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What's with Steak and Cabs -- and Napa Valley?

If some matches are made in heaven, the union of Cabernet Sauvignon with a juicy steak seems particularly divine. So, too, is the winning romance between Napa Valley and the Cab varietal itself. Here's why these duos click.

Why Cab and Steak Are So Good Together

Such is the passion for Cabernet Sauvignon that many folks happily pour it alongside just about any food. But the fact is, pairing Cabernet with many dishes can be like staging an arm-wrestling match between a champion weightlifter and a ninety-pound weakling -- it's no contest.

Cabernet is such a muscular variety that most foods have trouble standing up to it. And tannins are the biggest reason for the mismatch. As one of the biggest, baddest, flavor powerhouses on the red wine block, Cab packs loads of these deliciously potent, mouth-drying beauties. What's the antidote? Hearty red meats, such as beef.

Steak's luxurious texture is a perfect foil for the monumental body of rich Cabernet; furthermore, beef naturally counteracts the effects of tannin, too. The result is a much smoother-tasting wine, with dazzling fruit flavors singing forth in a way they otherwise couldn't, a pay-off which must surely be heaven-sent.

Napa and Cabernet's Beautiful Friendship

Let's be frank: Some places are simply a whole lot better than others for growing certain grape varieties. Sure, vines often grow well and produce decent wines in a wide range of places, but typically, only a handful of locations crank out truly exceptional wines on a year-to-year basis. For Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, is one of those special places.

Like many grape varieties, Cabernet requires specific conditions in order to excel. Among the most important of these are good, well-drained soil and warm, but not searingly hot, summer temperatures.

Interestingly, there's not just one type of soil that makes Napa great for Cabernet Sauvignon, there are more than thirty -- including gravel, sand, loam, clay and volcanic soils. And there is also vast disparity in the region's topography, which encompasses a valley floor, hillsides, canyons and beaches. One constant in the midst of all this variability, however, is the ability of Napa soils to dry out quickly, while holding just enough moisture for plants to get by. With quality wine grapes, too much water in the soil usually means diluted flavor. Napa's well-drained soils help ensure rich, robust Cabernet year in and year out.

As with its topography and soils, Napa experiences similar inconsistencies in weather, from the cool southern end of the valley to the warmer north. But again, there's an all-important constant -- moderation. Throughout Napa's Cabernet vineyards, grapes benefit from plenty of warm days, but don't have to suffer repeated scorchers. Throw in comfortably cool, but not cold, nights and it adds up to magnificent conditions for ripening Cabernet, at a pace it absolutely adores.

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