REGULAR readers will know all about my very public love affair with Scotch beef – and Scottish beef too. Our nation produces some of the tastiest cattle on the planet and we should celebrate that fact at every opportunity.
But, when it comes to steak, I won’t let patriotism get in the way of trying different things. One of my favourite meals came in the vineyard at Chateau La Rose Bellevue, in Blaye, north of Bordeaux, when I was served local Limousin beef cooked on a barbecue fuelled by cuttings from the vines.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that, as well as rearing cattle at home, Scotland has also exported its successful breeds abroad. Farmers know a good thing when they see it.
Aberdeen Angus is a prime example. CAU, the new steak restaurant in Glasgow, specialises in Aberdeen Angus beef reared in Argentina. Sitting behind George Square on the corner of Ingram Street and Queen Street, the eatery is a great people-watching spot, directly opposite the Gallery of Modern Art.
And the Argentinians certainly know their meat. Meeting Aurelio Montes and tasting his Kaiken wines illustrated the seriousness with which the South Americans treat their steaks – and the Malbecs to match.
Malbec has become Argentina’s flagship red grape variety; its lighter tannins – the same substance you find in tea, which makes you suck in your cheeks – mean that it’s more approachable for many drinkers than more tannic wines.
CAU serves a range of nine Malbecs – eight of which are bottled exclusively for the restaurant chain – with seven from Argentina and two from French regions Languedoc and Cahors, where the grape is believed to originate.
Matching the right wine to the right steak can be great fun – Bordeaux, Bourgogne or Rioja are all worth a shot, as are many of the Italian reds and both Syrah from the Old World and Shiraz from the New. Powerful Syrah and Grenache combinations from the Rhone have always been a favourite for me, especially with the New Year’s steak pie.
But there’s something very special about Malbec. Growing at altitude in Argentina provides the coolness at night needed for acidity to develop in the grapes, which can be just as important as tannins when it comes to wine-and-food matching.
To bring together the best selection of steaks for matching with the Malbecs, my waiter suggested trying the “feasting plate”, which consisted of: Lomito, a steak sliced from the fillet of the rump, which CAU considers to be the finest cut from Argentina; Asado de Chorizo, featuring a sirloin marinaded in “churrasco”, a mix of smoked paprika, ají molido, garlic and parsley; and Tira de Ancho, a spiral cut of rib-eye, marinated in chimichurri and billed as “the king of steaks”.
For me, the Lomito worked best with the Lorca Graffiti Malbec (£7.75 a glass, £29.50 a bottle) from the main Mendoza region. This full-bodied wine with its aromas of smoke, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves partnered beautifully with the steak. It was full of the classic blackcurrant, black cherry and raspberry flavours, and could even stand up to the blue cheese sauce with which the steak was served.
The Piche Malbec (£6.95, £26.50) comes from the cooler Patagonia region in the south of Argentina, with the coolness reflected in the lighter raspberry and violet notes on the nose and the higher acidity on the palate. It made an excellent pairing with the Asado de Chorizo, with the raspberry flavours playing nicely against the paprika in the chorizo, just as they do with Spanish Tempranillo.
Back to Mendoza for a match for the rib-eye and the Trasandino Malbec (£5.95, £22.50) did the trick. It’s packed full of the black fruit flavours with a hit of creamy vanilla, with its long fruity finish providing plenty of flavour to pair with the chimichurri.
With a further five steaks on the menu and nine Malbecs to choose from, there’s plenty of fun to be had with food and wine matches at CAU, which also has a branch on Edinburgh’s Castle Street.