Guests coming. Good friends who like wine. Warm summer night. Lovely filet mignon specially cut by the butcher. So what wine works?
I am a creature of habit. To me, good filet normally means good cabernet sauvignon (or Bordeaux blend). If it's going to be rare or medium-rare, ideally one with some age. If medium...then maybe one with a little more exuberance. But on a warm summer night, I wasn't sure I wanted a big bruiser of a wine. I tend to reach for pinot with slightly lighter-weight meals...duck, pork chops, roast chicken, salmon. But I thought good pinot, especially from a good vintage, could stand up to filet...and that the medium weight and the higher acidity would keep it fresher tasting on the warm summer evening. I chose the Penner-Ash Pas de Nom ("no name"--a blend of a few of winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash's favorite barrels) from the excellent 2008 vintage.
So...how did I like it? I loved it. The wine had plenty of intensity to stand up to the beef...but it was a graceful intensity. It was well balanced--the strength was rippling and sinewy, not pumped up...more ballet dancer or figure skater than linebacker or fullback. There was a sense of harmony--in the wine and with the food.
Now I know it's not exactly a newsflash to suggest that pinot noir is a versatile wine. You can find that in pretty much every book and article ever written about food and wine pairings. That said, I'm not sure I had thought a lot about pinot in conjunction with rich, flavorful beef. But it worked well--pinot really is that versatile.
Besides reinforcing that--again--my point is slightly more nuanced. When you're thinking about the ideal wine paring for your meal, you might want to consider more than just the food. In this case, eating in the outdoor pavilion on a warm summer evening was a significant factor. I thought the Pas de Nom was perfect. But for the same meal, on a cold December night, with a fire crackling in the background--even though I'm confident a good pinot would still work--a mature Bordeaux might get the nod. Something to think about....