Fine Wine Writing by Jonathon Alsop

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Red Wine, Red Meat: It's A Natural
by Jonathon Alsop
December 2000

With the holidays closing in, almost every wine in the cellar is in danger of finding itself drunk up one of these days. We save bottles of wine for some un-named "special occasion," and this time of year is it.

When friends and family are at home, the fireplace is cranking, and we're all enjoying that annual transition to indoor life, I want to hunker down with a big red wine, something dense and introspective that requires your attention.

A big red wine requires something else as well, and that's a big piece of red meat to make it all complete. In "Wine-Tasters' Logic," a small but tremendous book that takes wine tasting to an almost scientific (logical) plane, author Pat Simon goes on at some length about the technical biochemical reactions between the tongue, the food, and the wine.

As you might expect, a thousand forces converge to create the sensation of this steak au poivre with this Aussie cabernet. At the end of the day, however, it's history and nature that make it all work.

A properly cooked piece of beef with a good red wine is always greater than the sum of its parts. It's one of the tidal forces of nature.

Now that it's too cold to grill outside, I pan fry steaks of all kinds in a big cast-iron skillet on top of the stove. There's lots of affordable cast iron available at China Fair in Newton Highlands, and sometimes in hardware stores, strangely. Cast iron is without a doubt my favorite cooking surface.

One of the keys to pan frying is to dry the meat thoroughly with a paper towel first, and use just a tiny bit of olive oil in the skillet. You want to keep the pan hot and dry as you cook.

The layer of pepper, salt, and herbs encrusting the meat keeps it up off the hot surface, so it is possible to get a grilling effect so long as it's nice and hot. Turn on the fan, because you should be generating some heat if you're doing this right.

Another key is the right cut of meat. If you like meat rare, you need an extremely lean piece of meat, London broil or thick shell sirloin, which are tender when rare and tough well-done. If you like it done or well-done, a fatter cut is better, since the marbling cooks up as the meat cooks longer.

Steak au Poivre
Serves 4

2 1-pound steaks (each about 1 inch thick, London broil is traditional, but you favorite steak will work)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup freshly ground coarse pepper
1/6 cup coarse salt
1 tablespoon minced rosemary

Marinate the steaks in the wine, vinegar and olive oil 1 to 4 hours. Remove the steaks and pat them dry with paper towels. Dispose of the marinade.

Get a very hot grill or cast iron skillet going. Combine the pepper, salt, and rosemary. Press the steaks in this mixture and encrust both sides. Make certain the steaks are well-covered.

Grill the steaks 3 to 4 minutes per side until rare/medium-rare. Adjust the cooking time to your taste. Serve with sautéed greens (broccoli rabe or kale) and tiny roasted potatoes.

96 Penfolds "Bin 407" Cabernet Sauvignon Australian shiraz may capture the fancy of the planet right now, but cabernet is the standard for red wine, and it's not going away, even in New World wines. Penfolds considers Bin 407 to be the "little brother" of the $100 Bin 707, itself second only to the ultra-famous Grange in the Penfolds family, so the pedigree is strong. This is a strong, oaky red with good ripeness and lots of tannin, a steal around $25, at Wine Vault in Framingham, Marty's in Newton, and many others. They said Australian cabernet was dead, but they were wrong.

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