Monday, July 12, 2010

Wine Q & A with Red Wine with Steak

Question: Do different types of steak call for different red wines?

Answer: Along with what is the meaning of life? and does the tooth fairy really exist?, this is one of the great mysteries of the world--a question as deeply and inextricably linked to the human condition as taxes and awkward-teenage moments at middle-school dances. And just like those other ponderables of its ilk, this question is both more difficult to answer and far simpler than it initially appears.

First, then, the more complex of the two answers: Yes, different steaks call for different red wines. As we’ve addressed here before, cooking method has a significant impact on the kind of wine that will pair best with a particular dish. Grilled steak, for example, with its smoky notes and charred exterior, will respond better to a Cabernet Sauvignon, say, than a classic chicken-fried steak will, which, in my experience, is more suited to some sort of pink sparkler, like a great rosé Champagne.

But beyond that, there is also the question of the cut of the cow that you’re dealing with, as well as the way in which the animal itself was raised. Fattier steaks require heartier, more tannic reds to cut through all that richness, whereas leaner ones, like, say, a filet mignon, can easily be overwhelmed by big reds, and tend to do better when paired with gentler wines--I like a nice Pinot with filet, for example.

As far as the nature of the animal itself, much has been made lately about the differences in flavor and, indeed, morality, between grass-fed and corn-fed cows. We won’t get into the issues of ethics here, but the flavors and textures are certainly different. Personally, I prefer the more pronounced mineral tang of grass-fed steaks to their sweeter corn-fed counterparts, but, like all matters of taste, this is a personal decision. For more on this, take a look right here at a very good video that Wine Spectator posted a while back on this very subject.

Finally, to get to the second (and simpler) answer to our original question, it is, as always, this: Drink what you want with your food, even if it breaks to so-called rules. So: Big juicy Chardonnay with your steak? Go for it! If it brings you pleasure, then it’s a perfectly wonderful pairing.


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