Do Big Rich Cabs Really Go With Steak?

A wine dinner is a great opportunity to challenge your assumptions.  With an open mind, you might be surprised!  My confession?  I thought I would hate all the big, rich cabs.  To my surprise, several were very nice.  Now I just need to figure out how to ferret them out.

After juggling multiple work schedules, our semi-regular wine dinner group pulled off our big California Cab wine dinner. In addition to big California Cabs, we included one Bordeaux example for reference.  Here’s our lineup:

  • Chateau Haut-Bergey Pessac-Leognan 2008 ($35) – a 54% Cabernet 46% Merlot blend and one of my favorite Bordeaux’s
  • Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($55) – understood to be a bit “old school” in approach
  • Caymus Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($65) – quintessential rich & ripe Napa Cab
  • Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($60) – well known name, and a chance to go outside of Napa Valley proper.
  • Robert Craig Affinity 2009 ($55) – I had attended a Robert Craig wine dinner last year and wanted to see how it compared to some of the other well known brands.
A Bordeaux for reference, plus a variety of well known California Cab's

A Bordeaux for reference, plus a variety of well known California Cab’s

Our host, Chuck, is our biggest Cabernet fan and he surprised us with this addition:

  • Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 – wow!
Our host, Chuck, added a treat from his cellar - Nice!

A surprise addition

We were also celebrating Nancy’s birthday, so as a birthday gift, we gave her a sabering lesson (J Vineyards Cuvee 20, which we enjoyed thoroughly).

The birthday girl trying her hand at sabering a bottle of bubbly.

Getting ready…



We always start with a bottle of sparkling wine, guaranteeing smiles as well as a chance to cleanse the palate.

Open the bubbly, and it's a party!

Open the bubbly, and it’s a party!

Once the sparkling wine was gone, we moved onto the real work – tasting our way through all those cabs!

Now for the hard work: we carefully taste our way through all the wines

Now for the hard work: gotta keep track of which one is which

Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting Markers
Tasting markers help us identify aromas as we are examining the individual wines.  Here’s what we used for the Cabs:

  • Blackberries, strawberries
  • Dill, sage, mint
  • Forest floor, tobacco, leather, vanilla
  • Black olives, black tea, chocolate
Tasting Markers

Tasting Markers

The Dinner
Once we move on to dinner, the formal tasting is done.  We can either continue to try different wines or just concentrate on favorites.  The first course was a do-it-yourself wedge salad bar.  The blue cheese and bacon provided the rich, savory flavors needed to match the Cabs.

Wedge salad - bacon and blue cheese bridge nicely to the Cabs

Wedge salad – bacon and blue cheese bridge nicely to the Cabs

The main course was a nice medium-rare filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus.  The rich texture and big flavors were a perfect foil for big, flavor-filled Cabs.

Perfect pairing for California Cabernet Sauvignon

Perfect pairing for California Cabernet Sauvignon

The rich, ripe flavors of the California Cabs showed me why people talk about Cabs and chocolate.

Now I understand why some folks pair cabs with dessert

Now I understand why some folks pair cabs with dessert

Thoughts on the Wines

  • Chateau Haut-Bergey: dark fruit, herbs and a bit of leather, definitely European.  Easy to understand why more restrained wines don’t do well in multiple wine tasting, as all the California wines offered more up front flavor during the tasting.  With the food, the Haut-Bergey really shone.  Hidden flavors emerged in the presence of the food.
  • Grgich: A bit of richness in the mouthfeel, dark fruit, vanilla. Too much vanilla for my taste.  I had expected to like this one, but found I really didn’t prefer it.
  • Caymus: Over the top rich and vanilla.  Enjoyable enough on its own or with cheese/pate.  I didn’t care for it at all with the steak. It is too rich, soft and vanilla-filled.
  • Silver Oak: This wine was a complete surprise for me. Dark fruit, eucalyptus, dill, green pepper (way in the background). Full mouthfeel, quite tannic. I liked this one a lot, for California big name cab.  My favorite of the evening.
  • Robert Craig: Another surprise! Restrained, dark fruit. Nice level of tannins, lean mouthfeel, very appropriate and nice.
  • Robert Mondavi 1996: In a different class.  All the other wines were young, so the fruit was dominant.  This wine featured many more secondary characteristics.
The wine is a convenient excuse to get together regularly with a group of friends!

The wine is a convenient excuse to get together regularly with a group of friends!

9 Responses to “Do Big Rich Cabs Really Go With Steak?”
  1. Reblogged this on Layden Robinson and commented:
    Awesome article!!!!!

  2. Great article. I’m always trying to learn something new, and I really enjoyed this. Nice pics also. 🙂

  3. shirazrat says:

    Really interesting the idea of using those tasting markers for the cab’s.

  4. As always, top notch job! A few years ago I picked up some of the ’96 Mondavi CS for $20. Great wine and wish I had bought more….

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