Cabernet Franc: Charles Joguet Les Varennes Du Grand Clos Chinon 2010 – Pairing Rating: 9.0
Beaujolais: Chateau Des Jacques Côte du Py Morgon 2010 – Pairing Rating: 7.5 out of 10.0
If you’ve ever eaten at a trattoria in Milan or Florence, you might have encountered Tagliata – thinly sliced beefsteak drizzled with an herb-infused oil, served over a bed of arugula.
The Union Square Café Cookbook has a great recipe for this simple but memorable and refreshing way to enjoy beef rib steak. I followed the recipe to the letter, with one exception: it calls for searing the steak atop the stove and finishing it in the oven. Instead, I chose to grill the steak for the flavor impact that only grilling outdoors can impart.
The warm sliced beef, served on the arugula, wilts the leaves slightly, softening the peppery edge of the arugula. The contrasting textures of the thinly sliced beef and the leafy green of the baby arugula served up a great first impression. The marriage of the two was brought about by the rosemary-infused balsamic vinaigrette: a bridge if you will, between the fat in the beef and the slight bitterness of the arugula. A squirt of fresh lemon juice added just after plating the dish provided a cleansing counterpoint to the olive oil and beef.
All these flavors, especially the peppery arugula and the acidity of the lemon, created a significant challenge for the wine pairing. The recipe recommended a Cabernet Franc, so we chose a Chinon from the Loire Valley in France: Charles Joguet Les Varennes Du Grand Clos 2010 ($40). Unsure of this pairing idea, we decided to contrast it with a fruitier grape, Gamay, from the Beaujolais region: a Morgon from Chateau Des Jacques Côte du Py 2010 ($30).
The Chinon is a prototypical French Cabernet Franc: tartly fruited, lean in structure, with notes of blackberry and herbs. To be clear, this is a food wine, not a cocktail wine. It isn’t overly tannic, although one might call it austere. Perhaps what hits tasters first is that it doesn’t have that “in-your-face” sweetness and fruit-forward profile of a Napa Cab Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Morgon is a markedly different wine. The Gamay grape serves up a slightly tart, purple plum flavors with hints of smoky salinity. Fruitier than the Chinon, the Morgon’s complexity, refined tannins, aroma intensity and plush texture delivered a much more interesting sipping experience than your typical, inexpensive Beaujolais. We served this wine before dinner to a couple of Pinot Noir lovers, who had not tasted Morgon before; both paid it high compliments.
Both wines were served during dinner and the assessment startled us. I was sure that the Chinon’s tart fruit and austere character would clash with the arugula and the vinaigrette, and that the Morgon’s fruitier profile would provide a positive contrast to the steak and arugula. But the vote was unanimously in favor of the Chinon as the better pairing. Beef with greens versus beef with a sauce is lighter in weight and structure. As such, the Chinon’s leaner framework was a better match; furthermore, the acidity of the tart fruit provided a more refreshing cleansing sensation with the beef, without clashing with the peppery flavors of the arugula. The Morgon wasn’t the ideal pairing we were hoping for. The texture, lower acidity and fruitiness “covered” rather than complemented the dish. In other words, the taste of the wine dominated the flavors of the dish. But make no mistake, the Morgon is so much more than a cocktail wine; we will post a pairing in the coming weeks that will illustrate its beauty with food.