Way back in 1993 I attended a wine education program given by a young, but already well-known wine educator, Kevin Zraly, from the world famous Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center. I enjoyed the program immensely, but admit to have been a little miffed when he autographed my book with “Remember, Paul, white wine with fish, red wine with meat.” I’m sure he was just kidding, but I do remember thinking, well, “duh.”
Kevin is still teaching and is still a pleasure to learn under, but the message has changed considerably. We have learned that wine and food matches are more a story of body, sauce, acid, and salt than the color of the protein. As I prepared for my final class for the staff of Northshore Country Club, which will focus on wine and food matches, I needed to be sure our current doctrine worked, so into the kitchen with a hunk of tenderloin I went.
Based on body, the prime candidate for matching steak with white wine would be a full- bodied Chardonnay. Now, I have little doubt that the always food-friendly Riesling could also be made to work, but I decided to focus on the more popular Chardonnay. And I did cheat a little; tenderloin is not really not a steak like I think of steak, just not enough fat. But it is easier to try multiple preparations and sauces with a chunk of sliced tenderloin than cooking a hand full of ribeyes.
First step: sear the tenderloin well then bring it slowly to medium rare in the oven. Second: choose the wine. A big full-bodied, oaky California Chardonnay seemed too obvious. Let’s really try the principles. I chose an elegant, subtly oaky Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Bill Hill’s 2013 Expression 38.
Trial 1: plain with just a pad of butter. Result: boring and no match.
Trial 2: more sear with hollandaise. Result: not bad, but not inspiring either.
Trail 3: béarnaise. Result: again not bad, but the herbal sauce did not match well with the Chardonnay.
Trial 4: limed hollandaise. Now we’re getting somewhere. It clearly worked, but did not knock our socks off.
Trial 5: limed hollandaise with a squeeze of lime juice on the meat before the sauce. Almost there!
Trail 6: limed hollandaise, fresh lime juice, and duh, salt. Bingo! The food and wine did exactly what you look for; they tasted better together than either separately. Each bite and each sip called for another. Guess Kevin was right!
Next trial: Cabernet with white fish.