Quite an old article from the archives (first published in Decanter in 2007) but the advice still holds good, I reckon. Although I had a fantastic bottle of 2008 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir with a T-bone rather than a fillet the other day. But that would taste good with anything.
When my son Will was born in 1977 I couldn’t have imagined that 30 years on we’d be sitting together in his restaurant discussing food and wine matching. But as co-owner of an award-winning American-style steakhouse and cocktail bar, Hawksmoor, he and his restaurant manager Nick Strangeway (now with Hix restaurants) were the ideal people to help me decide what makes the perfect steak wine.
The plan was to see what impact cooking steak for different lengths of time had on the bottles you choose. Nick was also of the view that we should see what effect different cuts made which, fascinatingly, proved as significant as the cooking time.
Ironically Will and I started from unexpectedly different standpoints: Will being of the opinion that more mature, classic wines such as Bordeaux and Rioja were the best match for steak while I favoured younger New World reds with firmer tannins. We both had cause to revise our views.
I don’t normally think of Pinot Noir as a match for steak but the best pairing by far when it was cooked rare, was the most elegant of our wines, a classically silky, seductive 2001 Daniel Rion Vosne-Romanée. A 2002 Au Bon Climat ‘Knox Alexander’ Pinot Noir tasted slightly too sweet but worked better when the flllet was served medium-rare and had acquired more caramelisation (at which point it slightly overwhelmed the Vosne-Romanée) It was also good if you served the fillet with béarnaise sauce (see below). The medium-rare fillet also went particularly well well with a Guidalberto 2005, the second wine of Tenuta San Guido, again a beautifully balanced wine with a marked level of acidity, a much more important factor in matching fillet than tannin, at least when the meat is unsauced.
The Pichon-Longueville and Ridge also showed well when the sirloin was cooked medium-rare, as did a very attractive 1996 Château St Pierre St-Julien which surprisingly turned out to be one of the star wines of the tasting. We both found a 2004 Catena Alta Malbec and a 2004 Turkey Flat Barossa Shiraz tasted slightly too sweet.
Once it was cooked medium-rare both those wines showed more youthful angularity and the smoother Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe and Catena Alta Malbec became the better matches. When it was medium/well done, the longest cooked steak we had in the tasting, it changed again, tuning in with the riper, more fruit-driven wines from an inexpensive 2004 Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon to the Ridge Monte Bello. The Vosne-Romanée we’d enjoyed with the fillet, by contrast, didn’t taste as remotely as good.
Of course it doesn’t quite work out like that in a restaurant, as Nick pointed out, as people order different cuts and want them cooked different ways so you need to find wines that perform well overall. Our most consistent bottles proved to be the ‘96 Château St Pierre St-Julien (Will’s favourite), the Collazzi (Nick’s favourite) and the Ridge Monte Bello (mine). The Catena Alta Malbec also showed well though it wasn’t our favourite wine with any of the steaks.
Disappointments were the much lauded 2004 Turkey Flat Barossa Shiraz which tasted too simple and sweet with many of the steaks (a bit of bottle age would have helped) and the Rioja in our tasting, a Marques de Vargas 2002 (much to Will’s disappointment, being a big Rioja fan). The cheaper wines, while pleasant, were largely out of their league leading us to the conclusion - and this is something that Will and I can agree on - that it’s not worth drinking minor wines with steak. At least that’s going to be our excuse from now on . . .
This tasting was based at the Spitalfields branch of Hawksmoor at 157 Commercial Street, London E1 6BJ Tel: 0207 247 7392. They have since opened branches at Seven Dials in Covent Garden and Guildhall in the City.
This article was first published in the October 2007 edition of Decanter.