As the weather becomes warmer and the clocks propel us forward into spring, many of our social activities inevitably move outdoors and are often centered around a pile of hot coals searing delicious meats. While options abound when deciding on what to throw on the BBQ, when it comes to preparing a restaurant quality meal at home steak is one of my favorites (and also one of the easiest). While I could go on and on about the proper way to cook a steak and list recipes for my favorite accompaniments, I’ll leave that to Alton Brown, Ina Garten and the folks over at the Food Network. Instead I’m going to focus on what to drink with those steaks to truly enhance your meal and turn a simple spring or summer evening into an experience.
Personally, whenever I visit a steakhouse with plans to devour a well-marbled ribeye or a dry aged New York steak it is almost compulsory to begin my evening with a cocktail to stoke my appetite and stimulate my palate. While a Gin or Vodka martini is an excellent choice, I prefer a classic Bourbon cocktail to whet my whistle. One of my favorite bourbons to sip or mix is the Elijah Craig 12-Year ($23.99). Complex and sophisticated enough to be served neat or in a snifter, it displays notes of caramel and toffee with a delicate rye spiciness and subtle hints of wood. This would be an excellent spirit to feature in a handcrafted Manhattan or Old Fashioned before dinner as well as a perfect way to end your meal.
Much like baseball and spring, steak and red wine have proven themselves to be a match made in heaven and few wines pair better with a steak than Bordeaux. Rare is a combination more elegant than when a bone-in, dry aged New York Steak is paired with a structured, nuanced wine from this ultra-prestigious wine growing region. The common perception of Bordeaux wines is that they are incredulously expensive, with First Growth’s such as Chateau Margaux or Chateau Lafite Rothschild often fetching multi-thousand dollar bids at auction and Bordeaux futures being hastily bought up by investors the world over. In fact, Bordeaux is a great place to find value for lovers of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. The 2010 Chateau de Cugat Cuvee Premiere, tipping the scales at a mere $14.99, is a blockbuster of a value and is definitely punching above its weight class. Featuring dark fruit and hints of vanilla on the nose, this 70% Merlot 30% Cabernet Sauvignon opens up in the glass with evolving overtones of leather and fresh cut tobacco backed by silky tannin with a long, intriguing finish. A perfect companion for the savory, umami laced flavors of dry aged beef.
While fattier, more marbled steaks generally require full bodied, tannic wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon to match their richness those same qualities would overpower a leaner, more delicate cut such as Filet Mignon. Pinot Noir with its lighter body and palate cleansing acidity steps in perfectly to fill that void. An excellent example of domestic Pinot Noir is the 2010 Hirsch Vineyards “Beltramo’s Cuvee” ($34.99) This is a very unique bottling with a great back story: our domestic wine buyer traveled to Hirsch Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, long hailed as one of California’s premiere Pinot Noir producers, and sampled a plethora of barrel samples culling the select few that were deemed the finest. These samples were then blended and bottled exclusively for us by Hirsch and we are quite proud to be the only retail store to offer this wine. With tart cranberry on the tip evolving into dusty strawberry with hints of smoke and barrel spice, this complex wine lingers on the palate with great finesse.
Being a former employ of a Michelin Star steakhouse, I am often asked which steak is my favorite. And while my favorite cut of beef to prepare and cook is a well seasoned Tri-Tip roast, my favorite of the five primal cuts is the fatty, luxurious ribeye. Few things are more unctuous on the palate. This requires a true thoroughbred of a wine to stand up to such richness and the 2010 Ca’ Marcanda Promis ($39.99) by world renowned producer Gaja is such a wine. Comprised of 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese it leads with aromas of dark cherry, spice, sage and leather on the nose then delves into intense flavors of berry, espresso and baking chocolate with a finish that is both focused and graceful.
While hamburgers and hotdogs are always a great pairing for a smoking hot grill with any luck I’ve succeeded in passing along a few tips to help take your next backyard BBQ to another level. When I imagine what wine means to me, I close my eyes and envision a rustic meal of roast beast served al fresco around a communal table, accompanied by great friends, wonderful stories, and of course fantastic libations.
Eric B., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant