Pair spicy reds with pepper-crusted steak
Pairing spicy, syrah-based red wines with Steak au Poivre makes a perfect play in cold weather. The pepper-encrusted steak's juicy flavors play off the wine's dark fruit and spice for comforting, satisfying pleasure.
Preparing the steak couldn't be easier. Simply dredge a thin-cut rib-eye steak with crushed black peppercorns. Make sure the pepper coats the meat generously. Sear the steak for about a minute or so on each side in melted butter in a super-hot pan, preferably a cast-iron skillet. The black pepper should form a crust while the meat remains juicy.
Remove the steak, and cover it with a foil tent. Do not wipe the pan. Instead, deglaze it with a few splashes of Cognac or other brandy over medium heat. Then add a dab of butter, some chopped shallots, and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. When the shallots become tender, add a little heavy cream and reduce the mixture. Plate the steak and ladle over the sauce.
Look for excellent balance in selecting the red wine to complement the hot steak's intense aromas and flavors. The wine should open with aromas of black pepper and spiciness, a trait appearing naturally with syrah grapes grown in relatively cool climates on rocky soils. Avoid oak-laden wines that supplant the spiciness with toasted, woody aromas.
On the palate, the wine must be well-structured with refreshing acidity, bright mineral flavors and smooth tannins. Each sip should offset the steak's pronounced peppery notes.
The 2011 Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas, Paso Robles, California (Luxury 45523; $17.99) uses a solid foundation of syrah blended with grenache, mourvèdre and cinsault. The grapes grow primarily in central California's diverse coastal terroirs with predominant limestone soils in hillsides vineyards. The stony soils combine with cool evening temperatures enabling the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly while retaining freshness. The addition of grapes grown in more sandy soils in warmer vineyards in Paso Robles' famed Estrella River District add dark, juicy fruit flavors.
The grapes ferment in a combination of stainless-steel tanks and large, 1,500-gallon open-top wooden casks. After blending, the wine is aged in stainless-steel tanks and 1,200-gallon foudre tanks for subtle oak influences. Classic pepper and spice notes with meaty accents greet the nose. The flavors open with smoky, black fruit balanced beautifully with fresh mineral touches. The enticing fruit and freshness combination delivers a perfect foil for the peppery steak. Highly recommended.
The 2009 Perrin & Fils, “Peyre Blanche” Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages, France ( Luxury 36152; $21.99) also blends grenache and syrah. And even though the grenache predominates, this tasty wine delivers the balance and freshness needed to complement Steak au Poivre. The grapes come from a southern Rhône vineyard called “Peyre Blanche,” that is, “white stones,” in reference to the site's limestone soils. This terroir minimizes over ripening and excessive alcohol. Traditional fermentation and aging without new oak barrels frame the terroir perfectly.
Aromas of dark plums with spicy, peppery notes greet the note. Dark, ripe fruit flavors layer with spiciness and herbal nuances balanced with bright acidity. Firm, yet elegant tannins create good backbone to tie the wine together nicely. Highly recommended.
Made with grapes grown not far from Cairanne, the 2009 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas, France (Luxury 36876; $35.99) offers a wine for all seasons and all dishes including Steak au Poivre. Winegrower Michel Faraud collaborates with his three daughters in tending low-yielding, old vines of grenache, syrah, cinsault and a splash of mourvèdre. The vineyards extend over Gigondas' entire diverse terroir.
From stony mountain plateaus to wooded hillsides with rocky terraces, the vines tumble down toward the village. Vines also sprawl out in sandy soils around the village and continue down into expansive, undulating gravelly plains covered with garrigue scrub. Fermentation of whole grape bunches with ripe stems takes place in concrete vats with wild yeasts. Aging occurs in ancient foudres without any new wood.
The wine's intense black-cherry aromas lead to black-licorice and light, earthy notes. Concentrated, dark-fruit flavors with spicy nuances balance beautifully with chewy, yet silky, tannins, vibrant acidity and refreshing mineral notes. The wine's enthralling pleasure and complexity make the peppery steak taste all the better. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone is the wine columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.