The best wines to drink with Beef Stroganoff
Regular readers of my blog will know that I believe the main aim in pairing is to find wines and food that complement each other; one should not overpower the other. There are a number of foods that are notoriously difficult to pair well with food, usually because the food in question has a strong taste that can clash with the wine, making the wine seem bitter or even flat: asparagus, artichoke, vinaigrette, lemons and chilli spring to mind. But sometimes I am blind-sided by what you might think would be an easy dish to pair wine with: most recently this happened to me with beef stroganoff.
You might think that the dish calls for a sturdy red since it’s beef, surely the predominant flavour, but the problem with stroganoff – and the same could apply to Mushroom Stroganoff for non-meat eaters and to any other beef dish cooked in a creamy sauce – is that there are several competing foods and flavours which require careful selection of the right wine. Let’s look at why it can be difficult to find a good wine to go with beef or mushroom stroganoff – and which seven wines will work well with them both.
Wines for the components of a Beef Stroganoff
Originating in Russia and thought to be named after an old wealthy Russian family named Stroganov, beef stroganoff became a popular item on the menu of many restaurants in Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s and a dinner party staple of the middle classes. Since then its popularity has waned though many modern day chefs have written recipes for beef in cream sauce, a stroganoff by another name.
The main ingredients and the wines that you might normally choose with them individually are:
- beef – this should be a good lean cut since the cooking time is relatively fast and the meat should be tender to eat. Some might be tempted by a bottle of Bordeaux but the tannins and oak are much better suited to fattier cuts of beef. In a stroganoff, there will be some umami flavour from the caramelisation of the meat; these and the lean beef would normally pair well with red wines with low tannins and little oak influence like a Cru Beaujolais. If you feel it has to be Bordeaux, it should be a mature wine where the tannins have softened and the oak influence is well integrated.
- mushrooms – these are usually added to a beef stroganoff and can be used as a substitute for beef in a vegan or vegetarian variation of the dish. As mushrooms are an earthy, savoury vegetable, they make some wines seem more acidic and less fruity so my usual instinct is to go for a savoury red wine with lower acidity for most mushroom dishes like a Pinot Noir, a Barolo or a Nebbiolo.
- Cream, often sour cream – the fat content of cream sauces can subdue mouth-watering acidity in wine so you need to make sure that you select a wine with good acidity to start with. This will also help cut through the fat and prevent the dish from seeming too rich. Wines that are notoriously good to drink with creamy sauces are rich white wines like white Burgundy, Semillon or a Chenin Blanc.
- Mustard is not always added to beef or mushroom stroganoff but it adds a bit of heat and spice and prevents the cream from taking over the dish. Wines that would work with a predominantly mustard-tasting dish would have good acidity to match the acidity in the mustard and relatively high tannins as the mustard will soften them. A wine that’s low in tannins can seem flat and lose its fruity flavours. For predominantly mustard-flavoured dishes you might consider a young Bordeaux, a Syrah or a Sangiovese.
Aside from the above four basic ingredients, other additions may include nutmeg, brandy and also lemon that some people add to cut through the cream in the same way that an acidic wine would. These additional ingredients add further dimensions to the dish - and add further confusion to the wine choice.
Which are the best wines to drink with Beef Stroganoff?
Cru Beaujolais, young or mature red Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, Barolo, Nebbiolo, white Burgundy, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Syrah or Sangiovese??? With such a variety of wine suggestions for the main ingredients, where do you start with choosing a wine that will pair perfectly with the dish when the ingredients are all combined?
The first thing to think about is the structure or richness of the most dominant ingredient of any dish and try to match that with the structure of the wine. In this instance the cream is the dominant characteristic of the dish, even if only a small amount is added. The cream will make a stroganoff fairly heavy which means that very light wines are not really going to work.
The richness of the sauce needs a wine with good acidity as mentioned above - though not too high given the mushrooms. You might not consider drinking white wine with beef dishes but a rich, mature & full-bodied Chardonnay that has acquired a buttery taste and a creamy texture from fermentation and / or ageing in oak barrels really does work well. Semillon or Chenin Blanc would also work but they too must be fairly rich and full-bodied with good acidity as that will cut through the creamy sauce making it seem less fatty. These wines will also complement the umami and savoury flavours of the red meat and the mushrooms.
If you have to have red wine, look to a young-ish fruity red Burgundy or Beaujolais, young because older fine wines with their more complex flavours and softer tannins are better with simple food. Younger wines that are not intended to develop or have not yet developed on the other hand are better for more complex dishes like a stroganoff. The predominantly fruit flavours of these wines will pair well with the caramelised beef and the sharpness of their tannins will slice through the creamy sauce like a palate-cleanser.
For mushroom stroganoff you can get away with a wine with higher tannins like a young Barolo as the tannins, especially high in a young Barolo, will be softened by the mushrooms
I’m also going to throw in a curveball – Cabernet Franc. Whilst it’s rarely seen on its own, when you find a bottle of 100% Cabernet Franc it should be full of juicy fruit flavours enhanced by good acidity and mixed with herb and green pepper notes which will go well with the mushrooms (and onions) in the sauce. But it must be a good Cabernet Franc!
My preferred wine for Beef Stroganoff
So what did I decide on with my recent Beef Stroganoff – I tried a little of all the above wines and my first choice – which was a surprise to me was the Chardonnay, followed in order of preference by the Semillon, Chenin Blanc, Beaujolais, red Burgundy, Barolo and them Cabernet Franc. I hope to have narrowed down the choices for you when you next cook a beef or mushroom dish in a creamy mustard sauce!
© Wines With Attitude Limited, www.wineswithattitude.co.uk