A pan-seared steak is an exercise in simplicity, making it the perfect centerpiece for a relaxed Valentine's evening meal at home. Here are a few nuances to explore when picking which wine to sip alongside your steak.
The tannins in red wine (which create an astringent and drying feeling in your mouth) are softened into submission by the fat in a steak.
To pick the wine that will complement your beef, consider the cut and level of doneness of the steak. If you prefer a leaner steak like filet mignon or some cuts of sirloin, look for a wine with a bit less tannin, because the steak will not have enough fat to soften it. However, a cut with more fat, like ribeye, New York strip, or skirt steak can handle a more brawny wine.
You should also consider how long you prefer to cook your steak. A juicy wine can help boose the flavor of a well-done steak, while a medium rare steak can handle an earthier or aged old world wine with more tobacco and barnyard notes.
This recipe is simple and classic: steak, hot pan, red wine pan sauce. There are lots of delicious wine pairing options that will complete the meal and not overwhelm the flavor of the meat. What's your favorite wine to pair with steak?
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A cheerful and inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon from California, like the 2009 Wyatt Cabernet, can easily donate a cup to the pan sauce and then accompany the dish itself. This wine doesn't try to overextend its reach: only 10% is aged in oak, which lets the juicy berry fruit flavors shine through. ($10-15, find this wine)
An earthy Carmenère from Chile, such as the 2008 Chono Reserva, is ideal for a rare ribeye or strip steak. Blackberry and brambly fruit are laced with silky tannins and a hint of spice. (Around $12, find this wine)
Madiran from Southwest France is a great alternative for Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon lovers. Made predominately from the deeply astringent Tannat grape, these wines come into their meat-loving own with a little age. The bold and brash tannins want—even need—a rich bite of steak. Dirt-strewn dark fruit flavors are delightful in the Chateau Peyros Madiran 2004. Give this a bit of time in a decanter to open up. (Around $18, find this wine)
Syrah, especially from the Northern Rhône, can also be a splendid pairing. The cracked black pepper and rich herbal notes of these powerful but elegant wines echo the steak's preparation, and smooth tannins lend themselves to a leaner cut. Try the 2007 Les Lézardes Syrah for a great value from the heralded Côte-Rôtie producer Rene Rostaing. ($27-35, find this wine)
About the Author: Sarah Chappell is a wine writer and -monger living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and contributes to Palate Press.