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Pairing Wine with Steak

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Summertime…and the grilling is easy. So what’s for dinner tonight? A thick, juicy steak? Most people think “steak” and automatically reach for a California Cabernet. And if a Cab is your go-to wine for steak, you are on the right wine and food pairing track. Steak needs a a wine with enough acidity and tannin to cut through the fat, which typically means a higher-acid, higher-tannin red wine. You will also want a wine with enough body to match the texture of the steak as well as the charring method of its preparation. And finally, you may want to pick up some of the spice in the steak’s marinade in the wine. Red wine such as Cabernet or Merlot can be spicy. Yet, this coming weekend, why not consider richer, more perfumed alternatives such as California Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, or Petite Sirah?

Recently Antoine Favero, winemaker at California’s Mazzocco winery in Healdsburg, California, sent me several new releases from Mazzocco’s many single vineyards in the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. Most of the vineyards are located in mountainous regions above the valley, where old vines thrive into longevity and young vines show extraordinary promise – especially with steak!

Two of the newly released Zinfandels are the 2006 Dry Creek Valley from the Maple Vineyard, and the 2006 Dry Creek Valley from the Pony Vineyard. If you are new to wine, you may find it curious that the same grape from two neighboring vineyards can taste so different, though both are great partners with steak. The Pony Reserve is sumptuous, elegant, and highly perfumed, perhaps reflecting they way the grapes were grown on a terraced vineyard. With its lush aromatics and high acidity, this wine is a great pairing with a slightly fattier steak with a fruit-based marinade. In contrast, the Maple Reserve is much leaner, with more sharpness and finesse on the palate.

Beyond Zinfandel, another good wine pairing for steak might be Mazzocco’s 2005 Petite Sirah from the Aguilera vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, a very rich, elegant wine with big fruit, spice, vanilla, and wild berry flavors. Or try their 2005 Petit Verdot from Monterey County, with more rich fruit, violets, and toasted oak. These are lush, high-alcohol, richly perfumed wines. Petit Verdot, by the way, is one of the five grapes that make up the Bordeaux blend in France. It is used sparingly in both the right and left banks, accounting for a tiny fraction of the blend, so you can imagine how rich and sumptuous it can be on its own as a single varietal.

Mazzocco wines, across the board, are powerful, vibrant, and almost royal in their purple power. Indeed, they are so assertive they almost seem to jump out of the glass, look down their figurative noses at the food they are being paired with, and demand an answer to the question: “who’s the star here, you or me?” And between you and me, they are quite right to do so. Though Mazzocco’s wines do complement a steak, in the end they have so much richness and personality the wine ends up being complemented by the steak.

Life is all about experimentation, so if you are a solid Cab or Merlot drinker with steak, at your next dinner party you might create a fun mini-tasting by paring the steak course with two wines simultaneously: a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, along with a Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, or Petite Sirah.  Then come to your own conclusions.


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