By Maggie and Aaron Walters
It's often assumed that with a juicy grilled steak comes a hearty, unctuous, bold Cab. We're here to tell you, it goes so much deeper than that! We're going to talk about how the cut, temperature, and cooking technique figure into choosing that perfect wine.
Food preparation by Aaron Walters.
Wine pairing by Maggie Walters.
I only cook steaks in one of two ways: cast iron skillet or over a charcoal grill. For cast iron cooking, heat your skillet with 2 tablespoons of high heat oil, such as peanut or sunflower oil. Once hot, but not smoking, place the steak in the pan and sear it, without moving it, for 2 minutes. Then, flip and sear the other side for 2 minutes more. At this point, I toss in a few cloves of smashed garlic and some fresh rosemary and place it in a 350 degree preheated oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place back on the stovetop. Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and baste for another minute. Remove from heat and let rest for at least 5 minutes, or up to 10, before enjoying.
If grilling is your preference, sear the steak for 2 minutes then rotate 90 degrees on the same side and grill for 2 minutes more. Flip, and cook for 4 more minutes. Remove from heat and place a pat of butter on top of the steak. Let rest 10 minutes.
When slicing steak (any cut or preparation) I like to prepare an herbed-butter board. To do this, take 1 stick unsalted butter (room temp), minced fresh rosemary and 2 cloves garlic, minced and stir together until combined. Spread the butter mixture on your cutting board. When ready to slice, place the steak directly on top of the butter mixture and there you have it.
Temperature wise, I personally never go above medium rare. If you are unlike me and prefer your steak cooked a bit longer (not that there's anything wrong with that) know that this will have an effect on the wine pairing. When cooking a steak above medium temperature you can lean toward the heavier side of the wine spectrum. See the pairing for rib eye below. Additionally, steaks cooked longer definitely benefit from the assistance of a sauce. Chimichurri and Malbec are a fantastic example. A classic demi-glace and Napa Cab is one other.
There is an ongoing debate among professionals over the use of sauces accompanying a perfectly cooked steak. I was taught to always have a sauce on the plate. Sauces add complexity and take dishes to a whole other level. However, I can definitely see the point of not having/needing anything else. Whichever route you choose to take, it is a must that you take this into account when choosing a wine.
Basics for Pairing Wine with Steak:
A very basic rule of thumb that is a big help when pairing wine with steak is knowing the toughness and fat content of the cut of steak you wish to enjoy. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference! The heavier and higher in fat a cut of steak is, the heavier the wine should be. There's a very scientific binding that happens in your mouth when you consume steak and red wine together: the tannin of a wine will bind with the fat and body of the steak. That's where the classic 'steak and Cab' pairing comes from, a big juicy piece of meet needs a big chewy Cab to accompany it. That's all well and good, but there's more to life than a gigantic, heavy T-bone on your plate.
Here are some more in-depth pairings to make your steak dinner even more enjoyable! They're sure to make you look like a pro at your next dinner party!
Steak Cut: Filet Mignon
While it may not be the most flavorful cut, it is without question, the leanest and most tender. You have to be a little cautious when choosing a wine for a filet. Anything too bold and tannic and it will overpower the steak. Béarnaise is a flavorful, delicious sauce to pair with a filet. Béarnaise is related to the mother sauce hollandaise. It is comprised of egg yolks, clarified butter, lemon juice, tarragon and chervil. This tangy rich sauce is a perfect complement for a tender filet.
Wine: Soft and Smooth
Because this cut is so tender, a hefty dose of tannin is actually not necessary. You'll find a higher content of tannin in wines like Cabernets and Syrahs. So this steak would not call for your classic big Cab pairing at all. I recommend trying this steak with a more elegant wine like a Pinot Noir that will compliment this delicate and tender cut. You heard me right, you can totally pair a steak with a Pinot Noir! I highly recommend trying the Rex Hill Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon or the Fulcrum 'On Point' Pinot Noir, the grapes coming from 3 single vineyards (one of which is Gap's Grown) from the North Coast of California. Both of these just excel in quality for their price point. Their elegance and finesse will make for a great pairing!
Steak Cut: New York Strip
What has been heralded as the best of both worlds (the tenderness of the filet with the marbling of the rib eye) the New York Strip is definitely a crowd pleaser. The strip comes from the short loin of the cow, which is the same as the porterhouse and famed T-Bone. This section has fewer muscles and is worked less, meaning it is inherently more tender. This meeting of just the right amount of marbling and tenderness make this a highly sought-after cut.
Wine: Happy Medium
Since we're increasing in fat content as well as structural heaviness (this is a more used muscle than the tenderloin so it's a little tougher) we can increase the heaviness of the wine, in both body and tannin structure. A nice, middle-ground that adds more umph, but still doesn't overpower the steak, would be a Merlot or a plummy Malbec. Try the Keenan Merlot (from a renowned second generation wine-making family) or the Pascal Toso Reserva Malbec (which is from the oldest winery in Argentina, over 500 yrs old!). These wines will be able to hold up to a steak with a heavier build, but still won't overpower your dinner. The goal is for the food and the wine to complement each other, you want the wine to make the food taste better and vice versa, not for one to outshine the other.
Steak Cut: Rib eye
Probably the most flavorful cut and definitely my favorite, the rib eye! Look for one that is thick cut and has good marbling throughout. A rib eye with these characteristics just begs to be cooked medium rare and served with some flaky sea salt and a thick pat of compound butter. Definitely a more "hands off" cut, there isn't a whole lot that needs to be done to this type of steak. A variation of your standard rib eye is the Delmonico. This is where the whole rib eye loin is cooked, usually roasted, and then sliced to your desired thickness and seared on a hot grill.
Wine: Big and Bold
Here's where the classic pairing comes into play. You have a big, unctuous and decadent piece of meat, you need a wine with equaling characteristics. A classic direction like a Napa Cab/Bordeaux Blend, or an off-the-beaten-path with a Super Tuscan would both play very well together. Check out the Chappellet Mnt. Cuvee (from the highly regarded Prichard Hill terroir) or the Ca' Marcanda Promis Toscana (showcasing a hefty dose of Syrah from one of Italy's highly renowned winemaking families) for all of your heavy red needs. The full body and grippy tannin structure with the fattiness and heaviness of a rib-eye are what steak lover dreams are made of.
I will leave you with one request: if upon reading this you are inspired to try any or all of these pairings please take a second and snap a picture and upload it to social media tagging Colonial Wine and Spirits! We would love to see your pairings!