Sommeliers take food and wine pairing extremely seriously, it is around 50% of our job after all. Heated arguments commonly take place over the perfect cabernet sauvignon food pairing (amongst other wines) – fairly insane since food and wine are entirely subjective. I will always say that perfect pairings are amazing, they really do improve the experience of both food and wine. However, I will also die on the hill that people should pair whatever wine and food they enjoy, irrespective of what experts tell them.
That said, you’re here for an expert’s opinion so here it is:
Cabernet sauvignon food pairings tend to be full of rich, intense flavors. Red meats with rich sauces, washed rind cheeses, big umami flavors from truffles and mushrooms. The food needs to be big and bold to stand up to the wine. It’s a classic pairing of the steak, the short rib, and the burger. For vegetarians, mushrooms and truffles are the headliners.
But when it comes to pairing cabernet sauvignon wine with food, there’s so much more to it. Who on earth is realistically shaving black truffle on their pasta at home? How often are we spending hours glazing a short rib? Or buying a Flintstone’s sized prime rib (côte de bœuf)? Instead, let’s look at the food you’re actually going to cook at home or eat at a restaurant, to pair with your cab.
Flavor of Cabernet Sauvignon Wine
Making great food and wine pairings is about a marriage of flavors. So what exactly should you expect from a glass of cabernet sauvignon?
Aside from being a great wine choice, cab sauv is a full-bodied, bold red wine. The flavor will vary depending on where the cabernet sauvignon grape was grown but, generally speaking, you will get flavors of blackcurrant, blackberry, pencil shavings (yes, really), herbs, and baking spices. There will be high tannins and a medium-high acidity level.
General Rules for Pairing Cabernet Sauvignon
I dislike being too generic with when it comes to wine and food pairing. “Works well with seafood” is possibly my most hated example of laziness as it’s such a broad category so sweeping statements lead to wild inaccuracy.
However if you follow these general rules laid out in our flow chart, you’ll probably do pretty well pairing your cabernet sauvignon:
What is Umami?
Umami is the “5th flavor” with the other 4 being sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
Pure umami is what monosodium glutamate tastes like – so, so good. MSG was originally isolated from seaweed but it is present in lots of ingredients and foods we eat. Mushrooms are a big source of umami goodness, as are aged hard cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, and cooked meats.
Unfortunately, umami and wine aren’t always the best of friends – it can do weird things to the flavors of oaked chardonnay for example. But a big, bold, and textural wine like cabernet sauvignon revels in umami flavors. The flavors bring out the fruit and spice notes of the wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon & Everyday Dishes
Pasta with Beef Ragu
There are probably more recipes for an Italian ragu than any other dish in the world. So I will caveat this with it needs to be a seriously rich ragu. Whether that includes the use of bone marrow, slow-cooked oxtail, chicken livers, red wine reductions, or something else. What’s important is adding big hefty flavors to the sauce.
The classic Italian ragu includes layering fats from oil, meat, and cheese which is perfect for the acidity of cabernet wines. The richness from using red meat or rich red wines in the sauce will stand up to the big hulking intensity in the cabernet sauvignon flavor profile too.
Lasagna makes a particularly good, traditional cabernet sauvignon food pairing because you have extra richness from the bechamel adding to the already rich ragu.
Beef, bacon, and cheese – the holy trifecta. For me, there is little point to a burger if it doesn’t have all three of these things. To make such alternative cabernet sauvignon food pairings work, it’s got to be fatty too: lean meat leads to a dry burger, which is just sad. If I want to have a healthy meal, I’ll eat something else.
You’ve got rich beef; fat, sharp cheese; and fatty bacon. All very good friends of our lovely cab sauv. If you like blue cheese on your burger then even better. Expect to really enhance the fruit notes of the wine as the sharp cheese and fatty burger work with the acidic flavor notes.
Braised Beef Short Ribs
Ok, so maybe not an “everyday” dish. But, compared to many beef dishes, it’s certainly not a complex one.
Slow cooking some short ribs is pretty simple and delicious if a little time-consuming. Plus, if you have a slow cooker gathering dust at the back of your cupboards, it couldn’t be easier.
What makes beef short ribs such a great companion to cab sauv is the combination of rich sauce with rich meat. Those intense flavors put a smile on the face of red wine lovers, working well with the full body and concentration of cabernet sauvignon. Just be sure to keep an eye on your sauce. You don’t want it to be too sweet – if you have a very sweet sauce then the wine may taste a bit thin and really acidic.
The wine world is full of snobbery; recommendations of only the finest ingredients with the most expensive wines. Which is why I love an unpretentious cabernet sauvignon food pairing. And you can’t get less pretentious than pizza.
Specifically really cheesy or mushroom pizza.
