PhilSandifer wrote:I've honestly, with multiple tries, yet to enjoy Cab Sav - it's just too tannic and peppery for me, with no real flavor to compensate for the feeling that I have just set my mouth on fire. Tried pairing it with a steak, and the steak just brought out the worst in the wine for me - all burn, and the little bit of fruit there was got swallowed.
Only time I've ever had any luck was pairing it with super, super dark chocolate.
What am I missing? Is there some magic key that would just make me understand the glory of the supposedly great varietal?
Well, not everyone likes the flavor of every grape. My suspicion is that you've only had Cabernet Sauvignon that is either mass-market or, if of good quality, young. Good young Cab works well with 70%+ cocoa chocolate, or with fresh raspberries (poured over them, as well as in the glass).
Most red grape varieties can (and usually should) be enjoyed relatively young, even if they're capable of aging to sublime heights: that's certainly true of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and (after a fashion) for Syrah and Sangiovese.
Cabernet Sauvignon is different. Well and traditionally made, in France good Cab was undrinkable before it was 10. In California, similar quality Cab would often have a brief period (a year or two after release, which used to be around 3 years after the vintage date), before falling asleep until it reached 8-10. It was only after that you would get the wonderful combination of fruit aromas and bottle bouquet, and the flavors, we associate with great Cabernet.
Cab is usually the wine we cellar for extended periods because of the life cycle. In England, among the aristocracy, it was said that in your youth, you would drink primarily the wines your grandfather laid down, in maturity, you'd mostly drink the wines your father laid down, and only if you survived into your 60s would you be primarily drinking wines you had purchased yourself.
Now, young quality Cabs are in some ways worse - harvested at higher sugars, they tend to overripeness and high alcohol, sometimes exaggerated flavor profiles, along with the tannin. I've been drinking Cab for more than 50 years, and I don't much like many of the newer ones. I look for lower alcohol levels, lower pH, more acidity, lower sugar levels at harvest, and winemaking by people who seem to have the knack of getting the flavors they want out of those grapes.
If you can find mature Cab (over 10 years old) from quality producers, spring for a bottle or two and try that. You'll find a completely different experience, and one you may well come to appreciate.