Simply put, beef is the only red meat that matters. From the lowly hamburger up to thick cuts of luxurious filet mignon, beef is the cornerstone of western civilization, and my personal favourite meat to cook with. Nearly as versatile as chicken, beef is seen in cuisines all over the world, and for good reason. Let’s get right into this, and talk about classic beef dishes along with wine pairings.
Beef Is What’s For Dinner
Beef has gotten a bad rap lately, as everywhere you look there is someone telling you to stop eating so much (or at all) because it is terrible for you. True, modern mass produced meat or animal products of any kind can lack nutrition.
The fact is, beef is chock full of healthy fats, protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Ideally, you want to be eating the highest quality meat you can, so if you have the funds, reach for the organic stuff. Now that that’s out of the way, have a look at some typical weeknight dishes, and their perfect pairings.
Beef and Wine
Argentina is massively popular for their steaks, and general beef-centric culture. Here, the gaucho is king of the grasslands, herding cattle all day. The Argentines tend to prefer a simpler seasoning, sometimes using just salt, and letting the beef do all the talking, along with their famous chimichurri sauce. Regional pairings will always work best, and the beef quality here rivals their wines, so grab a Malbec from a good producer. The high altitude vines from up in the Andes Mountains ensure lifted acidity, ripe fruit, and soft tannins, which come in handy for the fatty meat. The chimichurri sauce lends a nice herbal note, which can bring out some greenness in the wine too.
While you’re grilling some chicken, chances are you’re going to throw some burgers on too. For traditional backyard BBQ, Zinfandel’s are right in their wheelhouse. It goes great with that saucy chicken, and it can handle smoky burgers too. Lower tannins won’t throw the whole off, and the smoky barrel ageing of a good Zinfandel will be brought right up front with the grilled meat. But, be careful with that BBQ sauce, and try a small spooning of fruit chutney instead. The jammy fruit from this and the wine will match perfectly.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
For this Italian American classic, try to mix it up with something new. Since it is argued that the origins of Italian “red sauce” are southern, in and around Campania, try a local wine: Taurasi. Made from the Aglianico grape, Taurasi has a similar structure to Sangiovese, but with a fuller body. High acid and tannin are great for rustic tomato and meat dishes like this one, and the value of these southern Italian wines can be incredible, offering solid wines for much less than their northern counterparts.
Try a different spin on chili and make it Oaxacan style, with some added dark chocolate and spice. The ancient Mayans were the first to create a chocolate culture, with their abundance of cacao, and often used it in offerings to their Gods. With this chocolate spiked chili, push the wine aside and grab a North American craft stout. Heavier and maltier than the UK standards, these stouts will have those rich chocolate flavours in spades, standing up to the heaviness of a good chili. If you snoop around enough, you might even find some beers with added flavourings themselves like vanilla, nutmeg, and cayenne. The smoothness of these beers will offset the bitterness in the chocolate, and will definitely put a smile on your face.
The homely meatloaf will have some life breathed into it with a proper beverage pairing. Technically, meatloaf will probably be made from whatever meat is left over, but spend a little time preparing for this one and get some quality ingredients. Elevate the boring old meatloaf into something worth being excited for. For this, skip the wine again, and find a good British Brown Ale. The weight of both beer and meat are matched, and the roasted malt flavour of the ale will bring out the sweet caramelized flavour of a good meatloaf.
Another old school favourite, shepherd’s pie is one of my favourite things to make in the dead of winter. It’s simple, cheap, and most of the work is done by the oven while you sit around and get cooked yourself. Simple recipes only need simple wines, so a bang for your buck Cotes du Rhone is perfect. Arguably one of the best values in the wine world, CDR’s offer big flavour for little money. Because the ground beef is cooked off twice, with little fat remaining, you don’t need a very heavy or tannic wine. Something like CDR, with its ripe dark fruit and mild herbaceousness, is all the thought you need to give it. Consider it done.
While the traditional pairing for this is Bordeaux, we can veer off from this slightly and do a straight Merlot from California. California is going to be warmer than Bordeaux, and the locals tend to prefer riper and richer styles than in France. So, once that beef is cooked to perfection pop open a Napa or Sonoma Merlot. These warmer climate wines will have the richness to go with the prime rib, along with a good acid and tannin structure. Classic pairings are fine and well, but sometimes it’s fun to try new things, or go for a slight spin on that classic.
Nothing says summer like a homemade taco, so if you’re itching for warmer weather, console yourself with some beef tacos. Make sure to go easy on the spices, or else beer will be a better friend at the table, but why not try a Mexican wine too? The wine industry there (yes, Mexico does make wine) is mostly centered around the Baja Peninsula. The quality can be a bit hit and miss, as it’s still a very young industry, and people are still trying to find their bearings. But, don’t fret, there are a few houses leading the quality movement, and Italian owned L.A. Cetto is one of them. They have a pretty wide range of wines, but for these beef tacos go with the Baja Zinfandel. Just like the hamburgers, there is little fat here so not much tannin is needed, and the sweet fruit and smokiness of Zinfandel is great with dishes with a little bit of spice.