Frank Family wine tastings are always fun, whether you are at the winery or joining one of their virtual tastings. Their latest online event was even better than usual, as the winery staff was joined by a North Carolina pit master.
Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting a pit master to offer much help on cooking steaks. I think of a pit master as being great with Boston butts or pork shoulders or even whole hogs, cooking low and slow. But Jack Arnold, the Davidson, N.C. pit master, was terrific. He cooked two kinds of steak, tomahawk and filet, and they both looked great.
I even tried some of his techniques, and they made my steaks better. But that’s the way it is with the Frank Family tastings. I’m always learning something.
This tasting was in honor of Independence Day and the founding of Frank Family Vineyards, which opened July 4, 1993.
The story is pretty well known by now. Rich Frank was a Disney executive in Los Angeles and loved flying to Napa Valley for relaxing weekends. He found a wine property he loved and bought into it. Later he bought out his partner and planted more vines in prime Napa Valley locations.
“I started by wanting to make wines to give to my friends at Christmas,” said Frank Family founder Rich Frank. “The people came and the business grew by word of mouth.”
Now it is one of the most popular wineries in California, winning awards for its wines and acclaim for the fun people have in its tasting rooms. When COVID-19 closed California tasting rooms Frank Family was one of the first to offer virtual tastings. Now with tasting rooms re-opening, they continue to reach people around the country with virtual tastings.
I think I have joined every virtual tasting they offered, and every time has been a load of fun.
They usually offer instruction in preparing different dishes to go with their fabulous wines. I don’t usually join the cooking because I don’t have a great way to watch the virtual tasting while I’m cooking. But I usually try the recipes later, and they almost always are great.
This time it was Arnold showing us how to cook KOW Cattle Company’s American Wagyu Beef on the Big Green Egg. I’m not a Big Green Egg fan, but I can crank my large Weber kettle up to 600 degrees or so, and I have a brick oven that can get even hotter, so I still was able to get some great ideas on cooking steaks.
The food was paired with 2015 Blanc de Blancs, 2017 S&J Vineyard Petite Sirah and 2017 RHF Cabernet Sauvignon. I usually order the wines they offer as a special package for the tastings, but I was late getting around to it. I had the wines in my cellar so it worked out fine. And even if you don’t order the wine, the tastings are fun to watch.
Arnold started things off by putting a 3.5 pound tomahawk steak right on the grill with no salt and no flavorings. KOW Cattle Company’s American Wagyu Beef offers first rate American Wagyu beef. That style of beef originated in Japan but the cattle are now also grown in the United States. The meat is more heavily marbled, leading to more tender steaks with better flavor.
Arnold then put the filets on a cooler part of the grill.
“I constantly flip the steaks to get the crust on it,” he said. “With burgers I don’t flip.”
He had his grill at about 400 degrees for direct cooking. He also cooks pizza on his egg, using a pizza stone and indirect heat.
Arnold said he had been barbecuing since third grade, and he likes using charcoal. Some of his techniques he picked up from his father, who was born and raised in Texas.
The first wine we tasted was the Blanc de Blancs. Many people don’t think about sparkling wine with with steak or other red meat, but it is the perfect pairing. A good sparkler will have good acidity to cut right through the heaviness of the meat.
The Frank Family crew started by sipping the Blanc de Blancs while Arnold prepared the meat, but they also had some handy for when it was time to eat.
The Frank Family sparkling wine is one of the best you will find. It is made entirely from Chardonnay grown at the Lewis Family Vineyard. It is produced just like a fine Champagne from France, and at a much lower price. After the first fermentation it spends four years on the yeast, giving it more creaminess and mellowness.
Many wineries don’t fool with sparkling wine because it is labor intensive and capital intensive. You have to let the wine sit for several years before you can sell it, so you have a lot of money tied up in the cellar. But for Frank Family and their fans it is worth it.
Frank Family produces great cab, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah and Sangiovese, but their sparkling wines are as good as any in the world. One of my favorite is their Rouge, a red sparkling wine that sells out every year. Wine maker Todd Graff has a great touch with a wide variety of grapes.
As Arnold worked his magic with the steaks, Graff talked about how winemaking is a lot like grilling.
“You do less with the grapes in the cellar when you have better grapes,” he said, explaining that the magic happens in the vineyard. “The same is true with meat. The better the meat the less you have to do to it.”
