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Feb 18, 2014
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WINE WITH…Steak and Choka (Spicy Tomato Sauce)

It was Valentine’s Day and we were trying for a sunny taste of Trinidad on a frigid evening here in America’s mid-Atlantic region. We had to improvise to make the Choka, which traditionally calls for good, ripe fresh tomatoes. Since it’s impossible to find anything resembling “good” tomatoes this time of year, we settled for canned. There was no question of venturing into the icy world outside our kitchen door to char tomatoes over a fire. Instead, we oven-roasted them until they were almost caramelized. But how to give the requisite smoky flavor? Smoked paprika to the rescue. Even without warm sun and a blue Caribbean ocean, dinner was delicious. And with some fancy wine to taste, romantic too.

Steak and Choka

Serves 2

The sauce may be made several hours or up to a day ahead.

One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, slivered
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons finely minced cilantro

One flat iron or skirt steak, grilled or pan-seared and sliced in strips about ½ inch thick.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place the tomatoes in a strainer and drain them well. Spread them on a small, sided baking sheet and toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes, then stir, pressing down on the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Return to the oven for another few minutes then stir in the onions and garlic. Return the pan to the oven for a few minutes, then stir and press again. Continue this process until the tomatoes are beginning to brown, about 35-40 minutes total.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients. Drizzle in another spoonful or so of olive oil and taste for seasoning. Serve hot or cold to accompany the steak.

* * *

Even without the frigid temperatures outside our kitchen during this winter of discontent, steak and choka is definitely a red wine dish. But what sort of red wine works best? We tried a wide variety, and given that it was Valentine’s Day pulled out some fancy bottles. You don’t need to spend that much when making your choice, but do look for a rich, fulsome wine, with firm tannins and evident acidity. Softer reds tasted flabby and inconsequential, while the ones we are recommending provided multiple delights.


Approx. Price


Fairview, Paarl (South Africa) Shiraz “The Beacon” 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Less showy than many Aussie renditions of this grape variety and less severe than many French Syrahs, this South African beauty was deep and long on the palate. It has a noticeable streak of acidity which not only helps it stay balanced but also enables it to pair well with tomatoes like those in the Choka.

Chento, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Vineyard Selection” 2010

(Imported by Terlato Wines International)


A very powerful Malbec, full of deep, ripe dark fruit flavor with a slightly sweet because somewhat floral bouquet, this wine made the dish as a whole seem brawny and muscular. If you’re a fan of bold, assertive reds, this pairing is what you’re after.

Famille Perrin, Gigondas, Rhône Valley (France) “La Gille” 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Like many southern Rhône reds, this wine has a smoky character of its own. Not surprisingly, it complemented the Choka especially nicely.

Nickel & Nickel, Rutherford, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “C. C. Ranch” 2010


A very classy California Cabernet, with a hint of sweetness in the finish and multiple layers of sumptuous flavor. We decanted it after taking our first sip, and the wine opened up spectacularly.


Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2010


More tightly wound than the Nickel & Nickel, this nonetheless is a quite sophisticated rendition of Napa’s finest grape variety. Very long on the palate, it became almost exotic when matched with the Choka, its fruit playing a secondary role to its appealing cedar, vanilla, and spice character.