I keep my wine cabinet at home generously stocked with Cabernet Sauvignon. And not always, but probably more than 50% of the time, when a special occasion calls for a special bottle of wine, it’s cabernet that I’m reaching for. Now, lovers of other varietals, please don’t be offended. I too, love my pinots and barbaras, my chardonarys and sauvignon blancs, zins and merlots, malbecs and granach…but there is just something so decadent, so elegant, and frankly so delicious about a cabernet.
Perhaps it’s the association that cabernet has with another of my favorite consumables…a finely cooked steak. Together, the two can perform miracles. Now, I have to admit that I initially paired the two out a sense of conformity…after all the old saying goes Red Wine with Red Meat. Growth in both food & wine experience has gotten me more than comfortable throwing that rule out the window, but perhaps at the extremes, there is some merit there. While there are many red/white combos what work splendidly, I have to admit that I’m not often pulling out a pinot grigio to drink with my ribeye, gratin potatoes, and creamed spinach. There are very legitimate reasons cabernet sauvignon and steak go so well together, for me, two are key:
Cabernet Sauvignons tend to be full bodied wines, that are relatively high in alcohol as well as tannin. The higher alcohol tends to make the wine feel thicker, heavier when tasting, allowing flavors to linger longer, and almost making you want to “chew” the wine. The tannin in wine, (especially young cabs), make the wine slightly bitter, and actually cause the wine to dry out the mouth…similar to the effect lemon juice will have.
Since the flavors in a cab are both pronounced, and tend to linger longer, when paired with mild flavored foods, say a delicate scallop dish, the subtlety in the food is lost. Because steaks have a more pronounced flavor, they are better able to stand up to the wine, and hold their own. Steaks generally also have more fat than other proteins (like fish, chicken and pork). That fat helps to counter the drying effects of the tannin, essentially lubricating your pallet.
Along with the body of a wine, the background, or secondary flavors that I associate with Cabernet also make it a great pairing with steak. While of course, you taste the fruit in cabs, the bouquet and secondary flavors that are present tend to be things like leather, tobacco, mint, cassis, vanilla.
These “secondary” flavors are strong in and of themselves, and actually match well with the flavors that come off the outside of well-seared steak. That salty, peppery, and caramelized crusty outside of the steak, has many of the same deep, dark flavor profiles, and can be a great foil for those deep flavors cabernet offers on the nose and pallet.
Of course variations exist, and you’re certainly not going to offend me if you end up pulling a Syrah, Zinfindel, or Chateauneuf Du Pape, next time you cook a steak. But I hope you give a cab a try. To get you started, I’ve given you the quick version of my New York Strip with Blue Cheese butter below. In you’re in the mood to splurge, pick up a bottle of Chimmy Rock Cabernet Sauvignon (~$60), one of my personal favorites. For a more economical choice, try a Louis Martini Napa Valley Cabernet (~$19). Both are great choices.
New York Strip with Blue Cheese Butter
- While I do this recipe on the stove top, it is easily transferred to the grill
- In a bowl, mix the butter, cheese and parsley together; it will be easier if they are at room temperature
- Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
- Bring the steaks up to room temperature; season with salt and pepper
- Heat a frying pan (preferably a heavy bottom one) until it starts lightly smoking
- Lay the New York Strips down and sear on one side for 3 – 5 minutes (depending on thickness and the desired doneness)
- Once crusty on one side, turn the steaks over and cook for 1 – 2 minutes
- Slather the blue cheese butter onto both steaks, and transfer them to the oven for another 2 – 4 minutes until they are at the desired temperature
- Remove the steaks from the oven and let them rest for about 5 minutes
Dave is the founder/owner of the web site NoRecipeRequired.com, a site which is dedicated to showing the fundamental techniques and strategies that home cooks can use to make great meals.