Kay's Korner

Aug 1, 2014

Perfect pairing promotions

Some combinations are obvious. Think cowboy hats and Merle Haggard, pickup trucks and goose neck trailers. So what about beef and red wine? This combo is such a natural that I’ve long wondered why the industries that make both products don’t make more of the way the two go together.

You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to know there are a great variety of red wines to go with every beef cut or dish. There are also plenty of books that help you pair wines with all kinds of food. I have one such book sitting on my kitchen counter. An online search reveals chefs and food writers who regularly address the subject. But there appears to be a public scarcity of activity on the subject by the beef industry itself.

I say “public” because the industry has worked various back channels over the years to pair beef with wine. The Cattlemen’s Beef Board has done work with winemaker Sutter Home, while the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Executive Chef Dave Zino has conducted pairing events with wine sommeliers and organizations like the American Culinary Institute. But there is not a designated beef checkoff program devoted to the subject.

I’m not suggesting the industry suddenly develop such a program. Checkoff dollars are so precious they should not be diverted to what might be deemed a minor promotional opportunity. Perhaps, however, this is another reason why the checkoff should be raised to $2 or even $3 per head. Pairing beef and red wine fits beautifully with the 90-million strong Millennial generation. I knew quite a few in this group who love both beef and wine and earn enough money to buy quality.

I was lucky enough a few years ago to be invited to a private event in Napa Valley. Beef producer Dan Morgan from Burwell, NE, was showcasing his American Wagyu beef for a small group of longtime family winemakers and some celebrity chefs. Morgan has taken part in dozens of gourmet food and wine events since introducing one of the first Wagyu herds into the U.S. in 1992. Our wine family host had invited neighbors to bring their favorite bottles, which we tasted while Dan grilled his beef. The wines were exquisite and the beef was some of the best I’ve tasted. It was a pairing I will never forget.

I was reminded of pairing as I spent the weekend before last helping my friend Barry Singer of Singer Cellars bottle more than 500 cases of his 2012 vintage. Barry has been making wine seriously for more than 10 years and his wines get better every year. He does what everyone in the beef industry does or should do. He buys the finest Napa Valley grapes he can afford (think high quality bulls). He practices a high level of craftsmanship throughout the process it takes to turn those grapes into wine, such as using premium quality French oak barrels.

When it came to bottling the 2012 vintage, quality control was at the highest level. Every bottle (more than 6,000 in all), once filled, was checked. A tiny wrinkle on the foil cap or a label meant rejection from the case. Once on pallets, the cases were wheeled into a climate-controlled area (red wine should ideally be stored at 55 degrees Fahrenheit).

Barry is also a beef lover. So it was no surprise that some of his labels (which I had nothing to do with) read as follows: The Song (Cabernet Sauvignon) “Enjoy with a juicy steak—yum!”; Aria (a blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) “Enjoy it with beef bourguignon or flat iron steak with a red wine sauce.” Ravenous after our bottling and casestacking, six of us headed out to a local restaurant in Petaluma for a late lunch. Barry brought a bottle of each of the wines we had bottled, and we sampled them as we ate. Barry and I both chose hanger steak, mine in a sandwich and Barry’s over a bed of salad greens. The beef was great and the wine even better, even though it was still in slight “bottle shock.” We agreed that his Cabernet Franc paired beautifully with the beef. I would be delighted to put any reader in touch with Barry if someone wants to buy his wine before restaurants and private collectors snap it up.

My body is still recovering after all the heavy caselifting I did. A case of wine weighs 38 pounds, as I discovered. I don’t think I’ve worked that hard since I left the family farm and spent day after day tossing hay bales. But the rewards were rich. There’s nothing like being part of a team working to produce a superior product. It reminded me that’s what it’s like on the family ranch; everyone working together for a common goal, to produce the best cattle and beef possible. — Steve Kay (Steve Kay is Editor/Publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly, an industry newsletter published at P.O. Box 2533, Petaluma, CA, 94953; 707/765-1725. Kay’s Korner appears exclusively in WLJ.)