By Rick Riozza

Christmas and winter holiday dinners have always been an occasion or at least an opportunity to showcase one’s favorite wine of the past year, or, to change things up, and present a new and different wine for holiday cheer!

This particular holiday season is most humbling given our circumstances and we’re all being mindful to keep things safe and looking perhaps to a more meaningful and simple celebration of sorts.

So, to chime in on that sobering gustatory thought, for this writing, why not consider a simple wine-pairing dinner of meat & potatoes! I mean it’s not all that bad!—We’ve got hearty roasts and succulent steaks; ribs of all sorts and Beef Stroganoff, Hungarian Goulash, beef bourguignon, corned beef, meatballs, meatloaf—geez, I’m making myself hungry here!


I’m always in for a great steak no matter what time of year! A New York cut or a Delmonico aka rib-eye steaks are my personal favorites. A great wine can provide an acidic tang and a delightful sweetness that pairs perfectly with the salty, fatty, umami butteryness of a steak. One of the world’s best culinary delights is the flavor sensation of pairing a wine with a steak.

If one were to ask the simple question to a wine enthusiast: what wine would you drink with beef? Some answers you’d expect would include—Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Shiraz, Grenache or a GSM blend, Malbec, Zinfandel, and probably throw in an Italian, perhaps Barolo. Well—talking about cutting to the chase, indeed, these reds do in fact go great with beef dishes generally.

So it’s not too hard to find a red wine that’ll work with meat & potatoes—along with your favorite as there’s always an element of personal preference when it comes to wine and food matching. But I’ve got to write something here—so, what wine columnist are wont to do when it comes to points of matching wine with beef is to think about matching the flavor intensity of your wine along with the beef’s cut, age, cooking time and accompaniments if you’re seeking to try a more precise pairing.

As cooks all know, the fat in your cut is where all of the flavor is locked up. More fat equals more intense beefy flavor. You’re able to picture this: think of a heavily marbled rib-eye with head-on flavors as compared to the leaner cut filet mignon on the more subtle side of things. The filet is beautifully melt-the-mouth tender, but a big bold red wine could over-power the nuance of the steak. Pinot Noir from anywhere will work.

My recommendation for a delicious California Pinot Noir to pair with your filet is the 2017 Eternally Silenced from the Prisoner Wine Company. As many of you know, this producer can make some pretty bang-around heavy-duty wines. But the Eternally Silenced Pinot Noir is full of nuance and complexity. It’s rich but elegant; soft and well-balanced. Aromas of pine needles, cranberry, dark cherry, cedar, clove, and brown spice that leads to fresh red berry flavors. A world class wine with seamless tannins.

As to the rib-eye steak, it goes without saying—feel your gut! The classic Cabernet Sauvignon that’s well-balanced will have tannins to help dissolve the fat, acidity to lift the dish and lots of black fruit flavors that can stand up to the richness of the meat. The higher the fat content of the beef, the higher its capacity to pair with richer wines that have bolder tannins.

It’s been said by many a sommelier, “Fat content washes away tannin in your mouth and vice-versa. That’s what keeps you coming back for more of both your wine and your steak.”

I’ve just enjoyed a well-marbled grilled-rare New York steak and matched it with the 2017 Double Diamond Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. ($70) It’s one of the best match-ups in all steak & wine history. Thomas Rivers Brown was the winemaker and was produced and bottled by Schrader Cellars. It’s one of the darkest colored Cabs of the vintage and it packs everything from classic dark fruit, balance, harmony, tannins, acidity, on its way to a great finish to happily conclude each bite of steak. Fantastic!

Down in the beef-eating country of Argentina, Malbec surely comes with the territory. In the south of France and in the north of Spain, they all chime in with their sense of tannins from a hearty Syrah, a Grenach/Syrah/Mouvedre (GSM) blend, or a black red wine from Cahors. The Spanish love an old school Rioja/ Tempranillo that often times tastes like a Bordeaux Cab.

It’s interesting to note that if you’re into dry-aged steak or beef, that gamey flavor goes extremely well with—well, you guessed it: a well-aged vintage wine. Now’s the time and the perfect reason to open up that bottle that has been staring at you for so long. An aged Barolo or red Burgundy would be a winning ticket!

Hey—wait a moment! Even though the famous Indio International Tamale Festival will not be held this month due to the pandemic, there still will be a portion of our population taking down their share of beef tamales along the way. And way-back in December of 2014, this column did an article on tamale and wine pairings (Cold Duck Today—Hot Tamale) dealing with all sorts of types and styles.

As to the Beef Tamale with Red Sauce we recommended a “California Central Coast Pinot Noir or a young light Merlot, or go the other way with a chilled-up Spanish Fino Sherry. The Pinot and Merlot fit like a soft shoe with this tamale. The dry fino Sherry is the sexy choice and puts you at the head of the class.” Wine reviews…whaddya gonna do? Bon Appétit and Cheers!