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What's at steak. (The Wine Guide).

In the history of compelling wine-and-food marriages, there have always been Champagne and caviar, Sauternes and foie gras, Port and Stilton, and a slew of other European classics. Isn't it about time we added a few pairings that are uniquely, unabashedly American? My first vote would be for steak and ... what? Westerners have been grilling steaks and pulling corks for more than a century, and during that time, we've discovered that many wines work--at least pretty well. That's because grilling imparts charred and caramelized flavors that are great counterpoints to the light toasty and sweet flavors wines take on when they're made and/or aged in oak barrels.

Still, experience suggests that some wines are better matches for steak than others. With apologies to Webster, here's my definition of a steak wine: a red wine with enough grip, texture, and structure to stand up to the density and meaty flavor of a thick, juicy slice of grilled, broiled, or pan-fried beef. Synonym: Cabernet Sauvignon, especially from countries in the New World whose cuisines were historically built on grilling, such as the western United States and Australia. (Middle English steke might derive from Old Norse steik, but Scandinavian wines are out of the question.) Usage note: If Cabernet Sauvignon is not available, secondary synonyms may serve as intriguing substitutes: Syrah (Shiraz), Petite Syrah, Rhone style blends, substantial Merlots, and powerful Zinfandels.

What do all of these wines have in common? Serious structure: the sense of an imposing form, or architecture. A wine like this often reminds me of a Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses. The French, on the other hand, often describe a wine's structure as its "bones" or "skeleton."

Most red wines get their structure from tannin--the compound in grape skins and seeds that also acts as a preservative, allowing the wine to age well. A great Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, has a lot of tannin, and, as a result, a lot of structure and aging potential. (To compare a wine that has a lot of tannin and structure to one without much of either, try a Cabernet Sauvignon next to a Beaujolais.)

Steak calls for tannin and structure. The density of the meat, the concentration of flavor, the combination of protein and fat--all add up to a substantial foil for a big wine. For me, there is no more classic (or delicious) match than steak and Cabernet. Think of it as America's power marriage.
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Title Annotation:selecting wines to accompany steak dishes
Author:MacNeil-Fife, Karen
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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