Cab sauv loves umami flavors. So a pizza loaded with mushrooms is going to work great. Mozzarella is obviously a really light flavor, especially the cheaper ones we tend to lump on pizzas. So, instead, we’re looking for 4 cheese pizzas. If the pizza has blue cheese as a good percentage of the total cheese content, you’re on to a winner.
An American classic.
Similar to burgers, for perfect wine pairings we’re looking for a high fat content in the beef mince to really make this combination sing. You will no doubt be noticing a pattern here – fat = flavor. A mantra to live by and you can apply the same principle to other beef dishes like meatballs.
Take ground beef with a nice amount of fat and add a rich sauce. Et voilà. These are the main components of a great food pairing for cabernet sauvignon. How you manipulate the elements is entirely up to you.
Beef, mushrooms, and cabernet sauvignon. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.
Many people see a cream (well, Crème Fraiche) sauce and think “white wine”. But beef stroganoff has loads of umami from the mushrooms, chunks of slow-cooked beef, fiery mustard, plus the crème fraiche. This is a great dish for cab sauv.
Plus, it’s easy to make at home. You can chuck it into the slow cooker all day and then quickly finish it at night. The more mushrooms in this dish the better in terms of your wine (and the flavor in general).
The fat and richness of a slow-cooked lamb shank is a cabernet sauvignon dream.
Not all lamb dishes make a good cabernet food pairing as the meat can be overpowered by the full-bodied red wine. But the combination of fat and a rich sauce from the roasting juices make lamb shank a great match.
Venison is a tricky one. The loin is insanely lean and can quite easily be ruined so it’s not ideal for home cooking or cabernet. But, if you get a haunch or something similar and chuck it in a casserole or stew then the slightly metallic gamey flavor can be fully unleashed and you get a seriously rich dish.
This richness obviously lends itself to big and powerful wines. Enter the rich, dark cabernet sauvignon.
Venison isn’t cheap and it’s maybe more of a “date night” dish than a dinner you’ll chuck together after work. But there’s nothing inherently complex about it, especially in a stew.
Wildly specific, but this recipe from Nigella Lawson is an easy umami bomb and a great option when dinner and a glass of wine are needed quickly with minimal effort. The truffle marmite is even better than the original for pairing with cabernet sauvignon. Plus, it’s vegetarian-friendly for when roast beef dishes just aren’t going to cut it.
This dish won’t be for everyone – love it or hate it, right? But no Nigella slander will be accepted.
Ah, mushroom risotto: the lazy chef’s favorite vegetarian option to put on the menu. But when it comes to wine pairings, not only do we get umami from the mushrooms but also from the starch in the rice, and from parmesan cheese which it would be a crime not to finish the risotto off with.
By using or making a mushroom stock, you will enhance the flavor of the wine. And if you can finish with a dash of truffle oil you’re having a great time.
Time for Snacks
Cheese and wine – is there a better combo on this planet? Whether you like to carefully place your cheese on a biscuit or hack off a lump and consume it whole, there’s no judgment here.
A powerful blue cheese like Roquefort is a wonderful food pairing for cabernet sauvignon. Not only is there the richness of flavor and the fat of the cheese, but the umami from the blue mold really brings out the black fruit notes of the wine.
Really mature hard cheeses also work very well. Whether it’s Gruyère, Comté, Gouda, cheddar, or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese shavings. No matter what you have lying around, just as long as it’s a super sharp cheese, loaded with flavor.
And, if you need some more cabernet sauvignon cheese pairing options, washed rind soft cheese also works well. Langres, Époisses, camembert au calvados, even a mature Brie can all be a delight with cabernet. If it’s the kind of cheese that makes everything in your fridge taste “off” despite being inside two Tupperware boxes, it’ll work wonderfully with cabernet sauvignon.
For comfort food and a glass of wine fit for the Gods, use a very mature, rich cheddar, and make sure to grill in butter. The boldness of cab sauv needs savory cheeses full of flavor to stand up to the wine’s tannins. If you opt for a super-mild cheese like mild cheddar or mozzarella, then the cab will just annihilate the flavor of the sandwich. Although you may still get a bit more fruit notes from the wine due to the fat in the cheese.
Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese
Do buffalo wings really count as a snack? Debateable, but here we are.
The blue cheese is important. Buffalo wings are pretty hot and, when combining spicy food with acidic wines, you can end up ruining both. However, the rich blue cheese with the heat and a glass of cab sauv will be wonderful though.
As an added bonus, you can look classy AF whilst watching sports. As everyone else drinks some pretty awful Bud Light, you can smugly sip on your Californian Cab that’s paired beautifully with your wings. Scoring the snack goals regardless of the final result.
Beef and cheese? Ideal.
