Grilling season is now upon us, and a good grilled steak is just about the only excuse you need in warmer weather to open up a big red wine. But some red wines work with steak better than others. Here is a top 5 list, in no particular order:
1. Brunello di Montalcino. Anyone who has had Steak Florentine in Tuscany knows that Sangiovese is the perfect partner for steak, and Brunello is the grandest and noblest Sangiovese. Keep it on the young side, to ensure good fruit vigor and lively tannins. Consider giving your steak full Tuscan treatment: cook it rare but with a crusty exterior (which should be coated in salt, pepper and if you like some minced rosemary or sage), and then dress the sliced steak with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
2. Argentinian Malbec. No, our shop is not known for its Malbecs and the category isn’t my favorite in general, as far too many are made in a glossy, international style. But there are some made honestly and traditionally and they are simply perfect for the rich steak culture of Argentina. The best have voluptuous red fruit, gentle spice and velvety tannins that are harmonious with beef.
My choice: Carmelo Patti, Malbec, 2013 ($29.99)
3. Ribera del Duero. If you’ve read Bill Bufford’s great Heat, you know that the great beef of Tuscany actually comes from Spain. This has been confirmed by my own experience eating a gorgeous steak in Valladolid, the vibrant city that lies just at the western end of Ribera del Duero. The local wine was served, and as much as I associate these wines with lamb, it turns out it’s also a pretty great steak wine.
4. Right Bank Bordeaux. No, don’t drink “clarets” or old Bordeaux with steak — save those for more subtle meat preparations like braises or roasts. For your steak, open up some fleshy young Merlot from St. Emilion, Pomerol or, to save a little cash, Fronsac. It’s got those same Malbec-like tannins that are round and velvety, seemingly designed with steak in mind. I would look at vintages like 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012.
My choice: Chateau Valois, Pomerol, 2012 ($54.99)
5. California Cabernet. I’m saving the easy one for last. Go to any American steak house and you’ll see that the wine list is filled with Cali Cabs. It’s a classic. Be careful, as it’s really easy to over-pay for some new-fangled brand just because it got a high score in a glossy magazine. To be safe, stick with classics, like my choice below.
My choice: Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 ($57.99)