Steak and red wines are a classic pairing – and as with all things classic, it takes time for people to break away from conventions and seek to experiment beyond classic confines. When it comes to steak and wine pairing, it does not take avant-garde thinking to understand that sometimes, red wines might not be the perfect pairings. Take Kagoshima A5 wagyu as an example. This pinnacle cut in the world of steaks charms those who enjoy creamy texture and delicate buttery notes in their steak. It is no news that top Japanese sommeliers have chosen to pair a bottle of premier cru or grand cru white Burgundy, often with some 5 to 10 years of age, with this cut.
The practical question to ask when it comes to steak and wine pairing should be, first and foremost, which cut are we dealing with? How has the beef been treated and aged? And lastly, how are we enjoying it? The chosen wine should always work towards complementing and highlighting the sauce and condiments. As the phrase goes – food and wine pairing – food first, wine next is a helpful direction when narrowing down wine choices that work best with a specific dish. In this blog, we will break things down for you so that you can better identify the optimal wine to go with your steak.
Beefy cuts – tannins soften strong chewy fibres
Beefy cuts specifically from grass-fed cattle, leaner cuts like skirt, flank, hanger steak vouch for classic red wine pairings. The principle behind why red wines work great with beefy cuts is that tannins in red wines tend to bind with proteins in these cuts, and as a result the wine appears less astringent; and the meat more tender.
The longer the protein fibres, the better it’d work with your youthful bottle of Brunello, or old vine Australian Shiraz. For beefy cuts, we recommend robust wines of full body and stout structure. Preferably young but can also come from up to 20 years of age depending on the quality of the wine. Developing examples can add animally, tertiary tones that echo well with the meatiness of these cut. Try these below wines with beefy cuts.
1. The savoury touch of Old Vine Sangiovese
1990 Avignonesi Grandi Annate Riserva Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Per case 1 x 5L GBP 324 (~HKD 3,386)
Located east of Brunello di Montalcino on hills surrounding Montepulciano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano specializes in exactly the same clone of Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) as the more famous Brunello di Montalcino. Family-owned Avignonesi winery is known for delivering great value for their quality – for both their traditional Montelpulciano expressions or modern Tuscan bottlings. This rare 1990 Avignonesi Grandi Annate Riserva comes in 5L format. Combining with the factor that Grandi Annate is only produced in the best vintages, this bottle is one that we simply don’t often come across. Bring it home whilst it is still around.
2010 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Annata
Per case 6 x 75cl GBP 448 (~HKD 789)
Godfather of Brunello di Montalcino needs little introduction, especially to Italian wine lovers. Biondi Santi is well known for its foresight and vision with Sangiovese, specifically the clone of Prugnolo Gentile. Annata wines are made from vines aged 10 to 25 years old; whilst those from Riserva are from 25 years or older. This 2010 expression is currently all about rose petals and sweet spices and will take at least another 10 years or more to start showing dried prosciutto and goose pate like savouriness. Perhaps the easy, crowd-pleasing choice of wines of all 4 that we recommend here.
2. Unleash the animal in Mourvedre
2006 Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tourtine
Per case 12 x 75cl GBP 764 (~HKD 676)
Iconic producer of Bandol and one of the few masters of Mourvedre in the world. 5-hectare mid-slope vineyard La Tourtine’s rich clay soil produces mighty wines of bold, dense fruit characters from average 40 years old vines. The usual blend comprises 80% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache, 10% Cinsault. At 13 years old, this single vineyard Bandol is ready to shine next to a medium-rare flank steak.
2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Cuvee Classique
Per case 12 x 75cl GBP 266 (~HKD 253)
75% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 9% Cinsault, 2% Carignan. This is the estate expression. It offers early drinking pleasure than the three single vineyard bottlings.
The salt trick?
Let’s talk about this sommelier trick that the writer has learnt about whilst serving tables in Las Vegas. One of the best kept secrets, especially for sommeliers working for steakhouses, is that when a guest “complains” about a bottle of wine being too tannic, in addition to offering to aerate the wine further by decanting, slipping your guest an extra dose of fleur de sel – highly prized floral-shaped sea salt from France – often helps.
Salt and tannins is both a rewarding and dangerous game to play. The reward is that salt tends to make us salivate, and saliva is a source of proteins. The interaction of wine tannins and salivary proteins instantly alleviates the sensation of grippy tannins. The danger of it is that when salt also enhances the sensation of alcohol and saltiness. The trick is to find the perfect balance.