Provolone is the preferred cheese option with shaved rib-eye for the steak, but whatever you’ve got available is usually the correct answer. If you’re making the Philly cheesesteak at home, a stronger and sharper cheese will be better for your wine.
If you’re not worried about upsetting the entirety of Philadelphia, you can add green bell peppers to your sandwich. This will work wonderfully with the “green” notes in the cabernet sauvignon. But it is not “traditional” to have it in a Philly cheesesteak.
Picnic/ Packed Lunch Food Pairings
A wine as big and rich as cabernet sauvignon makes picnic food pairing quite tough. Your best bet is a steak/ roast beef sandwich. Without a rich sauce, it won’t have the same punch but some horseradish sauce in there will help things along.
Ok, so if you’re taking a Reuben to a picnic, it will be cold by the time you eat it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t still be great.
The combination of pepper on the beef, sharpness from the sauerkraut, and some Swiss cheese are all good if slightly more unusual cabernet sauvignon food pairings. Opting for a stronger cheese and a less sweet dressing would be perfect, but you’ll still have a great time even with the classic combo.
BBQ & Cab Sauv Pairings
Steak is the obvious choice with a juicy red wine. For best results with your cabernet sauvignon, use higher fat steaks if possible. Think rib-eye or prime rib, sirloin, or anything with a really good marbling of fat. A super lean filet may get lost next to the wine, even with the smokey notes from the grill.
Look at a cabernet with a bit more oak involvement if you cook over coals rather than gas. Those smokey notes can work together beautifully to bring out the fruit in the wine and the flavors of the beef.
Dry rub, mop sauce, in the smoker for many hours: this is the kind of seriously rich and intense flavor profile that aged cabernet sauvignon was made for. The only thing to be wary of is that your rub and/or sauce isn’t too sweet. But assuming you’ve nailed that, you’re onto a winning wine pairing.
Yes, I’ve got burgers twice but they’re a BBQ classic and a great cabernet sauvignon food pairing so what’s a guy to do? Just go easy on any sweet condiments.
Blue Cheese Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Blue cheese and umami? It’s basically a dish designed for a cabernet.
Get all those fruit notes singing with a strong blue cheese and grilled mushroom. This dish can also be thrown together really quickly and could maybe even be considered a snack by some, including me.
A lot of the things mentioned above will be your pairings at restaurants too. Steaks, burgers, short ribs, mushroom risotto – all will be common orders when you’re out to dinner. But, with restaurants generally using more butter to cook your food and in the sauces, good wine like cabernet can really come into its own with all that richness.
There aren’t many traditional appetizers that go well with cabernet sauvignon. The progression of a menu from lighter to richer usually means big wines won’t work. But mushroom pâté or rillette can be an outlier here, the big umami flavors are great with the wine. If you’re wanting to stick with cab all night then this is an amazing option, if they have it.
I wouldn’t necessarily have cab sauv with a beef filet at home. I don’t use that much butter and generally don’t have sauces with my steaks so the delicate flavor can be lost.
At a restaurant, however, filet will be heavily basted in butter and often served with a deep, rich sauce. This is cabernet heaven and a great pairing.
Rack of Lamb
Similar to the filet, pairing a rack of lamb with cabernet wine depends on the sauce. When home-cooked, lamb tends to be a bit delicate but a restaurant-roasted rack with red wine sauce is prime cabernet sauvignon territory. You’re counting on the restaurant basting the lamb in a lot of butter and also finishing the sauce with butter, but most still do this as it gives a richness and silkiness that you struggle to replicate at home.
Venison Loin with Red Wine Sauce
Venison loin is tricky as it’s a very, very lean cut of meat with a unique flavor. But if it’s butter roasted and served with a red wine sauce, it will stand up to your cabernet. Venison as a tartare, on the other hand, would be destroyed by a wine as intense as cabernet sauvignon so it really has to be this style.
Dark chocolate sauce with venison lion can also pair well, assuming the restaurant can make a dark chocolate sauce that isn’t sweet.
A big caveat to pairing curries with a glass of cabernet wine is that they can’t be too spicy. If there’s too much heat, the wine’s acidity will amplify the spice and turn your great food and great wine into an awful experience.
I hate to generalize such an insanely diverse cuisine but curries from Punjab have a richness and flavor intensity that needs a bold wine to match. The liberal use of ghee along with the complex spice profiles aren’t necessarily ideal for wine. But all those aromatics need something that won’t be overpowered easily. Cabernet sauvignon can be that wine.
Finding the perfect cabernet sauvignon food pairing is fairly simple:
You want big, rich flavors. Whether that’s red meats, rich reduced sauces, or umami from mushrooms. Cabernet can also go great with curries (if not too hot) and can be a BBQ wonder wine. Ultimately, these are just general guidelines. Eat whatever you like with your wine; as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.