One truism of wine and food pairings that will never go out of style is that red wine and steak are a perfect match. While we are big fans of mixing it up and bending the rules, we also hew to the belief that there is no need to change something that is working. Red wine and steak are perfect with one another because of the compounds that combine on our palates when we put them together—namely fat, protein and tannins. While we are sipping and chewing and enjoying conversation at home or our favorite steakhouse, there is a reaction at work in our mouths that heightens the pleasure of combining two of our favorite things.
Tannins—compounds in wine derived from grape skins and seeds and oak barrels—have an astringent or drying quality in the mouth. Protein and fat present in steak offer a wet or lubricating feeling on the palate. The first step in the dance of steak and beef is that, quite simply, the drying and lubricating characteristics balance each other out and cause a pleasant sensation. Beyond that, though, some science is at play. Molecules in the steak’s fat have a softening effect on tannins, making the wine feel softer and smoother, while at the same time tannins soften fat and bring out more flavor from the meat. Wines with a heavier tannic profile, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, are better suited to well marbled cuts such as ribeye and strip steak, while lighter tannins, such as those in Pinot Noir or Syrah, are a more desirable choice with leaner cuts like filet mignon or top sirloin.
Paul Hobbs 2018 Nathan Coombs Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
This unfined and unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon is made at his eponymous estate in Napa Valley by the well-known winemaking consultant Paul Hobbs. Thanks to moderate late summer and early fall temperatures in 2018 he was able to allow his grapes to slowly mature on the vine resulting in a wine with elegant structure and balanced acidity. There are aromas of chocolate covered cherries, cassis and black olives in the bouquet. In the mouth there are flavors of rich, ripe dark fruits and just a touch of dried thyme and oregano with a strong backbone of minerality.
Bodegas Arzuaga 2018 Amaya-Arzuaga Tempranillo Ribera del Duero Spain
Grapes for this alluring wine come from 100-year-old pre-phylloxera vines growing in the Arzuaga family’s La Planta vineyard in Quintanilla de Onesimo. It is brilliant garnet in the glass with violet reflections in the rim. The enticing bouquet draws you in with aromas of red fruits and freshly cut herbs. In the mouth it is generous and round with rich fruit flavors and balanced tannins and a finish that goes on and on. A perfect match for a chuleton de buey cooked over an olive wood fire. Only 2,857 bottles and 180 magnums were made in 2018.
Gran Enemigo 2017 Gualtallary Mendoza
Grapes for this Argentine red blend are grown in Alejandro Vigil and Adrianna Catena’s Gualtallary vineyard in the Uco Valley. It is a combination of 85 percent Cabernet Franc and 15 percent Malbec and it is deep purple in the glass with aromas of brown baking spices, ripe black cherries and just a whiff of mint. In the mouth there are flavors of black raspberries and black plums with a touch of milk chocolate and a pleasant lift of peppermint in the finish.
Vilafonté 2013 Series M Paarl South Africa
Winemakers Zelma Long and Martin Smith crafted this delicious blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Paarl, South Africa. It has aromas of red plum, red raspberry and red currant. In the mouth it is well balanced with supple tannins and flavors of ripe red fruits and cassis. It is aged for 20 months in French oak barrels then additional time in the bottle before release. The 2013 is the current release and it is drinking beautifully right now. Pair yours with a thick steak cooked on the grill.
Viña Sastre Regina Vides 2016 Ribera del Duero Spain
Grapes for this stunning wine are grown on 90-year-old vines planted at an altitude of 840 meters. It is aged for 18 months in new French oak and undergoes malolactic fermentation in the barrel. It is bright cherry in color with aromas of black fruits, red currant and toasted hazelnuts. It is generous and round in the mouth with flavors of ripe fruits, sweet brown baking spices and vanilla. It has soft suede-like tannins and great persistence in the finish. Only 6,000 bottles were produced in this vintage.
Sadie Family Wines 2018 Columella Swartland South Africa
Aficionados of South Africa have certainly heard of Eben Sadie and his highly acclaimed wines, and this blend of six grapes including Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache does not disappoint.
Eben lets this wine rest on the lees for one year in French oak barrels and then transfers it to large oval casks for an additional year of ageing. The wine is then bottled without fining nor filtration. It is big and bold in the nose with ripe fruit aromas and well balanced on the palate with smooth and silky tannins.
Jean-Luc Colombo 2018 Vallon de l’Aigle Cornas Rhone Valley
Winemaker Jean-Luc Colombo has created one of the highest expressions of Cornas in this elegant, delicious wine. It is a shame that it is available in such limited qualities in the US market. Grapes for this 100 percent Syrah based wine are harvested from the single vineyard Vallon de l’Aigle (Valley of the Eagle) which is only three-quarters of an acre in size. The vines are 70 years old, and the vineyard has been certified organic since 2016. The wine is deep garnet in color with aromas of blueberries, purple flowers and cassis. In the mouth there are silky tannins and flavors of black plum, black currant and ripe pomegranate with a long, long finish.
Chateau de Pez 2018 Saint-Estephe Bordeaux
This delicious Bordeaux from Saint-Estephe is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with touches of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It has aromas of black fruits with a lifted note of bright red cherry and secondary whiffs of tobacco leaf and purple flowers. In the mouth it has ripe fruit flavors and balanced tannins. The tannins are a bit chewy but will hold up to thick cuts of beef. The finish is long with a hint of black licorice at the very end. Drink now or hold for a few years.
Torbreck 2019 The Factor Shiraz Barossa Valley Australia
This 100 percent Shiraz stunner from Australia’s Barossa Valley is named for the local colloquialism for estate manager, Factor. It is inky purple in the glass with aromas of black plum, ripe dark cherry, vanilla bean and mocha. In the mouth it is big and bold with ripe fruit flavors and velvety tannins. Perfect with a steak on the barbie. Drink now or throughout the next 20 years.
Benziger Family Winery 2018 de Coelo Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
This is a Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that will pair perfectly with filet mignon. After harvest the grapes were cold soaked in open top fermenters for five days to extract maximum flavor, color and tannin. It was then allowed to go through malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels for 10 months, resulting in creamy mouthfeel and voluptuous texture. There are juicy flavors of black cherry, red plum, and cranberry on the palate and a light touch of bright pomegranate in the finish. Only 470 cases were made in 2018.