The Plight of The Cab-Drinker

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By Deirdre Bourdet

One of the biggest challenges facing a fan of cabernet sauvignon is finding foods that stand up to their bold and brawny wine. Unless you subsist entirely on red meats, you have no doubt noticed cab's tendency to overwhelm or clash with more delicate flavors and textures, particularly vegetables or white meats and fish.  Does this mean that you can never enjoy a glass of cab with these kinds of meals?  Of course not.  It just means you need to be more creative about bridging the gap between them.

Here are a few pointers on making your food more compatible with cabernet:
1. Add some earth.  Earthy flavors are delicious and, generally speaking, easy crowd pleasers.  Roasted garlic, onions, fennel, and other root vegetables have a sweet earthy richness to them that really helps boost flavor as well as red wine-friendliness.  Slip some mashed up roasted garlic or caramelized onions into your veggies and both the food and the wine will taste better.  Legumes also have an earthy aspect to them, so slather on the hummus (great in warm chicken salad) or serve up some beans as your veggies.

2. Season with flavors you find in the wine.  Dried thyme, rosemary, coffee, pepper, chocolate, and cherries are probably some of the reasons you like cabernet.  Echoing these flavors in your food helps you notice them more in the wine, and also gives the wine something to cling to.  Espresso-rubbed meats are fantastic, and virtually all your standard American staples pair well with dried thyme or fresh rosemary.  Potatoes, spinach, corn, tomatoes, squashes, beans, and meats of every color and texture benefit from their herbaceous kiss.  Dried cherries (rehydrated in cognac, for example...) are also surprisingly versatile in sauces and vegetable sides, bringing rich flavor and tart sweetness to whatever they touch.

3. Finish with wine-friendly fats.  Although many dishes are legitimately delicious on their own without a final flourish of fat, adding a bit of roundness and richness at the end does vastly improve the chances of a successful match with wine.  For red wines like cabernet, I think a quick drizzle of walnut or truffle oil just before serving makes whatever you're eating the partner your wine has been dreaming of its whole life.  If you're fresh out of truffle oil... my condolences... use an olive oil with herbaceous notes like your wine, or even just plain, perfect butter melted in at the last minute.  Enjoying your food with your wine of choice is well worth the extra calories, I think.

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Great suggestions. Red meat always works but it is good to venture on beyond the cow and still enjoy a well aged cab.

Tonight I will give pulled pork a chance.

Bottoms up.

Some interesting articles on Cabernet Sauvignon for anyone that's interested:

Dan Berger: The collapse of cabernet

Steve Heimoff: Napa Cabernet: as good as it can get?

In regards to the first article - I have noticed that wineries are much more focused on making their red wines (including Cabs) drinkable right now, out of the bottle when you first buy vs. the age old adage of letting your red wine sit and age a bit before drinking. At least that's the rhetoric from some wine makers. Perhaps it's in response to a changing market - the fast food generation as I sometimes call it. "Want it fast, want it now".

I do think there are some really good Cabs being produced in Napa, just maybe not as prolific as they once were? "As good as it gets" according to Steve. Nah...I think there are a lot of wineries that have room to grow with Cabernet Sauvignon.

What do other folks think?

I think it's important to note that the reason this can occur with a lot of us wine drinkers (especially us Americans) is because we drink our Cab far to young. Lots of these big boys were made with the intention of being consumed a few years down the line. I know I'm definitely guilty of a lack of patience when it comes to aging my red correctly.

We buy whats on the shelf at the wine shop in order to have a bottle to drink for dinner tonight! Instant pleasure!

The thing is the current wines on those shelves are probably 2007's or 2008's in some cases. Crazy how young we drink our wines. Just my honest opinion though!


Love the post! I love Cab, but I totally agree there are many times that I order it and never am satisfied with the food pairing. I hope that some of these suggestions will aid me in the kitchen, but also off of the menu.

Excellent post, I agree it can be hard at times to find a good wine pairing when it comes to red wine. A plate of lamb chops is a wonderful pairing!

Great suggestions here.

Believe it or not, a carefully-chosen Cabernet can complement Thanksgiving foods beautifully.

This past Thanksgiving, the Cabernet I suggested would pair well with Turkey, mashed potatoes, and the like, was a Classic Chilean Cab: not too fruit forward, nice balance, not too much acid, a lot of fruit in the middle, and really soft in the finish.

Great article.

Paul Kalemkiarian
President, The Original Wine of the Month Club

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