Pairing Wine And Meat – An Art Form
By Leslee D. Miller
It should come as no surprise that the instinctive wine choice for a mouthwatering pan seared or perfectly grill marked steak hot off the grill is red, but have you ever truly analyzed the exact choice of red grape when pairing to a cut of beef? Having worked my entire career within the hospitality industry and with this particular breed of beef, I will tell you that selecting the perfect wine takes a whole lot more consideration than simply pulling the first ‘bold red’ off of a restaurant wine list when pairing to this product. In reality, the act of pairing wine with food is more of an art form, yet if you take the time to consider just a handful of hard and fast rules then perfection is just a step away!
The first and probably the ‘golden rule’ to follow when pairing any wine to food, is to consider ‘the prep’. Second rule, consider the sauce. Sauces can sometimes dictate an entire pairing depending on its weight in the dish. Third, the temperature and cut play two of the most powerful rules in the handbook rule of meat and wine pairing. Let’s look at it this way, if you told me you were preparing a pan seared medium rare tenderloin with a wild mushroom cream sauce and a smoked prime rib cut, doesn’t it sound a little funny to consider the same wine for both plates?
Let’s start with the most important rule of thumb, ‘the prep’. The preparation of any dish, whether it be smoked, grilled, sauced or spiced, is really the first thing to consider when pairing food to wine. One, pan searing your cut of beef versus smoking it displays a whole new set of palate differences between each prep. The first is instinctually clean showcasing a more intricate set of flavors, and the other displaying more textured full-bodied flavors in the beef. In this scenario, a lighter bodied Pinot Noir will pair a set of clean, fresh, yet earth ridden characteristics that can hi-light the more acute flavors of the pan seared version, while a rich red grape like Tannat that generally spends more time in barrel (taking on tones of smoke and spice) would pair best to the smoked cut capturing the full bodied flavors of the meat’s prep.
Next, consider the sauce! Is the sauce over the meat, part of the dish or lightly drizzled on the plate? The sauce is a highly dictative piece to the pairing puzzle, most forgetting to factor it in when pairing to proteins. Consider this: the heavier the sauce, the bigger the wine (both whites and reds).
And last, the cut and the temperature of the meat are significant factors in the grand spectrum of pairing. The simplest rule of thumb: the leaner the meat, the lighter the wine, and the richer the meat (with more fat), the heavier the wine. Three simple words to follow: Fat loves tannin! Because we are working with a cut of meat that is already so lean, lighter bodied red wines like Pinot Noir, Gamay or Grenache pair best with tenderloin, while medium weighted grapes like Malbec and Tempranillo to a New York and bigger red grapes with more tannin like Cabernet and Tannat pair best with cuts like Ribeye and Prime Rib (with more fat). Lastly, remember that the temperature of a cut can actually add more depth to wine and vice versa. You have an older vintaged Cabernet (15+ yrs. old). Here, serving a rare to medium rare temp versus a medium-to-medium well-temped cut can actually breathe a bit of life back into a bottle. Over time, tannin dissipates in red wine, therefore, serving a cut with a bit of ‘bounce’ to it can often lead to revitalizing parts of the already aged wine.
Overall, there are many factors to consider when pairing wine to food, but most importantly, it’s how you enjoy them together. Whether it’s the perfect food and wine pairing combo or just your favorite wine paired to well, just about anything either work for making the ‘best pairings’. Salut!