Fine wine for prime cuts

David Prestipino gets some advice on matching wine with prime cuts of beef from Rockpool sommelier David Lawler.

I was lucky enough to visit esteemed chef Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grill on Melbourne's Southbank last Monday.

It might just have been my most revered long lunch ever.

Rockpool was inspired by some of the great steakhouses of North America.

For the five of us dining in celebration of my friend's impending nupitals, we knew we were in for a treat when we were presented with "the day's menu".

You see, Perry presents (and prints) a new menu each day. "The cornerstone of good cooking is to source the finest produce," he says on his menu.

Rockpool's particular focus is on its meat program - with Perry sourcing beef from only the very best Australian producers.

The four types of beef are then dry aged on the premises, giving Perry and his staff total quality control.

With some steaks on the menu in excess of $100 (well worth every bite, let me tell you), it got me thinking - what style of wines match well with such complex, aged beef?

To this end I consulted Rockpool's head sommelier David Lawler for his thoughts on what wines best match prime, aged cuts such as the restaurant's ultimate offering - Wagyu Sirloin (200g, aged 20 days, $110). This is sourced from David Blackmore's farm, which breeds only Fullblood Japanese Wagyu.

According to Lawler, the trick is to keep it simple.

Huge wines from the Barossa and McLaren Vale tend to drown out the complexity of the beef, he says, while tannins are important to create a foil for the proteins.

His best piece of advice was that the palate must finish fresh - that is, you take a sip of the wine and it draws you back to the beef, and vice versa.

"You want to be bouncing between food and wine, rather than it being a combative process," he said.

Here are his top 5 tips for matching a wine with a prime cut:

1. Go for cooler-climate shiraz (regions such as the Adelaide Hills in SA, or Pemberton in WA)
2. Nebbiolo, the Italian-style grape, pairs well. David suggests Adelaide Hills again or Piedmont in Italy
3. Terrific cabernets from Margaret River in WA. "They have that fantastic middle-palate feel," he says.
4. Strong-tasting pinots with plenty of flavour can also work. "But it's important that there's enough grip in the tannins to complement the beef."
5. If you only drink white, then freshness and texture are key. "It's best to go for an SSB from the Yarra [Valley]. There's lots of lees [residual yeast] at work in these wines, which provide rich and broad flavours."

A big, buttery chardonnay might sound like the perfect white for a big-flavoured steak, but like David says, an oily chardonnay with a Wagyu just won't go.

Rockpool serve all their steaks on their own on the plate, seasoned and with a slice of lemon.

"The lemon wedge really brightens the other seasoning on the meat rather than overpower it," David says.

For the record - because my friend was paying - I opted for the Cape Grim T-Bone (400g, aged for 34 days, $45). Dry aged, 36-month old, grass fed.

I did get to choose the wine though and, echoing David Lawler's suggestions here, the 2008 Shaw & Smith Shiraz ($85 at Rockpool, $45 RRP) from the cooler-climate Adelaide Hills proved a worth match to Perry's heavenly cuts.

*Neil Perry has three restaurants in Sydney, one in Melbourne and is expected to open his first Perth steakhouse at Burswood Entertainment Complex later this year.

If you've got your own thoughts on matching reds with dry aged beef, or any other beef or meat for that matter, comment below or email me here.

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