With the weather rapidly changing, it’s just about time to put the grill away for the winter. Well not for all of us, but many will have to wait months to enjoy a great grilled steak once again.

As a final celebration for this grilling season, I spent a day gathering up provisions and several different cuts of meat in order to see what would be the most popular among a group of enthusiastic carnivores! Among the likely subjects were a New York strip steak, a Flank Steak, a Top Sirloin steak and, my favorite, a Flatiron Steak.

All of the steaks were marinated in a simple blend of olive oil, red wine, onions and herbs for several hours, and then grilled over hardwood charcoal. The marinade was then used as a simple sauce base, prepared as the steaks cooked. The results were fantastic, with a unanimous winner among the steaks and a surprising wine to pair with them.

What to expect: Pinotage

Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is considered to be one of the classic grapes from South Africa. It can produce a very distinctive wine with a hint of rubber on the nose that leads to a rather fruity palate, with notes of banana, plum and cherry. While the grape imay be high in tannins, the wine is produced in a broad range of styles.
All of the steaks were cooked a fine medium rare over a hot, hardwood charcoal grill. The steaks were sliced and presented with the finished sauce on the side so everyone got a chance to try the meat alone and with the sauce. Some reserved marinade was also used as a dipping sauce, with garlic and additional herbs added to create a sort of Chimichurri sauce.

The least favorite steak was the Flank steak. It was perfectly cooked with a nice chewy texture but with little marbling, it trailed in the flavor department.

The next in line was the New York Strip streak, which was tender and tasty, but neither as tender not as tasty as other cuts.

Our runner up? The top sirloin steak was excellent with a rich beefy flavor and chewy but not tough texture it worked well with the marinade and the sauces and benefitted from a bit of extra thickness allowing it to develop a nice char without any sign of overcooking.

And the winner was, hands down, the Flatiron steak. Richly flavored, fat is flavor after all, yet meltingly tender it was a superb, succulent piece of meat that handled the infusion of flavor from the marinade effortlessly and stood up to the saucing without missing a beat. This lowly cut of meat, long a secret among foodies, is fast becoming a favorite, and more expensive too boot.

It’s no surprise that the Flatiron steak won our little completion. It’s been determined by testing that this cut, from the inside of the shoulder, is the second most tender of the cow, second only to the tenderloin! Unlike many Filets however, the flatiron steak is rich in flavorful marbling and beefy flavor.

Marinade serve two functions, infusing flavor and tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. The marinade I used includes a modest amount of red wine, which supplies acid as well as flavor, but relies on the oil to imbue the meat with layers of flavor. With a cut as tender as this you need to be careful not to over marinate the steak. Over marinating occurs when a cut is left in a marinade for too long but is also likely when that marinade is too acidic.

To download a printable PDF file of this recipe click here.

Red Wine and Herb Marinade

In a nonreactive bowl combine thoroughly:

1 Cup Extra Virgin olive oil
1/3 Cup Red Wine
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley leaves, minced
2 tsp Fresh Rosemary leaves, minced
1 tbsp Fresh Oregano leaves
2 fresh bay Leaves
½ tsp Celery seed
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp freshly cracked black peppercorns

I like to let this marinade infuse overnight before using it.

When ready to use, place the marinade and the steaks in a Ziploc bag. Expel as much air from the bag as you can while sealing it, and then thoroughly massage the meat to evenly distribute the seasoning.

Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

About 30 minutes before you want to grill begin preparing the grill. I use direct heat for a flatiron steak since it’s relatively thin and I want a nice char on my rare to medium rare steak.

Remove steak from marinade and wipe clean of most of the marinade solids.

In a non-reactive saucepan heat the marinade to a simmer and cook until the volume is reduced by about 20%, approximately the amount of water based liquids in the pan. Once the water has cooked off the onions will begin to cook. I let them sauté until they have just begun to gain some color then remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool. Before service I add the juice of half a lemon and 2 tbsp of minced parsley leaves to help refresh the sauce.

That is a very simple marinade and dipping sauce for steak that not only enhances the flavor of the meat but also builds a flavor bridge to any wine that will be served with this dish.

We tried several wines with our steaks.

The bold, young Zinfandel, 2006 Ridge Geyserville to be specific, was a solid match but its richness didn’t cut the richness of the steaks. In fact it worked best with the lean flank steak.

Our Cabernet entry, the 2005 Silver Oak Alexander Valley, didn’t really stand up to our marinade though the herbal elements in the wine did bring out the herb notes from the marinade. This might be a better pairing for a broiled or pan seared version of this dish.

Our winning wine was the 2006 Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage. With a deep smoky tone, bright acidity and reserves of jammy red toned strawberry fruits this offered both complimentary and contrasting notes that meshed perfectly with the steaks.  Perhaps a wine better served with food than without.

And that was that. While we were grilling to celebrate the end of the season we were, in fact, breaking in a new grill. It was a successful inaugural fire and I look forward to following up with more grilling adventures, sooner or later.

Red Wine and Grilled Steak: A Classic Pairing with a New Twist

2006 Warwick Old Bush Vines Pinotage
This has the classic banana tone on the nose that is typical of Pinotage, but it's backed up by wonderfully aromatic notes of smoke and leather with a dry, earthy tone. On the palate the sharp tannins and solid acidity of the wine support slightly chewy dried strawberry and raspberry fruit notes that lead to a long, savory finish

Red Wine and Herb Marinade
Marinades serve two functions, infusing flavor and tenderizing tougher cuts of meat. The marinade I used for these steaks includes a modest amount of red wine, which supplies acid as well as flavor, but relies on the oil and herbs to imbue the meat with layers of flavor.