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Contrasting Reds for Steak

Napa Valley versus Pic St.-Loup
Thomas Matthews
Posted: April 11, 2011

Recently I stopped by Porter House, chef Michael Lomonaco’s temple to beef in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center. Spring was stubbornly refusing to arrive, so I decided red meat and red wine were in order.

I indulged in the Cowboy Rib Steak ($55), a thick cut of dry-aged Black Angus from Creekstone Farms, served on the bone. It had a light smoky char, plenty of savory juices and a mineral tang to the sweet beefy flavor. It was hollering for red wine.

I put myself in the hands of wine director Roger Dagorn, one of New York City’s true sages, with nearly 30 years’ experience pulling corks in this town. He poured glasses from two very different worlds.

The New World was represented by Ahnfeldt’s Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Provocative 2007 ($72 per bottle). Made from estate grapes by consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs, it is plush and fruit-driven, with ripe plum, fig pudding and espresso flavors, velvety and approachable.

In contrast, the Château La Roque Mourvèdre Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St.-Loup Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2006 ($50 per bottle), a red from southern France that is imported by Kermit Lynch, was old-school Old World. It was fresh and firm, with cherry and herbal flavors and a sanguine note I often find in Mourvèdre.

Though one was velvet and the other tweed, both wines were faithful representations of their grapes and their origins. In terms of inherent quality, I rated both wines 89 points, non-blind. As matches for the steak, both worked, but in different ways. The Mourvèdre was refreshing and cleansing, a bright, sharp contrast to the meat. The Cabernet echoed the beefy flavors, with sweet and smoky notes, and the fat and char really brought out the fruit in the wine.

I sipped one, then the other, trying to pick a favorite. Then I asked myself, “Why choose?” and just relaxed and dug in. members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Château La Roque Mourvèdre Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St.-Loup Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2006 (89, $18) and get scores and tasting notes for other Ahnfeldt wines.

Member comments   9 comment(s)

John Shuey — Dallas. TX —  April 11, 2011 9:10am ET

Not choosing is also a choice, and in this case apparently a wise one. Thanks for the comments.

Joseph Trdinich — Mars, PA —  April 12, 2011 11:17am ET

Thomas, were you able to have these by the glass? I am curious as to how you positioned the request--were you planning on drinking a glass or bottle. Often times when dining alone i like to try off-varietals but have never seen a Mourvedre offered by the glass, although I don't get to NYC that frequently

Richard Lee — Napa —  April 13, 2011 12:33pm ET

Dinner for one for a $177.00 w/o the tip! Glad to see Spectator is helping the local business economy!

Thomas Matthews — New York City —  April 14, 2011 1:06pm ET

I had two glasses of wine, not two bottles. Recalculate.

I believe both wines were offered by the glass. But I find that good sommeliers will often open something interesting for an interested wine lover, and charge accordingly. Strike up a conversation and ask.

Richard Lee — Napa —  April 14, 2011 2:20pm ET

Sorry Thomas,
But nowhere in your review does it state that you had two glasses. Perhaps a little better atention to detail would bring more clarity to the table. Cheers!

Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA —  April 15, 2011 3:37pm ET

Could you please explain what you mean by a sanguine note? Are you refering to something metallic, or something that Dracula would enjoy, or something else? I love good wine descriptors, but sometimes I think language gets in the way of understanding.

Joshua Kates — Indiana —  April 15, 2011 9:08pm ET

Yes, I too wondered about the "sanguine note"--bloody, confident? Otherwise, I appreciated the contrast of how both wines worked, but differently, with the steak. I must say, however, under those circumstances, I might be looking for a little more razzle-dazzle in either case, actually some more exciting wines than either of those you were served. A Barolo, for example, might have done a little bit of both: complemented and contrasted--a pinot with depth the same. (I just had Rochioli RRV Estate the other night w/rib-eye that complemented the meat quite nicely.) In any case, thanks for the write-up; but I myself will still stick to Sparks if I am looking for wine and steak in NYC, or Peter Luger's if it's steak alone I want.

Thomas Matthews — New York City —  April 18, 2011 9:07am ET

"Sanguine" is a descriptor I picked up from my colleague James Molesworth. He uses it mostly in Rhone reds, to evoke a kind of dark tang that steers somewhere between earthy and metallic. I find it most often in certain grapes, such as Syrah, Mourvedre or Tinta de Toro, and from certain terroirs, mostly hot and dry.

Is it helpful, or should I give it up?

Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA —  April 18, 2011 2:59pm ET

Thanks for the definition. I have significant experience with those wines, so I get how you are using the term. Regarding whether you should use the term in the future, my feeling is that you should use any descriptive terms you like that both best exemplify the sensations you experience, as well as appropriately get that idea accross to the typical reader of your reviews. This topic is probably worth some ink (virtual or in print) in Wine Spectator in the future. The subject may be worth a poll.

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