By Rick Riozza

Last year around this time, I did an article on grilling salmon and there was a good response to both the menu prep & recipe, where I’m talking about grilling fish in general, and the wines to pair with that great summer dish. Go to Vol.1 No.13. (By the way, I re-read that piece which prompted me to grill up some salmon—that’s on sale everywhere—and geez! is that a tasty dish or what, especially with that lime-butter topping.)

This season let’s change things up and talk about the grilling we’d really like to do: Steak! C’mon—we’ve been eating so healthy lately, or at least enjoying light summer fare with all the heat going on—but, when was the last time we had a grilled T-bone or New York strip steak. It’s a delicious home-grilling world out there.

Let’s do it—and right in the face of the summer hotness! As they say, the perfect steak needs nothing more than good heat. High heat really works well with the T-bone/NY cut. And it’s always a good idea to take that baby out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes or so to properly “temper” the meat for a uniform cook.

Enhancing the flavor of the steak of course does not mean to overwhelm it. There are some good spicy steak rubs on the market to be used gingerly; but, the home-griller really has it easy: Sea salt, cracked black pepper, touch of dried chile pepper(?), and maybe a finger fling of garlic powder. And I don’t mind being a little heavy handed on these things because I’m just spicing up one side of steak.

And it’s that spiced side down that’s going on the grill. With the higher heat, there’ll be that intense caramelization between the steak juices and spices to provide that wonderful and flavorful crust along with the aromatic charring in the mix as well. My steak will cook 75% of the time on that one side without turning over; I’ll then finish the other side with a turned down heat.

This is not pork nor chicken, no need to be concerned about a meat temperature point. We simply check the doneness of the meat by feel. Rare to medium-rare to medium, the steak becomes firmer to the touch. It’s a quick study because you can simply make a small cut into the meat to see how red you prefer it.

Bring the steak back to the cutting board or serving plate and please let it rest! The juices shall flow and provide that extra point of flavor and texture.

As our steak of choice is a T-Bone or NY strip, our wine selection will get some good direction. If you were doing a delicate cut of beef such as filet mignon, an aged reserve Rioja would be a fabulous pairing and a great surprise for those who have hesitated to try that Spanish wine. A rib-eye with its rich flavor will match perfectly with an Alexander Valley or Spring Mountain Napa Cabones that carry a balanced acidity and those full-on black fruit flavors.

And I know so many of us love a good Cabernet Sauvignon as well with that T-bone or NY steak, and no one will fault that traditional yummy combo. But some of those full-bodied cabs can be a bit rich and heavy and a little rough & tumble for a summer meal.

Now as we vino lovers are wont to do, it’s good to think a bit outside the box, so I’d like you to consider the two grilling wine recommendations below that I guarantee will be close to a delicious match made in heaven—and if you don’t agree, I promise to come over to take both the steak and wine off your hands.

Think flavor. T-bone/NY steaks are renowned for their quality and are tender flavorful steaks; so, you’ll need a relatively robust red to match up. Bright red fruit and good tannins (that mouth-puckering cleansing agent) work. May I suggest a couple of sexy Italians.

So many think of Chianti as purely a pasta wine. But the reserve Nipozzano is simply the summer-time sweetheart to our steak.

The 2009 Marchesi de Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina Riservais 100% Sangiovese and starts with an aroma that immediately breathes out world-class: a really lovely bouquet of wild red berries, leather, dried herbs, menthol, cranberry and black currant. The flavor profile mirrors the aromas with more dried herb complexities dancing through patches of the bright red fruit and fantastic sour berry.

It’s a medium-bodied wine, so a great accompaniment. And it retains that signature “rustic-edge” Chianti flavor that takes one back to Italy. Find it at Pavillons—on sale, for around $2o

Now for those die-hards who desire a full-body experience with their steak, please considerthe 2010 Lucente from Montalcino, Tuscany. It’s produced from 75% Merlot and 25%Sangiovese. Around $25.

It’s the best of both worlds: Fruity Merlot—but “old world” style with a subdued panorama of fruit, blended with that great flavor and acidity of Chianti. Wine guy James Suckling says, “Fascinating aromas of ripe berries and hints of coconut and vanilla bean… with super silky tannins and a long and intense finish. Lots going on here.”

Both wines deserve to be decanted for at least an hour before serving, and, two hours wouldn’t hurt either. They’ll open up slowly but provide panoply of flavor sensations.

And—what the hell, throw that fresh salmon on the other side of the grill and savor a true Surf & Turf—‘Cause it’s hot out and we’re hungry!

Bon Appétit & Cheers!