But they differ a lot, so if your travel plans might be taking you to Tuscany or Argentina, get ready for polar opposites. And while both are world famous, neither reminds me of the good ol’ U.S.A.
Here at home, cattle are fed grain for the final few weeks before being turned into steaks. This increases the marbling of fat within the muscles, which increases flavor and tenderness. Then the steaks are aged, allowing fibers to break down to make them even more tender.
In Argentina, beef is king, and just about everyone is an accomplished live fire cook. How they do it I don’t know, though I have closely watched the asadores ply their craft several times, from Buenos Aires steak houses to outdoor grills in the countryside’s sprawling estancias or cattle ranches.
The beef there is different, in fact more challenging. First of all, they don’t grain the cattle. And they don’t age the beef, either. They cook natural, grass-fed beef, “pampered on the pampas.” It’s a real challenge as such lean beef cooks quickly. Yet, in my experience it turns out great. They often serve it with their much-loved malbec, a red wine grape originally from southwest France.
In Tuscany, one of the classic dishes is bistecca alla fiorentina or “Steak Florentine.” It’s a T-bone cut from a local breed of cattle called Chianina — tall, light-colored cattle raised there since Roman times.
The steaks are grilled over embers of oak trees, occasionally olive trees, and sometimes grapevines. They’re cut very thick, cooked quickly and served quite rare. The local grape in Tuscany is called sangiovese, and its wine is a very good and predictably classic accompaniment.
But what’s really better with a great American steak than a good California cabernet sauvignon? Recommendation: a 2007 cabernet from Vina Robles that I recently enjoyed. It’s an estate-grown wine from the California Central Coast town of Paso Robles, great with a steak, and $20-$25 a bottle.
• Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas. www.brucecochran.com