Drink: Steaking my reputation

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Vegetarians might like to look away now. At the finals of the Malbec Made for Meat competition, there was not a vegetable, or vegetarian for that matter, within 100 metres of the Gaucho Grill in Swallow Street in central London. Staged by Wines of Argentina, the competition was meat and drink to the 11 critical carnivores assembled to find the best match for pork, lamb and beef from 14 different Argentinian reds made in the Andes from the country's signature grape, the malbec. The wines to be tasted had already been pre-selected as good examples of their kind, so with most of the hard work done for us, all we had to do was find the winning combinations and decide if malbec's best marriage was with pork, lamb or beef.

Food and wine matching is an inexact science at the best of times and you have to concede that one person's meat ... you know the rest. A massive pinch of salt is often the first ingredient and so it proved with the grilled belly of Sussex pork. Not surprisingly, since we'd barely digested breakfast, the first round was tough going as we chewed and crunched our way through the heavily salted medium-rare meat.

What emerged was that red wine tannins and oak were a difficult combination with pork fat and salt together. I found myself going for lively, inexpensive, fruity reds like the 2005 Doña Paula Malbec, around £9.49, Hailsham Cellars (01323 846238), The Bristol Wine Company (0117-373 0288), Selfridges, Oddbins, and the 2004 Salentein Malbec, £8.49, Tesco, and the winner was ... the Doña Paula.

By the time the grilled loin of Patagonian lamb arrived, the appetite was a little more finely attuned. The delicate aromas and tender pink meat contrasted well with the sweet mulberry fruitiness of the fresher, more balanced malbecs, the tannins on the whole absorbed by the proteins and fat around the edges of the cutlet. This was a less fatty dish than the pork, so many of the combinations worked better. Again the Doña Paula was a fine match, as was an elegantly cherry fruity 2005 Gouguenheim Tupungato Malbec, around £6.99, Adnams (01502 727222), Townend (01482 586582), lasbodegas.co.uk (01634 844844), the red berry fruitiness of the 2004 Catena Zapata, £10.99, buy two for £8.79 at Majestic, and the refined, elegant 2005 Mendel Unus Malbec, £19.99, Playford Ros (01845 526777), with its well crafted oak and incisive acidity. The winner was a posh and very stylish 2004 Catena Alta Malbec, around £29.99, Harrods, Kensington Whole Foods Market, Hailsham Cellars.

Jaded palates were revived by a beef master class from the Gaucho's grillmeister Ryan Hattingh. His grilling tip? Brush lightly with corn oil, lemon and garlic, sprinkle a mix of sea salt and table salt on one side, grill the unsalted side for about two minutes, turn and do the same to the other side for the perfect medium-rare steak. With appetite suitably whetted, my highest marks – and the panel's too – went to the malbecs with beef. The two finest cuts were sirloin and rib-eye, both oozing succulent flavours and textures that chimed perfectly with the generosity of malbec's high elevation combination of fruit and acidity. Again the wine didn't have to be expensive. I enjoyed the strawberry fruit concentration of Masi's 2005 Passo Doble Tupungato Malbec (the 2006 is at Tesco, £7.99), and the sweet cherry juiciness and clean lines of the 2004 Fournier Urban Eco Malbec, £5.99, Noel Young Wines (01223 844744). The Gouguenheim and Catena Zapata were the joint winners of the final round and the 2004 Catena Zapata Alta Malbec the overall winner.

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