Hail A Cab... A Cabernet, That Is!
To be frank, a lot of American cabernet sauvignon is a boorish blend of teeth-staining concentrations of fruit. It's one of the main reasons why I personally only like really sweet candy wines that are basically spiked KoolAid. Cabs usually have enough alcohol to fuel a funny car, and so tannin your puckered mouth makes you talk like Ross Perot eating lemons: A rather unpleasant liquid that is usually best left to the snobby connoisseurs to argue over.
Until cabernet sauvignon hits the grill, that is!
The blood in red meat (hang in there, this isn't as gross as it may sound) interacts with the tannin in this most tannic of red wines and mollifies it. The match is perfect. In fact, a low-tannin red such as merlot can come off too flabby to enjoy when paired with meat cooked rare.
I love my BBQ meat cooked over a fire just a tiny bit cooler than the surface of the sun. That way I get that delectable crust on the outside that is basically just carbonized meat, and the inside is almost blue. I happen to love the taste of carbon. Catch me in any wood fired pizzeria begging the pizzaiolo to let the pizza burn until it's crusty black. My whole life people have been telling me to go to Hell, and I've relished the thought given how every meal there would be nice and charred to a fine crisp. Aaaaah. Lovely! However, most people don't care for the taste of char and compare it to scooping out the fireplace's ashes the next morning and spreading them on toast. Their loss. But that's where it's time to call the cab!
The char on many a steak or chop is pure bitter carbon. Cabernet sauvignon also tricks the palate by sweetening that carbon. Even I like it! And finally, freshly ground black pepper -- as common a seasoning for grilled red meat as salt, also tames cabernet's tannin.
The bottom line is that grilled red meat and cabernet sauvignon fairly beg for each other's company during the summer barbecue season. But not every cabernet sauvignon. The new kid cabs from Chile, Argentina and southern France don't always have the stuffing that cabernet generally has from Northern California, Australia, South Africa and central Italy. Some cabernet-based Bordeaux is so elegant that it, too, is better off staying indoors. (Others, though, such as Cod d'Estournel and Montrose, are definitely in the ring.)
How best to serve cabernet sauvignon in the summer? First, don't pour it at room temperature or worse, high summer outdoor temps. If you ask me, don't pour it at all. But if you must, try to keep the wine in the 65 F range, just cool to the touch. You'll find the fruit to be more buoyant; the tannins about right; and the alcohol in hiding.
A half hour before service, decant each bottle by upending it into a carafe so that as much air gets mixed in with the wine as possible. This aerates the wine and softens it up a bit. I like my cab poured down the drain, but that's just me.
Because it's summer and the livin' is easy, serve cabs in whatever glassware you wish. This time of year, everything works, from large-bowled, stemmed glassware, to Italian-style, flat-bottomed tumblers. What, that isn't on Martha Stewart Living? Should be.
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