Beef Wellington and Great Wines

Sometimes a dinner invitation can turn into a wine adventure. This past Saturday night was one such occasion.

My partner and I had been invited to the home of some close friends, Mark and Jally, for beef Wellington.

This puff pastry-wrapped beef tenderloin, flavoured with mustard, mushrooms and shallots is one of my culinary favourites, and sharing it with such good friends, who are also fellow wine enthusiasts, was an opportunity to open a bottle of wine I’ve had since 2004.

It was a 2000 vintage Chateau Prieuré-Lichine Bordeaux from France. I purchased it while working as a wine merchant in 2004, knowing that the 2000 vintage was among the best years for wine in the 20th century. I am sorry to say that it will not be available in the Yukon, in any vintage.

The experience of tasting it over a two-hour period was a great reminder that good wines need time to open up. It had been sitting in the car for a little while so it needed to warm up too.

Ideally a wine can breathe by being opened up, and letting it sit for 30 minutes to a couple of hours. You can speed up the process by pouring it into a wine carafe, which exposes it to more air. You can also use an aerator. Heck, I’ve even heard of running it in a blender for 5 seconds, but I think that’s overdoing it.

We let it sit, and sniffed it in anxious anticipation.

In the mean time, we began two other new world Cabernet Sauvignons, which needed less time to come into their own.

The first was a 2009 California Sonoma County Cab from St. Francis Vineyards.

Rich and dark, this Cab gives you a mouthful of tannins that cause that mouth-puckering sensation I love, but some people find overwhelming. It has rich fruit flavours like red currant, and some peppery/leathery sensations that are part taste and part smell. It has the bold characteristics of a California red, but with a balance and bouquet that suggests a wine maker who admires the subtlety often found in French Bordeaux — a great Californian Cab. At $32.75 it was a very fun wine to compare and contrast with the Chateau Prieuré-Lichine Bordeaux.

The Beef Wellington was well underway, and the bouquet of the Chateau Prieuré-Lichine that wine was really lovely. I inhaled its aroma many times before tasting it.

When I finally took a sip it tasted of dried cherries or other dark fruit, and a slight spiciness, like cinnamon. The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (and perhaps Cab Franc) juices resulted is a very well balanced wine that went perfectly with the Beef Wellington.

It was neither as tannic nor as heavy as the St. Francis; a steak off the grill would have overwhelmed it.

As we finished the St. Francis, and worked though the Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, we opened a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stimson Estate Cellars in Washington State, by Chateau Ste. Michelle. This wine illustrated the breadth of taste that a Cabernet Sauvignon can have depending on its region of origin, climate and the wine-makers art.

At $16.30, this northwestern Cab is well valued.

Much softer than the St. Francis or the Chateau Prieuré-Lichine, it has slightly reserved fruity tastes and lower tannins that I associate with Washington reds.

With rich plumy flavours, hints of herb and a gentle, though shorter finish than the other two, it was fun to compare.

The Chateau Prieuré-Lichine was in a class by itself, but both the new world Cabs had very good qualities and I would encourage you to try either, or perhaps both, in a back-to-back comparison.

That evening was exactly how wines should be shared and enjoyed.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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