“When we think about terroir, we often think about the earth as it relates to wine,” says Chef Marty Carpenter, Director of the Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence. “Where grape vines grow, the climate, the soil, how vines are tied and tended to; all these factors affect how a wine will taste. Canadian beef has a parallel story to be told. Raised in the great outdoors of Canada’s varying landscapes, excellence in Canadian beef is shaped by the terroir on which the cattle are reared.”
I was invited to attend an intimate dining experience in the heart of Canada’s wine country where we explored the role of terroir in creating Canadian beef. The event was hosted by The Canadian Beef Centre of Excellence in partnership with Niagara College and Chef Michael Olsen and took place on Niagara College’s spectacular Niagara-on-the-Lake Campus.
Chef Olsen and Chef Carpenter curated a tasting, each cut of beef paired with a Niagara wine and then, helped us to understand how Canada’s unique terroir influences their flavour profile. We went through a sensory tasting. Five cuts of beef paired with five wines.
First, we prepared our palates for the in-depth tasting. Water and crackers were provided which would act as the neutralizer for our palate between each tasting. Next, tenderness scale was measured on first bite and chew experience, considering the amount of resistance, force and the number of chews it takes to reduce the beef enough to swallow. We were given a gummy bear, which would be similar to the bite of a leaner and tougher cut of beef like the eye of round, and then we were given a piece of bread which is similar in bite to the tenderloin.
The next factor in our tasting was Juiciness. Moisture affects mouth-feel and flavour so we were to examine the release of the juice/moisture of the first bite, during the chewing and then when swallowing. Fruit was given to us to help us distinguish the varying degrees of juiciness. An orange being very juicy and cantaloupe being mid-range and then banana for the least juicy. We also examined our visual impression as well as flavour/aroma of the beef.
When talking about wine, we learned about sweetness, acidity, tannin, fruit and body. Water quality, weather conditions and the wine-makers fermentation process are all what affect the wines taste.
Make a Match
We received a bunch of tips from the chefs on matching Canadian beef and wine:
- Match leaner beef with lighter bodied wines. Fattier and more flavourful cuts, need more full-bodied and flavourful wine.
- Did you know the fat in food reduces the perception of tannins in wine? Pair fatter cuts of beef with well-aged wine.
- Beef cooked to rare doneness have juices that soften the wine’s tannins, so pair rare lean beef with a young, aggressive wine.
Pro Pairings created by the Chefs
Pairing #1: Tenderloin & Fielding Estate Winery 2013 Cabernet Franc
The Cabernet Franc is rich with ripe tannins, balanced acidity with notes of blueberry, dark chocolate and roasted herbs – the perfect match for the ever-tender tenderloin which has less marbling and flavour compared to other cuts.
Rare lean mildly flavoured beef cuts like tenderloin pair best with younger aggressive wines which tend to be less expensive. Alternative wine suggestions include Beaujolais and pinot noir.
Pairing #2: Sirloin & Creekside Estate Winery 2013 Iconoclast Syrah
Syrah is a medium bodies wine with integrated tannins and notes of bramble fruit, spicy pepper, tobacco and leather – an elegant partner to well flavoured and moderately tender sirloin.
Fattier more flavourful beef cuts pair best with fuller bodied wines that are light on tannins. Alternate wine suggestions include Merlot, Chateaunuef-du-Pape.
Pairing #3: Strip Loin & Rocky Vineyards 2012 Small Lot Wild Ferment Red
A wine with substantial tannin and bold flavour is needed to match up to the strip loin’s marbling and rich flavour. Made from a bend of equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, this wine is fermented with wild yeast rather than commercial cultured yeast.
Lean cuts, like strip loin, pair best with wines and astringent tannins. Alternate wine suggestions include Bordeaux Reds and Grenache.
Pairing #4: Rib Eye & Redstone Winery 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (My favourite pairing!)
A bold wine with considerable and well-structured tannins is required to stand up to the intense character of this well marbled steak with its rich, mouth-filling flavour. Rib eye is the most marbled steak. This Cabernet Sauvignon is a big wine loaded with intense and robust flavours that match with this robust steak.
Fattier more flavourful beef cuts pair best with fuller bodied wines that are light on tannins. Alternative wine recommendations include Malbec, Zinfandel and Meritage.
Pairing #5: Short Rib & Foreign Affair Winery 2013 Dream
I took a bottle of this wine home because I enjoyed it so much. The ‘Dream’ wine is named after the dream of the Foreign Affair winery owners to produce a Niagara wine in the classic appissimento-style – the Italian practice of drying grapes before pressing and fermenting. This bold wine shows off flavours of ripe cherry, plum, blackberry, dark chocolate, oak and tobacco that pair well with the intensely meaty flavours of braised beef short rib. Full bodied with supple tannins and concentrated flavours, Dream is made with a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Perit Verdot. Alternative wine suggestions include: Well-aged reds with big flavours and light tannins.
Southwestern Beef Steak with Succotash Sauté
After the tasting, we were served a delicious meal prepared by the students of Niagara College. Here is one of the Canada Beef recipes that the students put their own interpretation on. Southwestern Beef Steak with Succotash Sauté is a great recipe for a quick family meal! It literally takes 20 minutes to prepare!
You can use any leftovers to make a soup. Cut leftover steak into slivers or small cubes and toss with remaining succotash sauté. Add some canned or fresh diced tomato and cooked noodles or rice; heat with enough chicken broth to make a soup and season to taste. Pour into a warmed thermos and pack with a lime wedge and some grated cheddar and tortilla chips to serve with soup.
The ‘terroir’ is what makes the beef taste the way it does, then it is up to the craftsmanship of the butcher to craft the cattle into consumer useable form. There are many understated “new” cuts, such as the petit tender, the third most tender cut. Buying and cooking beef is something I believe most people shy away from. There are tons of videos on the Love Canadian Beef YouTube Channel as well, there is an app called the RoundUp App that gives you buying and cooking guides at your fingertips.
- 1 tsp (5 mL) EACH Cajun spice* and ground cumin
- *Cajun Spice: ¼ tsp (1 mL) EACH paprika, dried oregano, garlic powder and dried thyme.
- ¼ tsp (1 mL) EACH salt and hot pepper flakes
- 1 lb (0.45 kg) Beef Grilling Steak (e.g. Top Sirloin, Strip Loin, Tenderloin) ¾ to 1-inch thick
- Simple Succotash Sauté (recipe follows)
- Combine Cajun spice, cumin, salt and pepper flakes in small bowl. Set aside half of mixture. Sprinkle both sides of steak with remaining mixture.
- Grill steak over medium-high heat until medium, about 10 minutes, turning twice or more for medium-rare doneness (145°F/63°C). Remove to plate; cover loosely with foil. Let stand for 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain. Serve with Simple Succotash Sauté.
- Simple Succotash Sauté: In large skillet, melt 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter over medium-high heat. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 cob corn (kernels removed from cob), 2 small zucchini sliced, 1 small sweet red pepper, diced and ⅓ cup (75 mL) shelled cooked edamame (optional) and reserved half seasoning mix. Cook, stirring occasionally until just tender, about 8 minutes. Add ¼ cup minced fresh parsley or chives. Makes 4 cups (1 L).
*All photos, video and recipe courtesy of Canada Beef.