There are some iconic pairings that are burned into our collective consciousness. Peanut butter and jelly. Salty and sweet. Jeans and t-shirts. Cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats – you get the picture.
However, though, there is one combo that beats them all – at least, if you love wine and meat.
Wine with a steak is a great way to elevate the flavors of both your drink and your food.
A great wine can provide an acidic tang and a delightful sweetness that pairs perfectly with the salty, fatty, umami butteriness of a steak. Take a big, take a swig, and delight in the flavor sensation of pairing a wine with a steak.
Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion like an anniversary or a promotion at a steakhouse, and eating a dry-aged, Wagyu beef filet – or you’re just living your best life, and cooking yourself a ribeye steak on a Tuesday night, indulging is all the better when you know you’ve got the perfect wine to pair with your tender steak.
Not an experienced wine aficionado? Not sure how to identify different types of steak, or choose between the perfect pairs? Don’t worry. Food and wine pairings aren’t just the purview of snooty artisans and sommeliers – with a bit of basic know-how and information about steak and wine, you can create a truly unforgettable flavor experience, even in the comfort of your home kitchen. Read on, and find out how.
A Note On Steaks
There are two primary factors which, in our minds, help determine which steak should be paired with which wine. They are as follows.
Fattiness – A more fatty steak should usually be paired with a less robust wine. Too much richness can overwhelm the palate. High acidity is also nice with a fatty steak, as it helps counterbalance the umami flavors.
Seasoning – A steak that’s flavored only with salt and pepper can be accompanied by almost any wine, as it has a very versatile flavor. Steaks flavored with sweet ingredients, though, should not be accompanied by a sweet wine. This is too much of a good thing.
Conversely, heavily-seasoned or spiced meats should not be accompanied with a robust or spicy wine, but a more light, sweet, and fruity wine.
It’s up to you which style and cut of steak to order – but keep these guidelines in mind, and you’ll have an easier time creating your pairing.
The Best Wine with Steak
First things first – let’s clear a few things up. You don’t want to start experimenting until you learn the basics.
Sure, you can have a cocktail with steak. An Old Fashioned is delightful, and the spiciness of the bourbon helps accentuate the flavors of a well-seasoned steak. And white wine can also be delicious – but it’s not a perfect pair for steak.
Red wine is what you should choose to go with a steak. It’s easy to remember – red meat gets red wine. Beef is typically accompanied by a red – while a “white” meat like chicken or fish is best served with a white. Some meat, like pork, don’t fit neatly in either category – and can be paired with either.
You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them. So, before you go experimenting with pairing cocktails or white wine with steak, start with the basics – such as a high-quality red wine.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our top 5 red wine styles to pair with steaks.
You can’t go wrong with a cabernet – often called the “people pleaser” of red wines. There are a huge number of cabernets available, and they usually have a very balanced flavor that’s perfect for beginners. Cabernets have a high acidity that cuts through fatty and umami foods brilliantly, providing a tanginess that’s absolutely splendid with a good steak.
Cabernet grapes are grown all around the world. But don’t just go assuming that imported wine is always better. While France and Chile have fantastic reputations for quality, Napa Valley in California also produces some of the best cabernets in the world.
Zinfandel is a great choice if you tend to enjoy sweeter wines, rather than acidic and “dry” wines which are heavy in tannins and other flavor compounds. This varietal of grape has a high sugar content, so it can be made into wine with a 15% or higher alcohol level, or the sugar can be preserved, leading to a sweeter wine.
If you choose a Zinfandel, avoid steaks that have a sweet seasoning, such as a brown sugar glaze. Pair it with a steak that has a spicy, zesty flavor. The sweetness will help counterbalance the spice, and clear your palate between each bite. Many Zinfandels are made in California – and that’s what we’d recommend buying, as the wine will be affordable and delicious.
Malbec is a bolder red wine, with a dark and inky color and a rich flavor profile full of tannins. However, despite this, Malbec does not have a woody or oaky aroma, but a more fruity profile, with juicy notes of citrus and other fruits. The color of a Malbec should be inky red – or almost violet.
Due to its fruity flavor and bold scent, Malbec is a great choice to accompany a more lean cut of steak, such as a top sirloin or a flank steak. While you can eat Malbec with a fattier cut like filet mignon, its richness may overwhelm the flavor of the meat.
What country has the best Malbec? Argentina is a fantastic choice, but France also makes fantastic Malbecs, as do some areas of California.
4. Syrah (Shiraz)
Looking for a red wine that goes beautifully with cuts of steak that have more fat, like ribeye? A Syrah varietal is the perfect choice. Cuts of steak like ribeye often require a heavier, more robust wine to balance them, and provide a counterpoint to the richness of the fatty, marbled meat.
The terms Syrah and Shiraz are interchangeable, so you may see wines marketed under both varietals. There is also quite a bit of variety within the wine, as the grapes are heavily influenced by the temperatures at which they grow.
In areas with moderate climates, like the Rhone Valley in France, Syrah tends to be rich, peppery, and have a high acidity and tannin level. But in hotter climates, like Crete and the Mclaren Vale of Australia, the wine is more full-bodied, with softer tannins and a more fruity flavor.
Syrah is also a very good aging wine. Older Syrah wines tend to pick up an earthy, leathery flavor which balances out the fruitiness and spiciness of the grape perfectly. Pick up a vintage wine if you’d like to indulge yourself.
What countries produce the best Syrah? Australia is a good choice for a hot-climate wine, and France earns top marks for temperate Syrah, while Spain can provide a good mixture of both.
5. Your Own Favorite Red
Here’s the thing about pairing a red wine with steak – it’s hard to go wrong if you just choose your favorite! Even if it’s a wine that’s not on this list, such as a Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Sangiovese – or even a blend.
Fine dining is all about finding your own personal preferences and favorites. Sure, it’s nice to try new things every once in a while, but if you have a red wine that you absolutely love, you should ignore all of our advice – and pair it with your next steak!
Your goal is to enjoy your dinner, not impress food or wine snobs who will snark at your selection of wine. While the above guidelines are helpful if you want to try new things, you’re always free to choose to accompany your meal with whatever beverage you want. Heck, if you want to drink a white wine like Pinot Grigio with your steak, feel free! Grab a frozen margarita to drink with your ribeye! Accompany your filet with a root beer, if you want!
Anything goes. The only way to find out the very best steak and wine pairing for yourself is to taste different wines, and experiment. And, once you find a combination you love, you can feel free to stick with it – or try new things! It’s your call.
Creating a Flavor Story
The key to creating a beautiful flavor story for your meal is to experiment, mix and match, and try combinations that you love. So think about what you’ve learned above – and if all this talk of wine and steak has got you drooling for a filet and a glass of red, contact our restaurant near you, and make a reservation today.