Marbling matters – acidity cuts through fat
Japanese beef industry is to be credited for bringing about the trend of enjoying steak of very high marbling ratio. The secret to fine-grained fat marbling lies in the genetic composition of the breed itself and the living quality of the cattle. Yes it is believed that a low-stress environment, often elevated by constant playing of classical music and regular cattle massage, helps ensure that the cattle provides highly prized, extremely fine fat marbling, the highest of which is graded A5.
The deliciousness of highly marbled beef ties in with the beef’s melting creaminess and pure milky, buttery aromatics. Most often times, this is enhanced by Chef’s expertly controlled cooking – instead of a 30% doneness, most Chefs opt for 40 – 45% doneness. The goal is to enhance the aromatics and that melting mouthfeel by converting intra-muscular fat into a liquid, molten form. When it comes to wine pairings, finesse is key. In the world of highly marbled beef, it’s wine and fat pairing more so than wine and protein pairing. Classic food and wine pairing principle for high fat food – bring in wines of high acidity!
1. Perfect Pairing with White Burgundy
2009 Chateau de Puligny Montrachet Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru
Per case 6 x 75cl GBP 1,352 (~HKD 2,325)
Chevalier Montrachet’s elevated location, being above Montrachet and Batard Montrachet Grand Cru, offers extra freshness especially for warm vintages such as vintage 2009. Located at 300 metre, Chevalier Montrachet is the highest grand cru site in Puligny Montrachet. Majority marl and a thin layer of limestone provides for a sturdy structure, whilst elevation gives the wine a pronounced acidity backbone.
2. The modern expression of Rioja Blanco
2012 Remirez de Ganuza Rioja Blanco Reserva
Per case 3 x 75cl GBP 193 (~HKD 683)
Located in the heart of Rioja Alavesa, the coolest and highest-altitude part of Rioja, Remirez de Ganuza pulls back from the more oxidative, nutty style of traditional white Rioja. Instead, it delivers the classic blend of Viura-Malvasia with solid acidity with herbal and mineral undertones. The wine comes with lovely freshness and a long-lasting saline finish.
Dry aged steak – when your beef goes from beefy to nutty and cheesy
Dry aged steak has taken on the fine dining scene with a rage over past couple years. 30 days dry age might simply intensify beefiness of the cut and come with a more tender mouthfeel. Going beyond, as the dry age period extends into 45 to 90 day zone, flavour profile starts to change. Beefiness has evolved into gaminess, and that well-developed exterior layer of white crust provides more “funky” flavours oft-associated with blue cheese come into play. If you have gained an acquired taste in dry-aged steak, why not enjoy it with wines of acquired taste as well?
Vin Jaune of Jura
Bottled in special 620ml clavelin bottle, traditional wines of Jura is made of 100% Savagnin grape variety. These wines are aged in Burgundy sized 228-litre barrels for 6 years and 3 months, during which the entire period does not see any topping up. The unique climate of Jura provides for a favourable natural environment such that this wine does not go oxidized but rather, it gains protection from a layer of flor, which protects it from excessive oxygen contact whilst derives walnut and olive brine like characters to the wine. The fundamental difference between Vin Jaune and sherry is that Vin Jaune is not fortified at all. This provides extra finesse and elegance, both ensuring the wine will harmoniously elevate and integrate well with a dry aged steak.
Consider the sauce – fruit, herb or beef jus
Lastly, in the advent of food and wine pairing, we cannot stress enough how very important it is to consider the sauce and condiments.
A fruity sauce such as a blueberry glaze will always benefit from an equally fruit-forward wine such as a Californian Cabernet Franc. The opulent blue fruit, liqueur de cassis characters in a Napa hillside site like Howell Mountain or Santa Barbara cooler site like Santa Ynez Cabernet Franc will work very well.
Alternatively, if you are enjoying your steak Argentinean style, that is, it comes with a chimichurri dressing, you will want a wine with an herbaceous edge to elevate the savoury, herbal aspect of the sauce. Chilean Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon would work well. The structured tannins in both wines will also effectively soften the tannins in classic grass-fed beef cuts from Argentina.
In the case that your beef comes with traditional beef jus, and that you are enjoying your beef prepared country-styled slow roast way, the best bottle in this case will be one of moderate intensity and tannins. The birthplace of Boeuf Bourguignon – provincial Burgundy – is a great starting point. A juicy, soft bottle of Bourgogne Rouge wouldn’t be wrong. For something more robust and rustic, head south towards Rhone Valley. A hearty bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, or a lighter style found in Vacqueyras, Gigondas or any one of the Cotes du Rhone cru, will fit the bill.