If you have lived in the Chicago area for more than a week, it is quite likely that you have made the mandatory pilgrimage to one of the many outstanding steak houses in the area. And after the now fashionable "have you ever eaten here with us before?" greeting (not sure why they ask this as it is pretty much the same drill anywhere) there’s a good chance that you have been "served" with some encyclopedic wine list.
Now, the truth of the matter is that a few things go better with steak than a robust red wine. Why? The key word here is "tannins". Tannins are not something you taste, like sugar, but rather a sensation of astringency/drying-out that occurs when this compound (mostly found in the grape skins, seeds, and stems) binds the proteins in your saliva. It is precisely in the binding of the wine tannins with the steak protein that the alchemy of this iconic food and wine pairing resides. But is there an option to breaking the bank when ordering those big name Napa Cabs?
Oh yes, there is.
I have looked over the wine list of 5 prestigious Chicagoland steak houses to come up with some recommendations that will undoubtedly make your steak memorable while saving some money to someday take my classes (ahem...) and found that most lists are indeed Cali Cab heavy with most middle of the way bottles at about $85. With that in mind, the following are some alternative great wines from the same lists to pair with your steak. They all have in common a healthy dose of tannins in their structure.
1. Malbec - The Argentinians know a thing or two about steaks. Do as they do and drink this bold wine; actually a French original.
2. Chile Cabs - Some of the best around. Do not let the country's reputation for value wines dissuade you from trying them.
2. Tempranillo - The Spaniards are about much more than just paella and tapas. Lots of grilled meats in the Iberian Peninsula.
3. Sangiovese - Chianti's grape. Perfect match for their Bistecca Fiorentina. So why shouldn't it work for us in Chicago.
4. Zinfandel - Should you choose to stay in the country, this all-American grape is often bottled as a good value.
5. Washington State - Vast and cheap land make for also cheaper wines that happen to be beautifully made.
6. Australia - Don't forget about Shiraz! A great Steak-au-Poivre match. Many of their bottlings are incredibly reasonable.
In looking for a value wine selection, bear in mind that the folks who put together these lists are smart enough to not overload them with "deals" as most would probably order those wines. In other words, the "cheap" wines on the list are still going to be above $50. So be realistic and please chew your steak well.
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.