Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Steak & Great Wines
I have mentioned in the past that I’m an unrepentant carnivore.
When summer comes, I love charcoal-grilled beef, especially a 4” thick T-bone, black and blue -- thank you Dario Cecchini for proving to me that for summer-grilling there is nothing better than a very thick T-bone and a high quality red wine.
This year I’ve already started going through my cellar and deciding what reds to drink with my steaks and even my hamburgers. I grind my own burgers; the meat is 50% beef, 30% lamb, 20% pork; just sea salt, black Malabar pepper and a little thyme or oregano, and those are the same seasonings I use with the steaks. The meal is usually very simple: the meat, thick-cut fries or boiled potatoes and plenty of wine; sometimes I will also add a char-grilled loaf of Italian or a French baguette to sop up the meat juices.
My wine selection tends to be the heavier reds; mostly Italian, Spanish (especially from Catalonia), Greek or South American. I would love to have a really good French bottle, but at the prices the better Left-Bank Bordelaise charge, I can’t justify the expense.
Some of my recent selections have been:
From Italy: Banfi’s 2004 Brunello di Montalcino, a fine quality 100% Sangiovese Grosso wine that is ready to drink now; also from the same producer a Super Tuscan, the 2004 Sant' Antimo SummuS, a remarkable blend of 40% Sangiovese, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah, a slightly spicy wine that pairs beautifully with the charcoal-grilled meat. Another excellent Super Tuscan I recently opened was the 2007 Mormoreto, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, from the Castello di Nipozzano estate, that tasted more like a Right-Bank Bordeaux than an Italian wine. From Scansano, a first-rate but not well known Tuscan DOC, the 2010 Poggio Argentiera “CapatostA”, a blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo, and 5% Alicante (Grenache); and 2010 La Selva, a very young -- still in diapers – organic wine that paired beautifully with the grilled T-bone, but I should have kept it a couple more years in the cellar to mellow a bit more.
From Portugal: the 2006 Consensus, a regional wine from Estremadura, a lovely blend of Pinot Noir and Touriga Nacional by DFJ. From the same producer but from a vineyard in the Lisbon DOC, 2008 DFJ, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.
From Catalonia, Spain: Castillo Perelada, 2007 Five Fincas Reserva. A blend of 5 grape varietals (Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Samsó -- also known as Mazuelo or Carignano) from 5 different Fincas. A lovely deep cherry-red wine, exceptionally complex and full of nuances, with rather pronounced tannins. I should have kept it in my cellar longer but it was grabbed one afternoon instead of an Italian, and I knew it would taste too good with the steak to return to storage.
From Chile’s Maipo Valley, 2011 De Martino’s Estate Carmenére, a certified organic wine that can be drunk now or be cellared for another 5 or so years. The Maipo vineyards are located about 60km from the coast, on the Andean foothills, and are subject to cooling breezes from the Pacific that cause perfect ripening of the grapes. Carmenére is a French grape that is now practically nonexistent in most French vineyards because the vine is so susceptible to phylloxera, the grapevine louse that practically destroyed the European wine industry in the 19th century. Chilean vineyards are not susceptible to phylloxera, and the Carmenére grape has flourished there, and is responsible for some of the best Chilean wines.
From Brazil: A 2002 Gran Reserva Don Laurindo, from Setra Gaúcha’s Vale dos Vinhedos. This outstanding blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Ancellotta, produced by the Brandelli family, is a wine that I first tasted about 5 years ago when I first visited the Vale dos Vinhedos. This wine, which is ready to drink now, is a dry red, aromatic, but with a long, surprisingly sweetish finish.
To this list of grilled-meat paired wines I should also add charcoal-grilled seafood paired libations.
From Oregon’s Willamette Valley: The 2004 Belle Vallée Cellars, Grand Cuvée Pinot Noir. An outstanding, very elegant Pinot Noir that paired brilliantly with a seafood salad, mostly composed of charcoal-grilled octopus and charcoal-grilled cherrystone clams with celery, carrots, cilantro and shaved red onion, in a light mustard vinaigrette that was made with half white-wine vinegar and half lemon juice.
Finally from one of the better known Greek wine-makers, Bakis Tsalkos, one of the vintners that presides over the recent rebirth of the Greek wine industry, a red that reminded me of the reasons Greek wines pair perfectly with charcoal grilled meat and seafood. I sampled that wine with chopped lamb in a puff pastry tapa and a grilled-octopus salad a few weeks ago at an event of Méli Estiatorion, a fairly new restaurant at 1 East 35th Street in Manhattan that serves sophisticated Greek dishes with a modernist cuisine bend. The wine is called Oenosophist and is a blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Xinomavro (an autochthonous Greek cultivar) from vineyards in Northwestern Greece. Also, beautifully pairing with the seafood was a white, called “En Oeno” a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko is the well known Greek cultivar whose best expression presents itself in the wines of volcanic Santorini. The Sauvignon Blanc/Assyrtiko blend I tried is from cold-weather grapes that slightly suppress the exuberant aromatics of both varieties but also result in a flawlessly balanced white wine that is the perfect foil for charcoal-grilled seafood. The company is called “Oenogenesis” and five of its wines are currently available in the NYC area.
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