For a red wine pairing, turn to Rioja, that famous Spanish region that has seen ups and downs in quality over its history, but is now riding high on at least two decades of success both in the vineyards and cellars. The reds in this region are based on tempranillo, with garnacha, graciano, maturana tinta, and monastel being permitted in the blend. As in many other classic wine regions, there is a spectrum between traditional production and the modern viewpoint, the latter emphasizing high degrees of extraction and lots of new oak. Everyone has their preference on this spectrum, but for the Asian beef I recommend a traditional version, and in particular a reserva. By the regulations, this means the wine will have aged for a minimum of three years, including at least one year in oak barrels. This aging regimen will offer complexity and structure while preserving the fruit character of the wine to complement the Asian spices on the beef.
For a contrasting pairing, we will go in what will be an unexpected direction for some. On the left bank of the Garonne River in the southern part of Bordeaux, a unique golden liquid is produced from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and a bit of muscadelle affected by the “noble rot,” courtesy of the fungus Botrytis cinerea. Under the appellations Sauternes and Barsac, these are late-harvested wines that can be high in residual sugar, yet may also have appreciable acidity when young. Tradition has relegated them to the cheese or dessert course, to be brought out for a special occasion after a couple of decades or more of bottle age. But that same sweetness can make them excellent foils for spicy appetizers and main dishes, provided they retain their natural acidity. The best part is that you won’t have to store them in your cellar for countless years, waiting for the next generation to enjoy your purchase.
Complementary Pairing: Rioja, Spain
Try: (Granja Nuestra Señora de) Remelluri Rioja Reserva
[www.remelluri.com] Vines have been planted on the site of this former monastery at the foot of the Sierra de Cantabria since the fourteenth century. The tempranillo is joined by small amounts of garnacha and graciano, which are individually fermented with natural yeasts. Afterwards they spend a year and a half aging in a mixture of new and used French and American oak, the latter comprising roughly a third. Winemaking has returned to the hands of the owning family, in the form of the renowned Telmo Rodríguez, who produces internationally acclaimed wines all over Spain.
Contrasting Pairing: Barsac, Bordeaux, France
Try: Château Coutet Barsac
[www.chateaucoutet.com] This Premier Cru Classé property is the largest estate in Barsac, with vines averaging 35 years of age, approximately three-fourths of which are sémillon. An even larger percentage of sémillon comprises the grand vin, which ages entirely in new oak. Currently under the care of the Baly family, this château is not only one of the preeminent estates in Barsac, but also a vocal proponent of the versatility of Barsac and Sauternes for pairing with all sorts of foods.