In food and wine pairing circles, it’s a truism that Cabernet Sauvignon goes with steaks. And indeed, it is a good match. But it is by no means the only match, and any steakhouse worth its dry rub will offer a range of reds.
Yes, reds are definitely the way to go. The animal fat and proteins of a fine steak really do beg for their tannins and body. Which type of wine you choose depends on the cut of steak and your personal preference. Since we can’t enjoy prime beef in a posh restaurant setting all the time, here are some wine suggestions for your own steak throwdown at home.
Filet mignon, for example, is tender in texture and among the leaner cuts. Pinot Noir is usually soft and delicate in kind, and doesn’t have a dramatic tannic profile that could overwhelm the tenderloin. A Burgundy Pinot Noir like Michel Noëllat Fixin 2006 ($35, Potomac Selections) fits the bill. The wine’s texture exudes plushness with a core of strawberry and other red fruits, framed by fine tannin that supports these flavors. (Fixin is a village within the Côte de Nuits and is often overlooked in favor of its more famous—and more expensive—sisters.)
Another Pinot Noir that won’t crowd a tenderloin is Lange Estate Winery Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008 ($26, Prestige Beverage Group). This Oregon beauty leads with succulent, bright red-fruit notes, follows with mellow vanilla tones, and finishes with just enough grip to cleanse the palate. This is a finessed bottle of wine that also pairs well with foods like salmon and tuna—in case someone at the table has opted for a fillet of a different stripe.
Full-flavored steaks like New York strip or rib-eye bring enough fat to the table that a tannic red wine is often the best choice. The default is Cabernet Sauvignon. The pricey Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($130, Bacchus Importers Ltd.) is a textbook example of why this match works so well. (Yes, it’s a splurge, but certainly worth the price.)
Heady aromas of cassis, dark cherry, vanilla, pipe tobacco spice, and a little cedar greet your olfactory sense. In the mouth, the wine has plenty of structure from young tannins that are certain to mellow with age, but don’t prevent the wine from being a delight right now. It also possesses a long finish that will outlast even the most decadently marbled piece of prime.
Grass-fed beef is, some would say, the latest fad. But it is, in fact, how beef is supposed to be raised. I like pairing a grass-fed steak with an Argentine wine like Felino Vinã Cobos Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($36, Constantine Wines), which is broad-shouldered, dark, and intense. The tannins are on the rustic side, but, overall, this chunky wine is happiest when matched with a steak that’s been grilled over hardwood.
There are plenty of other wine-growing regions around the world that count beef among their culinary traditions and have wines to match. A Spanish red that won’t fight the bull is Convento Oreja Ribera del Duero 2004 ($21, Kysela Pere et Fils). A quintessential libation for chops, this wine, made of 100 percent tempranillo grapes, bursts with a heady combination of ripe dark fruit, tobacco notes, firm tannins, and a hint of mineral on the finish. This is a fantastic choice if you’re grilling meat.
At chez Farlow, we like to grill London broil Tuscan style. This involves slicing rare steak into strips shortly after cooking and then drizzling extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice over it. The result is juicy, rich, and refreshing.
It must be paired with a wine that has enough acidity to meet the lemon juice. The acids from the lemon and the acids in the wine cancel each other out, leaving behind succulent beef, high-toned citrus, fruity olive, and delicious red fruit notes all at once.
The purist in me must serve a Chianti like Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2007 ($27, The Country Vintner). This is a scrumptious, high-toned wine made of Sangiovese grapes and shot through with a glimmering arrow of zingy acidity. I recommend bringing two bottles to the table, because the first will disappear with astonishing rapidity once the meal commences.