Since taking that Court of Master Sommeliers introductory exam earlier this year, a whole new world has open up to me. All this time I thought cocktails were a fine thing to pair with food because you can create one to complement the flavors of a dish. But wine… Ah wine. Wine is naturally perfect with food. You taste it alone and get one impression and then you taste it with the perfect food pairing and it’s like magic. This whole thing is made even more awesome by the fact that that perfect wine was basically born that way. You just have to know the right one to go with your food.
I mean, you’ll want to. You spent so much money on that bottle and took so much care to pick it that you aren’t going to want to jeopardize it with a bad pairing and change its flavor. Fortunately, I was able to pick up some pairing pointers from Dean Busquaert, wine educator for Sequoia Grove Winery in Napa.
During a press trip to Napa earlier this month, we stopped in at the tasting room of Sequoia Grove Winery, a family-owned winery that has been around since 1979 and is well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, for a little lesson in food-wine pairing. Specifically how to pair food with Cabernet Sauvignon. During the lesson Dean pointed out many food-wine pairing no-nos; things that I had never considered. Really? All those Cabernet chocolates are a lie? So here they are so you know what to stay away from and what to ask for seconds of.
Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Pairing No-Nos
Chocolate: Turns out sugar is a terrible thing to pair with a high-tannin wine like Cabernet no matter what all those Napa wineries advertise with their chocolate-Cab flights, or how many Cabernet chocolates they sale. Out of the five tastes — salt, sour, sweet, bitter, umami — only one of them sucks big time with Cabernet. Not sour or bitter but rather sugar. We tried a heavy Cabernet with a grape and even with brie and it completely altered the wine. Not good. But, said Dean, “If you don’t care what the wine tastes like, eat all the chocolate and drink all the Cabernet that you want.”
Beef Teriyaki: “The color of the meat does not matter,” Dean claims. “It’s method of preparation, sauces, marinades and side dishes.” Beef Teriyaki is the one red meat dish you can’t have with Cabernet. All that sugar in that sauce. “One bite of that and one sip of this wine and you negated everything you made your purchase for.” Same can be said with barbecue. Think of how much sugar is in that barbecue sauce. Unless it’s a Carolina sauce, said Dean, which is vinegary. “You put Carolina barbecue sauce, which isn’t tomato based and has a lot of acidity, over that pulled pork sandwich, and Cabernet would be absolutely delicious.”
Red sauce pasta: The dish that Dean said is consistently brought up as the perfect match for a Cab is red sauce pasta. But again, sugar plays a party in this mismatch, even if it is just a touch of sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. “If we can control acid, salt and sugar and look at tannin as a way to judge what we’re going to have we’ll have much better luck with pairings. Instead try Sangiovese or a Chianti which have much lower tannins.”
Best Pairing Ever With Cab?
So what does Dean think IS the perfect dish to go with that big Cabernet Sauvignon? Dry age rib eye cut steak with beurre rouge. Here’s his personal recipe:
“If I’m having steak and get a dry age rib eye cut. Crush 20 cloves of garlic, put it in a little baggy with some oil and stick it in the fridge for two days. When I’m ready to eat it, I bring it out and bring it to room temp, I like mine medium rare. The garlic has to go because burned garlic is nasty. Now instead of going to the grill, grill marks are overrated, I’m going to get out that big, heavy skillet and turn the heat up really high. And I want that nice char crust. And there’s another reason that I’m using the skillet. Because when that steak comes out I’m going to make a pan sauce with all that stuff. In that pan, now that the steak is gone, I’m going to put a couple of tablespoons of finely minced shallots and then in that glass goes eight ounces of dry red wine, there’s no sugar there. And I can just pour it in and it gets reduced to a tablespoon. Just to make sure the sauce works, I put just a splash of red wine vinegar. This is critical, you turn that heat down low and add six or seven tablespoons of butter and then you shake that pan and that high acidity will emulsify that butter into sauce. That is called a beurre rouge. They have a white version which is beurre blanc which is good with fish.”
Vegetarians, you can pair Cabernet with something super savory like a portobello mushroom or eggplant. For salads, stick with a simple French vinaigrette, said Dean. “Champagne mustard with olive oil and a little salt and pepper, there’s nothing wrong with that but when you start putting it over carrots, even romaine has a sweetness to it then the reds will be in jeopardy. So the more you can stay away from sweetness in dishes, bring out acid and bring out salt, you’re better off.“