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Dec 12, 2006
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Wine With. . . Roast Beef

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas


As you may remember, on Christmas Day everyone in Who-land would:


              FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!

             They would start on Who-Pudding and rare Who-roast beast

             Which was something the Grinch couldn't stand in the least!


Eventually, of course, the Grinch came around, and like many of the rest of us, he now looks forward to roast beef for Christmas dinner (with or without the traditional Yorkshire pudding).  But do you suppose there is good Who-wine to go with that roast beast?  


Since wine aplenty will be poured at our feast on Christmas Day, we decided to have a trial run beforehand to determine which wines we really do like best with roast beef.  And so, while a small rib-roast finished sizzling in the oven and filled the house with its mouth-watering aromas, we opened fifteen red wines (most of them in the $15 to $40 price range), and then set to work pairing the wines with the meat.  The results were not particularly surprising.  As we suspected, most dry red wine goes well with roast beef (one caveat: our beef was served rare to medium-well done beef will be somewhat less adaptable-nor was it adorned with gravy, mushrooms, or any other enhancement). 


But having stated that most reds are good with roast beef, we must also acknowledge that the better the wine, the better the meat tasted.  In other words, well-balanced wines with good structure and firm tannins proved the most congenial partners.  Wines that tend to be overtly sweet and fruity (such as an Oregon Pinot Noir in our lineup) were slightly jarring; at the same time, wines that lacked fruit (an exceedingly earthy Côtes du Rhône, for example) was equally disappointing with the roast.  Soft and supple wine is likewise less satisfying, for the fattiness of roast beef needs a backdrop of tannin to truly dazzle the palate.  Most of the Bordeaux-style blends were delicious, and this is one partnership where an abundance of sweet oak (as in a good Rioja) can be welcome.  




Approx. Price



Dry Creek Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley (California) Meritage 2003








The dark plum and berry flavors in this youthful Bordeaux-styled blend come to the fore, with everything else (oak, spice, and more) playing a secondary role.  That's what made it so compatible with the roast.  



Fox Creek, McLaren Vale (Australia) Shiraz/ Grenache 2004

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)







A deeply-flavored, somewhat spicy red from Down Under, this Rhône-styled blend impressed us because its fruit flavors proved so primary.  With the roast beef, it clearly outperformed a more earthy, leathery Côte-du-Rhône-a wine that was very tasty on its own-proving once again that how a wine tastes with food can be very different from how it tastes by itself.




Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma Valley (California) Rhinefarm Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004






A recent release, this Cabernet tastes rich but at the same time restrained, and its tannins feel firm but not harsh.  It's a big wine, but not overly so; and as a result did not threaten to overwhelm the food. 




Veramonte, Casablanca Valley (Chile) 'Primus' 2004

(Imported by Franciscan Estate Selections)






A consistently good value in high-class Chilean red wine, 'Primus' is a  blend of Merlot (47% in 2004), Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), and Carmenere (23%).  It displays bold fruit flavors, with a spicy, almost dusty undertone.  Unlike some other wines we tried, the secondary flavors did not blunt the synergy between fruit and beef.  In fact, they enhanced it. 




Marques de Riscal, Rioja (Spain) Reserva 2001

(Imported by Shaw-Ross International Importers)





All of our other top performers display forthright, ripe fruit flavors.  This more subtle wine, though, tastes as much of dried fruits, with an overlay of sweet, spicy oak.  Medium-bodied, it is an old-styled Rioja, meaning that softness rather than power constitutes its main allure.  Still, it is well structured and paired wonderfully with the beef.  The meat gave it enhanced depth as the wine seemed to soften the dish.  This was an unexpectedly delicious match.