I don't have steak that often, so when I do, I want to drink something special with it. The conundrum for me is that my favorite wines with steak are youthful and fruit-forward. They should have a backbone of acidity and fine tannins, and enough density to stand up to the meat. Give me a young Aussie Shiraz, a Châteaneuf-du-Pape or a California Pinot Noir.
In researching my story on the New Steakhouses (in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator), I spoke to some of the sommeliers at these restaurants, which infuse the classic American steakhouse with some of the sensibilities of modern American cuisine. It's one of the most exciting trends today and involves some of the biggest of big-name chefs.
A classic steakhouse wine list focuses on young Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux, plus a smattering of popular Champagnes and white wines for the preliminaries. The New Steakhouses conspicuously embrace a wider range of options, from Argentinian Malbecs at Craftsteak in New York to Pinot Noirs and Rhône reds at Stripsteak in Las Vegas.
Some steakhouses have in the past put together great wine lists. Bern's in Tampa has been a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since the program's inception in 1981. The only other steakhouse currently holding a Grand Award is Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico in Las Vegas.
"Cabernet is king," admits Kevin Vogt, Delmonico's sommelier. But Vogt will readily recommend something else to those who ask his advice. He gravitates toward Pinot Noir and Syrah.
In my travels to try the various new-style steakhouses for this story, I made a point of sampling as many different kinds of wine as possible. The most important thing I learned is that a steak's doneness drives the wine choice. I like my steaks rare or medium-rare, juicy enough to cut through the tannins of some young reds. If you like your steaks medium to well done, choose a wine that's softer, less tannic and more fruity. When in doubt, go the softer, fruitier route. I ended drinking a lot of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Vogt was right.
I also found that the type of beef has a marked influence on how a wine's character is expressed. Check out my video where I compare a Washington Cabernet with grass-fed, corn-fed and wagyu beef.
What are your favorite wines with steak? And what makes you choose one type of wine over another?
Justin Remeny — L.A. Cali — July 19, 2007 1:49pm ET
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Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — July 19, 2007 2:11pm ET
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