Can red meat and white wine get along at the table?
An aged rosé from Bandol, such as Domaine Tempier’s, is an excellent choice to pair with meat; try Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris with a leaner, pepper-spiced steak.
We all try to play by the rules. Look both ways when crossing the street, even at the crosswalk. Pay your taxes on time. Pair red meat with red wine. But like the occasional jaywalk or filing extension, bending the rules at the table can be an advantageous exercise. And for the sommelier who likes to be presented with a challenge, it can be downright thrilling.
Wynn Wine Director Mark Thomas is one such somm. “I’ve certainly been asked to pair steak with white wine before,” he says. “Thinking outside the typical wine rules challenges you to learn your wine list, honing in on exactly what a guest wants and bringing a meal together. Finding the right wine for a customer completes the circle of the dining experience.”
A thoughtful practitioner is certainly the key. While one can always fall back on wine-pairing principals like Chablis with oysters or Sauternes with foie gras or California Cabernet with a nice juicy rib eye, there are no hard-and-fast rules for white wines and red meat. “With other food pairings, there are rules you can work with,” says Thomas. “But this certainly challenges you to know every little corner of your wine list—from the terroir to the vintage to the producer—and the food, too. It challenges us somms to be as great as we possibly can.”
There are, however, some guidelines to follow. For instance, your typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or ethereal Orvieto should be avoided for the simple reason that pairing either with the meatiest of meats is like pairing spunky but reedy Taylor Swift in a wrestling match with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. For Thomas, there are a few places his brain goes to solve this particular pairing conundrum, like Alsatian Pinot Gris, with its spice and weight and acidity. But it’s not an automatic go-to, he warns.
Thomas starts by asking a diner questions in order to personalize the pairing, like what white wines and red meat dishes has he or she had and enjoyed in the past? Then he looks at the way a dish is prepared. “If you have a heavy, fatty steak that’s dry-aged and has a lot of flavor and sauce, it’s trickier,” he says. “But seared Kobe beef that’s delicate in flavor, well-marbled, and melts on your tongue can do well with a high-acid, low-flavor white or even a savory junmai sake.” Or a pepper-crusted bison filet with an older vintage Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris from the aforementioned Alsace. That high-flavor style of wine and its residual sugar work to counteract the spice of a lean meat like this. Also, he notes: Don’t ignore the ancillary dishes. Sides are part of the pairing, too. Orange wines—whites that are often made in amphoras and left in contact with the grapes’ skins to create a fuller, grippier wine—are also fun to play around with here.
“It really is case by case,” Thomas says. “And sometimes you’ve got to get granular! Was the meat grass-fed? Was it corn-fed? Understanding your protein is the kind of detail that can set a pairing apart.” But that’s the sort of peel-back-the-onion assistance that Thomas and his staff thrive on. Inspector Veuve Clicquot, at your service.