Pairings: Spice up steak au poivre blanc with a glass of mourvèdre

Our Wine of the Week, Cline 2017 Ancient Vines Contra Costa County Mourvèdre ($22) is dazzling, with deep complexity paired with pretty high notes. Aromas include an intriguing suggestion of cardamom, bay and eucalyptus. There’s a suggestion of milk chocolate in the foundation, along with a flurry of sweet spices, including white peppercorn. You’ll notice an orchard of fruit, too, from Bing cherries to black plums. The wine’s rich, lush density suggests black raspberries, as well.

The wine is beautifully balanced and will hold its own and even surpass many wines that are triple its attractive price.

This mourvèdre is an ideal fall wine, as it resonates beautifully with winter squash, fall mushrooms, and sweet potatoes. Sweet potato risotto with sage and black pepper is a gorgeous match, and one that will please vegetarians. If you have time and inclination to make a mole negro, you’ll love this wine with it, provided it is not too hot.

It is, of course, excellent with most red meats, including bison and goat, in addition to lamb and beef.

For today’s recipe, I’ve turned to an old classic, steak au poivre blanc, to which I’ve added a couple of elements that enhance the pairing, making it soar.

Steak au Poivre Blanc with Spinach & Sweet Potato Purée

Makes 2 servings

2 thick ribeye steaks

- Kosher salt

2 tablespoons white peppercorns, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed

1 medium, about 8 to 10 ounces, sweet potato, see Note below

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

- Black pepper in a mill

1/3 cup Marsala

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup half-and-half

Set the steaks on a clean work surface and season generously all over with salt.

Combine the white and black peppercorns in a small bowl. Cover one side of the steaks with the mixture and use your fingers to press the peppercorns into the meat. Turn and repeat on the other side. Press the remaining peppercorns into the sides of the steaks, so that they are completely covered.

Set the steaks on a plate that will hold them in a single layer. Cover lightly - do not press down - with wax paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and as long as 8 to ?10 hours.

About an hour and a half before serving, preheat the oven to ?425 degrees and set a small sheet pan on the bottom rack. Use a fork to pierce the sweet potato in several places, pressing the fork as far in as possible.

Set the sweet potato on the rack above the sheet pan (not on the sheet pan); it will catch any juices to leach out during cooking.

Bake until tender, from 45 minutes to and hour and 15 minutes, depending on how thick it is. Quickly press your thumb on it or press a bamboo skewer into it to test for doneness.

Turn off the heat but leave the sweet potato in the oven.

While the sweet potato cooks, put the butter into a small bowl, add several very generous turns of black pepper, and mix well with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for ?30 minutes. Take the steaks out of the refrigerator.

When the sweet potato is done, be sure to turn off the stove.

Set a heavy skillet - cast iron is best - over high heat and when it begins to smoke add the steaks. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, turn and ?3 to 4 minutes longer for rare and ?6 minutes longer for medium rare (for corn-fed beef, cook 1 to 2 minutes longer per side).

Transfer the steaks to individual plates and set in the oven, which should have cooled a fair amount by this time.

Working quickly, add the Marsala to the pan, swirl and use a fork or whisk to scrape up any bits of meat or peppercorns. Add the cream and half-and-half, simmer until thickened - about 2 to 3 minutes - taste and adjust for salt, if needed.

Gently put the spinach on top, cover the pan, and cook until the spinach has wilted, about a minute and a half or so.

Working quickly, remove the sweet potato from the oven, break it in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl.

Add the peppercorn butter, season with salt, stir a few times, and add to the plates with the steaks, lifting the steaks and setting them partially on top of the purée.

Use tongs to add the spinach to the plates and spoon the sauce over the meat and the sweet potato.

Enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date. Email her at

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