Steak Me I’m Yours

One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a retailer is: “What wine goes with steak?”

The answer? Depends on the cut and how you’re cooking it.

Pinot Noir, for example, works well with a fried fillet steak. There’s not much fat and, frankly, not much flavour to battle it out with the Pinot. Add a mushroom sauce and you’ve got a bit more potential magic.

A chargrilled ribeye can handle something more robust, like an Argentinian Malbec, a gutsy Southern Rhone or a Shiraz. But these are broad brush strokes. There’s no exact science. It depends, for example, on the age of the wine and the style of the producer. And what you’re in the mood for. Still want Pinot Noir? Try a more concentrated style, like one from Central Otago in New Zealand.

I go to a fair few wine matching dinners. Often, these matches are theoretical; this wine should go with this dish.  Like blind dates, though, what might look compatible on paper doesn’t always produce sparks in real life.

I reckon Barry Vera, executive chef at STK London, had done a little road testing ahead an evening with Penfolds wines, called Red & Red.

His steak tartare, poached quail egg, caviar and red wine reduction melded brilliantly with Penfolds Cellar Reserve Pinot Noir 2009. I wouldn’t go as far as Penfolds’ UK wine ambassador Sam Stephens and call this wine “Burgundian”. Maybe Burgundian for Barossa. But he was spot on about the dried fruit character in the wine hitting it off with the reduction.

Penfolds wine dinner

Penfolds, which is celebrating 170 years of winemaking, recently entered a partnership with STK London. We were the guinea pigs trying out a menu STK London is thinking about offering in the private dining room as part of that partnership.

Sam explained how The Cellar Reserve range is where Penfolds’ seven full-time winemakers apparently experiment. Only small amounts are made – a few hundred cases of each “experiment”. And they can fetch some hefty prices. The 2010 Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is currently £133 a bottle at Berry Bros & Rudd.

The Cellar Reserve Sangiovese 2007 doesn’t quite fetch that money, if you can lay your hands on a bottle. At c£36 online, it’s still in premium price territory. If I’d blind tasted this, I doubt I’d have come close to this being a Sangiovese with its concentrated jammy fruit character. I certainly wasn’t picking up truffle notes – its reason for being matched with Japanese waygu ceviche, pear and… truffle. The softness and fruit intensity worked well though. I went back to the Pinot Noir. No, the Sangiovese was a better choice.  I hankered after a truffly old Meursault, to match both the earthiness and citrus notes in the dish. White wine and beef? Yes. I should’ve mentioned this before…

Penfolds wine dinner

Penfolds is, of course, famous for its Shiraz. The Bin 150 Marananga Shiraz 2011 (£45-£55) is from a sub-region in the Barossa Valley that “provides a contemporary Shiraz alternative” according to its website (though alternative to what, I’m not sure). It still felt young, but has a freshness and verve about it that didn’t overpower the steak it was matched with.

Ah, the steak. USDA prime sirloin. STK London, being of American parentage, has hitched its wagon on this and is probably a reason why many customers go there. It’s a texture thing. For me, though, it’ll never beat the sweet flavour or a grass-fed steak. It did, however, provide a good base for the bone marrow, parsley, caramelised garlic and surprise snails (they weren’t listed on the menu).

Star of the night was undoubtedly then St. Henri 2005 in magnum (about £75 in bond).  Once the St. Henri was more popular than the iconic Penfolds Grange. Now it sits in its shadow, but can still hog the limelight on occasion. Both wines contain a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Layers of cassis, menthol, mocha, licorice with a beautiful balance, who cared about the cheese? Or anything after. I had more.

Penfolds wine dinner

On reflection, it seems churlish to moan too much that there was no Grange on show, even though my invite to the event said there would be (despite asking, I never did receive an explanation).

And while STK London will never be my ideal choice of destination (nor I its ideal choice of customer), I was surprised how good the food was. But then I was in the private dining area being hosted by Penfolds. If STK can replicate this menu, I imagine – being close to the City – it’ll clean up. I wouldn’t, however, miss Grange off the wine list.


Yes, of course I didn’t pay for this dinner. I also used and a modicum of effort on Google to track down stockists.





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