But if the beef is marinated or has an accompanying sauce, those ingredients along with the cooking method, must also be a factored into the pairing equation. For chef partner Oliver Robinson's prime beef tenderloin filet with a cognac cream sauce and mushrooms, he first creates the sauce before grilling the tenderloin, cooked to order. “I sauté shallots, fresh thyme, and beef tips. Then I deglaze the pan with cognac, reduce with cream, and finish with butter,” Robinson describes. “Next, I sauté button, Portobello, shiitake mushrooms with thyme and add them last to the sauce, so they don't burn up during cooking.”
Considering Robinson's ingredients and the resulting combination of flavors, operating partner and sommelier John Cowan selects two wines to try. Italian Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore Zenato 2003 and French Bordeaux, Chateau Cruzeau Pessac-Leognan Grand Vin 2001 are tasted simultaneously with the delectable tenderloin. The earthiness of the mushrooms compliments the Ripassa, yet overall the wine is determined too powerful for the delicate filet. “The Bordeaux not only matches the meat, it also cuts through the cream and pairs well with the mushroom and cognac's flavors. Even though the alcohol of the cognac is burned off, its flavor remains.” Cowan explains. From Chateau de Cruzeau, located in Graves, this wine's high percentage of Merlot (45 percent) softens the Cabernet Sauvignon (55 percent), offering ripe aromas and velvety flavors of cassis, blueberries, dark plums, tealeaf, and cedar with moderately intense tannins.
For couples who rarely agree on food, wine pairing can be difficult. Fortunately this wine also makes a luscious pairing, not only with the filet, but also with the lamb chops. So you can share a bottle without agreeing on an entrée. Yet the method of preparation and condiments added at the table can undermine an otherwise perfect pairing. Rare meats and the browning acquired from grilling better accommodate tannic wines than well-done or roasted meats. Adding table salt increases the tannin's bitterness. Black pepper conceals a wine's complex characteristics. Save it for a simpler wine that needs a spicy accompaniment. And enjoy the finesse of a fine wine with a prime piece of meat.
Published March 2006, Birmingham magazine