So what do I look for when pairing wine with beef? It’s a good question so let’s lay down some simple points on which to riff.
1. Smoky flavors are complementary.
2. A little sweetness can help balance out the char.
3. Bold flavors are natural partners.
4. Beef likes some peppery spice.
5. Fatty foods like a little acid trip.
If you want to see what I mean, read on!
Photo courtesy of jeffreyw via Flickr/cc
Smoky Flavors are Complementary
One of the great appeals of grilled food is all that smoky deliciousness that permeates the meat. Those flavors of wood smoke are both subtle and yet somehow assertive, and they can pretty easily overpower a wine. What to do? Look for smoky flavors in your wine.
You can find smoky flavors from barrel aging, from new, toasty oak, or from terroir. South African Merlot and many red blends are famously smoky and often have a nice edge of chipotle and jalapeño adding complexity to the black-fruited palate. I find that these wines are best paired with grilled strip steak, served with some chimichurri sauce.
Two to try:
A Little Sweetness Can Balance Out the Char
Sometimes we get carried away when grilling and the smoky, sweet flavor becomes obscured by some overaggressive char. Fear not! Even a steak that’s crusty and black on the outside has a perfect partner. In this case, something that helps to soften those crispy edges is just the ticket.
A little sweetness can help balance out that bitterness. Many wines actually work fairly well, attesting to the current tendency of many wine producers to leave a little residual sugar in their wines. Big fruit can also help to reinforce that impression of sweetness, as can the use of American oak barrels, making a good old Zinfandel perfect for the bronco burger you burned, or maybe it was a London broil. You thought 4 inches was the right thickness?
Two to try:
Sausal Family Estate
Klinker Brick Old Vine
Bold Flavors are Natural Partners
Sometimes you want something mellow and refined, other times you want fireworks. Bring it on! Spice up my steak and let me worry about the consequences like what wine to pair with it.
Big flavor foods tend to need big flavor wines, but that doesn’t mean that they need complicated flavors. Sometimes, like with a nicely marinated sirloin steak, a wine just needs to roll in with rich fruit and a lot of self-confidence. I think New World Grenache is a woefully overlooked partner to grilled steaks, and one you should be investigating forthwith my friends.
Beef Likes Some Peppery Spice
Syrah is the pepper king. Some say cool climate is peppery and others say warm climate, I simply say to bring the black wine, which pretty much means New World. There’s a ton of spice in many New World Syrah wines both from the grape and from aging in new oak barrels, making them almost a condiment when it comes to big, beefy flavors.
A lot of New World Syrah tends to be a little low on the acid side, which makes them better for lean cuts of meat. Bonus: many Syrahs are beefy tasting, adding a nice layer of teriyaki jerky complexity over your dry aged grilled flank steak.
Two to Try:
Novy Cellars Syrah
Fatty Foods Like a Little Acid Trip
One thing you can’t deny is that the fatty ring around your rib-eye can be mind-bogglingly good! The only problem is that it’s the fat-is-flavor rule in effect. When you have a particularly fatty cut of meat, you need wine with plenty of acid to come to your palate’s rescue.
Truth be told a big, juicy rib-eye is my favorite steak (bone in, of course) primarily because its actually like having several steaks in one all separated by delicious fat. You need a bright, juicy wine to combat all that fat. Fortunately, I love Sangiovese and find that it works like a charm here. You can rock with your favorite Chianti, but I’m going to reach for something a bit bigger. Rosso di Montalcino, come to poppa!
Two to try:
La Palazzetta Rosso di Montalcino
Campogiovanni Rosso di Montalcino