As the days get longer and the mercury rises, it means one thing for chef Aaron Sanchez: it's the start of the barbecue season.
“My family in Mexico were all cattle rangers,” he tells me over a lunch in Los Angeles. “Beef and grilling outside was all part of my life growing up. That was my upbringing, so any time I have a chance to connect with that, it’s great.” For the celebrity chef, the warmer months reignite his love for cooking in the outdoors with his loved ones and connects him with home. “Every summer I would go back and visit Mexico with my family. And now, anytime I grill outside, it reminds me of home, and the way I was brought up in the summers. As a kid you live for the summers -- and those were the fondest memories I have.”
Chef-partner of Johnny Sánchez in Baltimore and New Orleans has been a host and judge on Fox, Food Network, and Cooking Channel, seen on shows including Masterchef and Chopped, to name just a few. A James Beard Award-winner and cookbook author, he’s certainly no stranger to multitasking. But alongside his passion for bringing Latin flavors to life on the dinner plate, he also appreciates a fine glass of wine.
“I was completely shocked when I realized how many chefs were not involved in the wine process in their own restaurants. Think about what goes with your food -- we have to be informed and educated in what pairs with your food. My love for wine really started early on. For me, it was just something that always just spoke to me. I love the story of wine, I love the tradition of wine. I love how it crosses borders and continents -- how it can be so different based on its soil, depending on where it originated.”
It’s at this point though, that Sanchez shares his personal preference of a glass for the summer months, the Argentine Malbec, a wine he believes delivers on all fronts when it comes to grilling at home. “People want something with weight, something with a backbone of great tradition, and a beautiful punch of fruit that Malbec has. Versatility is key. You could easily have a Malbec with a beet salad, you could have it with a big steak, you could have it with so many different things. You want versatility - and you could have a Malbec with so many things,” he says.
Although originally created in France, the Malbec found its feet as a serious player in the red market once winemakers discovered that the sunny Argentinean climate and higher elevation environment served up the perfect elements to creating a top notch grape for a fruit driven, but spicy rounded wine. It’s a wine that was created to be the perfect meat pairing drink; trust the Argentinians to place importance on heightening the meat devouring experience. It’s the ultimate food friendly wine, and served at just below room temperature, it’s an incredibly easy to drink red.
There’s undoubtedly been a rise in popularity of Malbec in recent times. Ask any provider of wines, and they’ll agree that the everyday diner is becoming less loyal to a specific brand or vineyard and more adventurous in their wine choices. “We had that golden age of the pinot noir for a while ago, for example, and I think we’re living the golden age of the Malbec now,” argues Sanchez. “I think people want wines that have body and that are fruit forward, but they also don’t want something that will overshadow their food. Malbec, I think, is the most food-friendly red out there. It just delivers on all fronts.”
Malbec wines vary in taste, according to the grape’s origin, but are generally known for having a more thinner flavor than other red wines. On the spectrum of dry reds, it leans toward being a medium to full-bodied wine. Grapes from the cooler climate of regions like France will put forward more savory flavors, with higher levels of acidity often appearing to have more of a spice taste to them. On the other side of the spectrum, the warmer climates of Argentine Malbec can be received as being more fruity in taste, with hints of blackberry and plum flavors.
When it comes to the other key features of a strong red wine, Sanchez would argue that the Malbec has it covered, too. “Wines have acid and texture. This has the perfect amount of acid for me. And what is body? A light body wine is like skim milk, a medium body is like regular milk, and a heavy body is like heavy cream. It’s a mouth feel. And I think that if you embrace that thought process when you have a wine, it kinda makes sense.”
He goes as far to say that you can’t get a better pairing than the Malbec for what comes off a summer grill. “It is the number one steak wine out there. Forget your cavs, forget your merlots, I’m sorry - I’m going to tell you right now, [Malbec] doesn’t compete with the food, which is the most important. It’s about the balance and harmony.” And for the dynamic chef, his relationship with Terrazas de los Andes comes from his personal preference of both taste and heritage. “I feel a connection with my Latin roots being Mexican-American. I thought it was essential for me to embrace a wine that spoke to my roots and family traditions.”
The wine marries different cuts of beef in different ways. “It can deal with a filet mignon easily, which has little to no fat, a luxurious cut. A fillet mignon needs a little love. It’s melt in your mouth, buttery and rich - but it doesn’t have the fat. And a Malbec will give you the fat. And then you have a skirt steak that’s the beautiful mixture of lean and fat, but it’s got very little texture because it’s thin. So that needs a little help from a Malbec.”
It’s not uncommon for people to be overwhelmed when it comes to pairing wines with various foods. In the sea of options the face shoppers at the wine stores, it’s a slightly daunting experience for the best of us. “All you need to do is to think about what is that one wine that you can have with everything - on its own, with food, and for me, it’s Terrazas de los Andes, and Malbec specificially. It speaks to so many different food preparations - whether it’s the grill, cheese, toast, salads, or canapés. You just need that one wine that brings everything together. Usually when i create food, it’s the sauce that’s the unifying thing that unites everything. I look at Terrazas de los Andes Malbec as the sauce. It’s the one cohesive element that brings everything together.”
And similarly, it’s as important to make sure that element is looked after, in the same way that you’d prepare other ingredients in a meal. It’s an all too common experience to have red wines served at the wrong temperature, particularly in the summer months. “Take your Malbec and make sure that it’s not hot - that it’s not sitting in the sun,” advises Sanchez. “Throw it in the ice bucket when you’re outside grilling. And when you’re at a restaurant, and you’re sitting in the direct sun, and see that wine that’s been out there getting warm - no bueno. Send it back.”
So, open a bottle of Malbec and fire up your grill.