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Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairing: Take It Up A Notch

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Grilled sliced Steak Rib eye with Pepper sauce and bottle of Red wine on wooden background.

Cabernet Sauvignon shines when it’s paired with food. This deep red wine with strong tannins is perfect with fatty meats and heavy dishes. When pairing wine, one rule of thumb is to pair light dishes considering the meats, sauces, and seasonings with light wines. Then continue along the spectrum to pair heavy dishes considering the meats, sauces and seasonings with heavy, full-bodied wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon Taste Characteristics

To make a great food pairing, identify the flavors, weight, and intensity of the wine. The typical taste characteristics for Cabernet Sauvignon are black fruits like black cherry and blackcurrant; herbaceous notes of green pepper, mint, and tobacco; and vanilla and cedar notes that come from aging in oak barrels. It has high acidity and high tannin (that mouth drying feel). It’s a full-bodied, deep ruby red wine.

Keep in mind the single varietal Cabernet Sauvignon like you find in Napa Valley California are going to be bold with strong fruit and tannin. This will pair well with those heavy, fatty meats like grilled peppercorn steak. But if you have an aged Cabernet or Bordeaux blend, these wines will not be as bold. The tannins will be lighter too. Pair the aged Cabernet and blends with medium-weight dishes like a roast or beef stew where the flavors mellow over longer cooking times.

Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairing Matches

A high tannin wine pairs well with fatty dishes because the tannins bind to the fats and wash them away. This gives the perception of softer tannin levels in the wine. Pairings with fatty meats and even sauces made with fats like butter and cream are great pairings for a high tannin wine like Cabernet.

Let’s break down the food pairings into two layers. The first layer is the base of the meal which is the protein and second layer is the seasonings plus sides that provide the flavor and character to the meal.

BBQ short ribs on wood table.

Layer 1: Meal Base

  • Red and fatty meats like steak, lamb, short ribs, duck, beef stew, and burgers.

  • Weighty fish like tuna and swordfish. (The key here is to use the seasonings and sauces to bridge the meal to the wine. A pepper-crusted tuna would make a great pairing to Cabernet.)

Layer 2: Seasonings & Sides

  • Roasted or grilled sides like mushrooms, black olives, eggplant, arugula, radicchio, tomato, bell pepper, broccoli, red beets, and onion.

  • Sauces like balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, BBQ, butter-based sauce, and cream-based sauce.

  • Spices like complex Indian spices (not hot), rosemary, garlic, and black pepper.

Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairing Clashes

Fish and Shellfish pairs better with a light, acidic white wine. Likewise, the lemon butter sauce will be too acidic for a Cabernet. That’s where the butter sauce or cream sauce is the better option.

Shrimp and pasta on a grey plate.

Layer 1: Meal Base

  • Shellfish and white fish.

Layer 2: Seasonings & Sides

  • Spices with heat.

  • Acidic sauces like lemon butter sauce.

  • Uncooked vegetables, tomatoes, and leafy greens.

Chart that identifies Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairings

Cabernet Sauvignon Food Pairing Wrap Up

Since Cabernet Sauvignon is a full-bodied, highly tannic wine it will pair best with fatty meats and strong flavors. Test it out for yourself. Breaking the rules is probably the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t. So have fun with it! Santé!


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