Red meat. Red wine. The two dovetail so naturally that you wouldn’t usually give the combination a second thought. But there’s a lot more to why this pairing really works than first meets the eye – and it’s not because they both happen to be red.
“There’s a lot of science behind how red wine and red meat interact,” says Circa’s sommelier, Sally Humble.
Humble explains that in the case of red meat – an often fibrous, salty and fat-rich meal – red wine isn’t merely a great match of flavours. The tannins in wine, which come from the grape’s skin and are responsible for its colour and dry flavour, are a kind of acid that actually helps steak-eaters break down fats and proteins.
“It really is our friend when it comes to a nice piece of steak. That lovely effect when you’re trying to chew arduously on a piece of meat and you have a little sip of red wine – it assists in that process,” she says. “Our saliva can only do so much!”
Melbourne Pub Group’s head chef, Paul Wilson, believes red wine’s tannic genius is why – contrary to common sense – the French are so unaccountably healthy. “You look at the health studies in France and their diet is extraordinarily bad for you in theory. They eat fois gras, they eat duck fat, they love rich meat, they love fatty meat, they eat butter,” says Wilson. “But studies show that the makeup of red wine helps you digest a lot of these fatty ingredients. They have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. That’s a fact.”
But to his mind, Wilson believes that the steak’s best friend isn’t in fact the kind of fungal, barnyard wines produced in France. Instead, he prefers the bold fruit flavours found in Spanish and Australian wines. “A high fruit content, I think, works really well with the charred, salty meats,” he says. “I just love a big glass of red… Lots of fruit, it cleanses the palate, it makes me feel good. I eat another piece of steak.”
Humble agrees wholeheartedly that a fruity flavour works best with the taste of a T-bone from the wood-fired grill. “Fruitiness is paramount, depending on what the dish is,” she explains. “The Robata Wood Grill can really bring out some of those charred, sweet and smoky characters in the meat. What I look to pair with those is fruit ripeness, which people can interpret as sweetness in a wine.”
Along with fruit, the sommelier is also looking for what she describes as a “well-structured” wine. An abundance of fruit tannins (rather than oak tannins) plus a good level of acidity make a wine right. “I look at the structure of a wine before perhaps I’d choose a grape variety. I ask myself whether this wine will stand up to something,” says Humble. “If it’s a structured pinot or it’s a really beautifully balanced Shiraz, then I’d probably choose either of those two.”
So if you’re planning to hoe into a Flintstones-sized T-bone, you really should remember that the professionals recommend a dose of a fruity Australian red wine – for your health.
*Circa serves a range of Australian grass-fed beef, including cuts from Certified Black Angus, chestnut-fed beef, the French Charolet and the famous Tuscan Chianina, all cooked on a wood-fired Robata grill, and features a wine list put together by sommelier Sally Humble.