Pairing wine with A5 Wagyu as opposed to American beef, is a completely different animal. Well, they’re both cows, so not completely different. Yet, the fat and flavor profile of each type of beef differ greatly. So instead of grabbing the same Cab or Syrah you like to pair with your Angus ribeye or strip, the country’s best sommeliers would steer you elsewhere.
For June Rodil, co-owner of Goodnight Hospitality in Houston, the nature of Wagyu’s fat is a reason to steer you from Bordeaux to Burgundy. “Sometimes you want something stronger with an [American] ribeye that has gristly fat,” she says. “With A5 the fat is so integrated and you’ll do a light sear because you want to feel the fat. A5 is like butter, and the texture of high-end Burgundy is strong enough, yet silky enough, to go with it.”
With a younger Burgundy vintage, the wine’s bright acidity will cut against the fat without overwhelming the flavor of the beef. It’s that subtlety that makes it not ideal with American beef. “With a ribeye or sirloin, no matter how high-end the Burgundy is, it’s just not strong enough,” Rodil says. “But A5 melts in your mouth. It’s like a pillow of delicious meat. It has a lightness to it, even though it’s fatty.”
For those who want to drink a Cabernet with your A5, you’ll still want to modify your steak pairing game plan. “For your standard run-of-the-mill ribeye, that’s where you get a young, hedonistic Cabernet that’s opulent with fruit bombs,” says Micah Clark, wine director of Michelin three-star Meadowood, which is preparing for its winter residency in Ojai. “I like a Cabernet that’s super detailed, that’s going to provide as much intricacy and points of flavor as the beef.”
That means he shies away from the stereotypical big Napa Cab in favor of winemakers picking a little earlier, not using all new oak and letting the wine hang out in barrel to develop more nuance. When the winemakers check those boxes, they create a flavor profile that fits with the A5, while the tannin of Cabernet still offers a great counterpoint to the fat of the Wagyu.
Here are some ideal selections:
- Syrah (Shiraz). One of the most popular wine pairings for Wagyu, shiraz offers a desirable medium to full-bodied profile with pleasant notes of pepper, mint and smoke, which beautifully balances the subtle, sophisticated flavor of the beef.
- A Right-Bank Bordeaux, such as one from St-Émilion or Pomerol. Right-bank Bordeauxs are predominantly Merlot-based and bring a soft mouthfeel and a less acidic flavor. Rich, fruity and sometimes described as “satiny,” any Bordeaux would make a fine choice if you’re going for an exceptionally luxurious experience.
- Cabernet sauvignon. Why complicate things? Cab and steak have long been a popular pair, in part because this wine offers juicy, fruity notes that play well against the savoriness of the beef. Go for a big, bold wine, as the tannins tend to complement fattier meats quite well.
- Sangiovese. Let’s not forget about Italy. A hearty glass of Chianti is a great choice. This Tuscan variety is earthy, rustic, fruity and savory, offering high levels of tannins and a perky acidity that works well with more decadent, fatty cuts of meat.
- Merlot. Unlike the aforementioned Sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon, merlot is relatively low on the tannin scale, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted. It’s fruity, juicy and well-known to play well with umami flavors, making it a good choice for your grand Wagyu pairing.
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