, and intense in their youth, showing great age when they begin to mellow, heavily sedimented, into these great cellar gems filled with earthy qualities and settling into more elegant expressions antithetical to their abrasive boldness in youth.
Cab is generally noted for the plum, cassis, and red fruit qualities in New World expressions, backed up by anything from cedar or other woods, green or red bell peppers, vanilla, floral arrays, graphite (pencil shavings), leather, tar, wet stones, and earth.
So if you’re a chef, and you’re making a dish, the wine has the fruit and earth flavor profile handled, and the wine generally is praised for its acidity, so it will have a great palate cleansing aspect to it. Some expressions have a bit of (not always so noticeable) sweetness to them, which can carry well against salty or savory flavors.
Compare AND contrast:
As always, easy stuff first, comparable flavors. Quite possibly the easiest and most obvious pairing in the food & wine world, steak and Cab. From simple dinners at home to top dollar multi-Michelin star global establishments, you will find the classic pairing of steak and Cab everywhere. In a world where it’s impossible to please everyone, this pairing comes about as close to a universally understood and accepted pairing as it gets. As we mentioned above, Cab is the steak of the wine world. The tannins integrate with each other perfectly, the green notes in the wine go great with the flavors of steak, any iron note in the wine is only accentuating the iron notes in the meat, the wine’s acidity cuts the steak fat perfectly, and any residual sweetness in the wine plays off the salty crust on the steak for the classic salty sweet flavor combo. Basically if you can’t appreciate a good steak and a good Cab, you might have some issues with your palate, and may need to seek medical help.
Bell peppers in any way, shape, or form are great with Cab too, largely due to the pyrazine in the wine (the stuff that makes bell peppers taste the way they do also exists in Cab grapes – this comes from the parent grape Cab Franc, which also has them). So basically anything with bell pepper pairs well with a Cab, and if by some chance you forgot the bell peppers in a dish, just pair it with a Cab to make up for the lack of it in your dish.
And other side of the coin, contrasting pairings.
Cab has a lot of fruit flavors, sometimes to the detriment of the wine, it can become jammy. That doesn’t mean it’s bad Cab, but you’ll need to contrast other flavors and profiles with it. Enter, the cheese plate. Any array of cheeses is great with a bit of jam, so why not let the wine do that work? As well, the acidity Cab is so famous for cuts the rich fats of the cheese on the palate in a way that gives your palate the fullest sensory experience. Cheese and Cab can exist in the world all on their own, but once they’ve come together, they become inseparable.
It’s no surprise there are many wines in the world that have gamey flavors, some sought out specifically for that. Cab isn’t the gamiest of wines, but when it comes to lamb, or other game meat, they usually get served with some sort of fruit accompaniment (wild boar and figs, lamb and barberries, etc…), and generally herbs (like mint or rosemary), and thus Cab makes a great pairing to compliment the game of the meat with fruit from the wine, playing off any grilled flavors much like the steak pairing (salty sweet combo), but letting the game meat add the gamey flavor to the wine, all while integrating tannin between the meat and wine perfectly. Bonus points if you happen to have a particularly minty Cab to play off or make up for the lack of any minty flavors in the dish – best suited for lamb in this situation.
Portobello mushrooms might be the best and only mushrooms to pair with Cab outright. Portobello have a unique, intense, almost meaty flavor, unmatched in the mushroom kingdom, and thus, it’s not a mushroom for any mere Pinot Noir, it’s a mushroom that requires, nay, demands a Cab. If you really want to get crazy, stuff your portobello with blue cheese. Now you have the single best vegetarian pairing for your Cab of choice.
We’re just going to get right to it. Goldfish and New World Cab. If you’ve never tried it, just go buy some goldfish right now and thank us later. You’re welcome.
So there you have it, our guide for pairing New World Cabernet Sauvignon.
How about you though? For our other guests, please feel free to share your pairing suggestions for New World Cabernet Sauvignon in the comments below.