What Works with a Steak

What Works with a Steak

There is a rule that I was taught years ago about pairing wine and foods.  White wines go with chicken and fish and red wines go with meats and game.  The question is…..does it work?  It was a perfect day yesterday in Michigan so I decided to light one of the grills (I have 2 grills, one dedicated smoker and a combo smoker/grill) before I have to store it for winter. 

The Wine Selection

I looked in my wine cellar to see what I had available and found this gem:

  • A 2016 Galius Saint Emilion Grand Cru from Bordeaux.

Let me describe the wine components to you first. 

Aromas / Flavors The aromas were a bit muted and light but had nice amounts of red fruits such as plum and raspberry.  It also had hints of tobacco (like a cigar), violets and dried orange peel.  It also had hints of green herbs such as thyme.   The flavor profile was amazing.  It had dark red fruits (that were a bit sour) showing red plum, dark cherry and some cranberry.  It also had some white pepper and a hint of herbal qualities (very faint so hard to define).
Mouthfeel Very soft and smooth mouthfeel.  Similar to drinking half and half….it coated your mouth but was not heavy at all.
Sweetness None really detected…more a bit sour like unripe red fruits.  Not unpleasant.
Tannins The tannins (mainly from the merlot) were very smooth and medium strength (think of a cup of earl grey steeped for only a short while)
Acid levels The wine showed medium acid levels but they were not overpowering. 
Body This is almost a full body wine (on the edge between medium and full) but very easy to drink
Finish / Length This may sound weird but the wine was very clean and lasted a long time on the palate.  The flavors went away quickly, so there was more a sensation of mouthfeel that stayed with you.

This wine was incredible and I purchased it locally for under $30.  This is one of those wines that you sit around and drink at your leisure and relax.  Upon researching the web, there are multiple positive comments on the wine’s quality and that it should be paired with beef.  So I decided to give it a try.

The Steak

Everyone says that a red wine can work with a steak so I grilled one to find out.   The steak was a 1 lb. Porterhouse (a little less than an inch thick) covered with a good coating of Montreal steak seasoning and grilled over charcoal for 4 minutes a side to get a medium doneness.  I also purposely rotated the tenderloin portion away from the heat to have this as a medium rare option.  Red wine tannins are reduced in strength on the palate by the myoglobin (aka red or pink color) in the meat.  BTW…that steak was extremely tasty.

Aromas / Flavors The aromas of a grilled steak?  Amazing with the combination of the seasoning, the 500 F grill caramelizing these along with the natural sugars in the meat, some of the fat rendering and dripping on the coals producing aromas as well
Mouthfeel The steak was very rich (both from the rub and the grilled fat).  It was slightly chewy in texture but still retained some juiciness in the muscle
Sweetness The rub does not have any sugar in it but the steak’s natural sugars did caramelize.
Tannins There are some smoke components from the charcoal that the steak was exposed to during grilling.
Acid levels A steak is not acidic in nature nor was the added rub. 
Body This was a good cut of meat and when grilled, it shows a full body.  Think of yourself chewing a small piece of a medium done steak….That’s going to be full body.
Finish / Length With the blend of spices (that were toasted due to the high heat on the grill) and the cut, the flavor lasts a long time.

In order to pair a food with a wine, we need to be able to either match up some components or contrast some.  Let’s compare the two below:

Wine   Steak
Aromas of red fruits, tobacco and green herbs Flavors of sour red fruits, white pepper Aromas / Flavors Complex set of aromas and flavors from the meat composition, the added seasoning and then both being grilled.
Soft, silky Mouthfeel Chewy, juicy
Slight sour tones Sweetness Neither sweet nor sour
Medium tannins Tannins Some smoke tannins
Medium acid Acid levels Almost no acid
Medium to full body Body Full body
Long finish and clean Finish / Length Long finish with grilled rub

So the question is….does this pairing work?  Yes, it does and very well too, I might add.  We have contrasting components related to mouthfeel and acid.  We have like components with the body and length.  Something that I’ve mentioned before is that tannins in a wine will be reduced in strength when exposed to myoglobin in meats.  The rarer the meat, the more myoglobin is available to react with the tannins and soften them.  In this case, the rare tenderloin piece really reduced the tannins in the wine to make the mouthfeel more silky and smooth.  So overall, this was a great pairing.

On a whim, I added a touch of homemade Kansas City style barbeque sauce on the steak.  This really made the pairing come alive.  Now, the sweetness and acid levels really aligned with each other.  There was added complexity on the steak that helped to accentuate the wine’s flavors.  The umami tones helped to bring the mouthfeel of the steak and wine together.  Please note that the sauce has a small amount of sweetness but more acid tones from its components.

Overall, red wines that are medium to full body should be able to pair with a grilled beef steak.  I know that the weather is getting colder and that we tend to switch our cooking to braising or roasting meats.  However, I still love to grill and will continue until the winds are too heavy.  Being a child growing up in Toronto and being forced to dig out the grill in the middle of winter when Dad got the bug, I’m going to try and keep the tradition alive.



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