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Red, White & Red

You sit down at a steak house and someone hands you a massive leather-bound wine list with a thousand selections you've never heard of. What to do? We got three experts—William Rice, the former wine and food columnist for the Chicago Tribune and former editor in chief of Food & Wine magazine; Gregory Fulham, a wine consultant for Binny's in Hyde Park; and Bob Bansberg, the wine director at Gabriel's and instructor at Kendall—to weigh in.  –P. P. & J. R.

How does wine enhance the steak experience?
WR:
The earthy herbal character of a cabernet sauvignon or the fruit nuances of a pinot noir enhance a rich, buttery steak. Conversely, steak softens a young zinfandel, rendering the wine smoother.
GF: The tannins give the wine some structure and it works really well with meat. Then again, I think a good beer tastes great with steak, too.
BB: Red wine cuts through steak like a knife. The tannins scrub the fat off your taste buds. Rather than coating your mouth, wine resets the taste buds and refreshes your palate so you can taste the steak all over again with each bite.
Is red still the color of choice for drinking with red meat?
WR: Red wine's supremacy as a companion to red meat has not changed. It is more complex, more versatile, longer lived—and often offers flavors of herbs, spices, fruits, and flowers compatible with meat. 
GF: In the famous winemaking areas of the world, and I'm thinking of Bordeaux and Burgundy, the preference is for red. In America, people have always associated success with expensive red meat and good red wine.
BB: Wines are like hem-lines. They go in and out of fashion. Back in the seventies, everyone was drinking chardonnay. White is out of fashion now. 

Is there a perfect red wine to have with steak?
WR: No, but you can come close by matching your wine with a steak from the same region, like the Tuscan classic T-bone called Fiorentina with a Chianti Classico such as Isole e Olena.
GF: Either the best Bordeaux you can afford or any of the single-vineyard zinfandels from Ridge in California.
BB: The true connoisseur always comes back to cabernet blends. In the best Bordeaux, you are blending six grapes. It's the meritage concept. Of course, Argentineans would say malbec.

Is there a perfect white wine to have with steak?
WR:
No, but pairing a rich Napa Valley chardonnay such as Grgich Hills with rare leg of lamb will provide a real taste treat.
GF: Champagne. Or maybe a really good rosé Champagne Brut.
BB: No. But the fuller, the better. If they like white wines, I take them into a bigger wine—say, a great grand cru white Burgundy. Any terrific low-cost wine that steak lovers should seek out?
WR:
I seek out d'Arenberg, a family winery from Australia with moderately priced, aromatic shiraz.
GF: I've got a $16 Bordeaux right now that would drink great with a steak: Château les Roches de Ferrand, Fronsac, 2000.
BB: Argentinean malbecs come to mind: the 2005 Mapema ($18), the 2006 Kaiken ($12), and the 2007 Maipe ($7).

How do you keep the wine costs down at top steak houses?
WR:
Set a price range and ask the wine server
to recommend within that range. 
GF: I don't hesitate to ask the opinion of the sommeliers.
BB: I wouldn't follow what my boss wasdrinking.

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