Arnold said he was cooking the filets using the reverse sear method. He smokes the meat at 270-275 degrees. When the internal temperature is right, he leaves the lid open and gets a crust on the meat to seal in the juices.
He frequently measured the temperature of the steaks and then pulled them off the fire when they were just right, 130-135 degrees for medium rare.
“The resting stage is the key,” he said. “It lets the juice distribute itself throughout the meat. The smaller the steak the less resting time. Small filets rest about 10 minutes.”
Then he brushed the steaks with teriyaki sauce and after they rested he sliced them (“always against the grain”), and served them on a Bibb lettuce leaf, with cucumber, shredded carrot and sesame seeds. He rolled up the leaf and secured it with a toothpick, and it was ready to serve.
Now it was time to eat and the guests at the Frank Family winery raved about it. They even served some as surprise treats for guests who just stopped by for a wine tasting.
Rich Frank talked about why the Blanc de Blancs is so good. “The Chardonnay grape has such great structure and length and intensity,” he said.
The Lewis Family Vineyard Chardonnay is wonderful as a still wine and spectacular as a sparkler.
Liam Gearity, director of direct-to-consumer sales and hospitality for Frank Family, loved the Blanc de Blancs.
“The versatility of sparkling wines is amazing,” he said, marveling at how sparkling wines pair with just about any food you could find. “”On this one I taste some pear, some citrus flavor.”
When eating the steaks the Franks and their guests also drank the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Petite Sirah, two great wines with red meat.
Arnold took the filets off first and served them as appetizers. Then he took the tomahawk and started working on it. He first sprinkled crumbles of bleu cheese on the steak and let it melt in.
“Even if you don’t like bleu cheese you will like this on the Wagyu beef,” he said
Then he cut off the cap before slicing the beef and served individual slices. As people ate their steak, all you could see were smiles.
“Always remove the cap before cutting up this steak,” he said.
While they were eating, I was sipping the wines. I used my Coravin, because I knew I wouldn’t drink three bottles of wine, even with Teri’s help. We did drink some of the wine with dinner later that night–burgers on the grill.
The RHF Cab is named for owner Richard Harvey Frank, and it’s a stunner. Rich and full-bodied, loaded with fruit, it is a wine worth putting up in the cellar. The 2017 is only the second vintage of this wine.
“The RHF also stands for Rutherford Hill and Floor,” said Gearity during an earlier tasting, “because it includes fruit from hillside and valley floor grapes in Rutherford. RHF is the sweet spot between ripe fruit and herbal notes.”
It is one of the best cabs Frank Family makes.
I should have poured this wine early because it kept getting better in the glass as it breathed.
The Petite Sirah is from the S&J Vineyard, east of Atlas Peak. Besides Cabernet Sauvignon they grow six acres of Petite Sirah there.
“This is like a Mustang, a Camero,” said Graff. “It’s muscular.”
It’s a great barbecue wine, full of ripe fruit. I especially picked up blueberry in the flavor.
“This is a great job,” said Rich Frank as he tasted another bite of steak. And he would know. He has done some grilling of his own in past tastings.
Gearity said the Petite Sirah pulls off all the beef butter (Arnold’s term for the marbling in the steak).
“The Petite Sirah gets better as it ages,” said Graff. “As it ages, it gets Burgundian. That’s when you pair it with lamb. The wine gets softer.”
The Petite Sirah is especially robust because the grapes have such thick skins. All the tannins and phenolic compounds are in the skin, stems and seeds. Because the skin is so thick, you extract more tannins when you make wine.
Grilled Teriyaki Lettuce Wraps
- 7 oz KOW Steaks American Wagyu Beef
- 1 head Boston Bibb lettuce
- 1 Large carrot (shredded)
- 1 Large English cucumber (sliced thin)
- 1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce
- Sesame seeds (to taste)
- Cook filet on Big Green Egg, or grill of choice, unseasoned. Jack suggests cooking until the steak reaches an internal temperature of medium-rare (130-135°F).
- Remove from heat and immediately brush steak with teriyaki sauce. Let rest, approximately 5-10 minutes. Slice to desired thickness.
- Unfold Boston bibb lettuce. Place one or two slices of teriyaki brushed steak inside.
- Top with desired amount of shredded carrot, sliced cucumber, and sesame seeds. Roll, toothpick to secure in place and serve while warm.