One of the most satisfying wine pairings out there, steak & red wine is the kind of “yang” to the “ying” of fish & white. And while a juicy cut of beef with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon seems to fit the bill more often than not, pairing wine with steak can be a more complex endeavor. As is true with all food, the specific characteristics of your ingredient and the way it is prepared will influence the style of wine that matches it best. To help you learn to choose the perfect wine for your steak recipe, we have listed various steak styles and recommended wines with which to enjoy them.
One of the most gourmet beef preparations, steak tartare typically features raw, hand-chopped or minced beef bound by a raw egg yolk and sometimes flavored with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, shallots, capers or pickled gherkins. While the flavors of the meat are quite delicate here, the seasoning can be spicy or piquant, requiring a fresh, fruity wine to counteract it. We recommend a Gamay from a Beaujolais cru (like Morgon), an unoaked Cotes-du-Rhone or even a fuller-bodied rosé wine, like a Bandol or Tavel.
A steak with a high degree of fat or marbling will generally pair well with a more robust red wine with grippy tannins and mouthwatering acidity. The tannins will act as an astringent, drying out the mouth to prepare it for the juicy, fatty meat, while the acidity will counteract any excess fat and “clean” the palate. For fattier steaks (such as a porterhouse, ribeye, prime rib or filet mignon) we recommend a Tempranillo from Rioja in Spain, or a Cabernet-based red, like a Pauillac or Margaux. Meanwhile, leaner cuts (like a sirloin tip, top sirloin or top round roast) may pair better with light or medium-bodied red wines, like an aged Pinot Noir from Burgundy, whose gentle tannins will go beautifully with the more delicate lean meat.
The bloody, slightly irony flavor of a steak prepared rare tends to minimize the astringent effect of a young, tannic wine more so than a well-done steak will. So, in general, the rarer the steak, the more tannic wines it can handle, mellowing out the taste of the latter. To experience this, try pairing a rare steak with a younger vintage Bordeaux or Sangiovese-based Tuscan wine or Super Tuscan. Meanwhile, a medium-rare or well-done steak should be paired with something with lighter, smoother tannins, like an aged Merlot-based Bordeaux red wine, like a Saint-Emilion or Pomerol.
Steak sporting char-lines from the grill or a grainy spice-rub crust could go nicely with more fruit-forward New World red wine (such as a Pinot Noir from Oregon) or a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. The ripe fruit in these wines will balance out the slightly bitter char or spice of the meat, leading to perfect harmony in each bite. Be careful not to pair these steak styles with wines that are very tannic or high in alcohol, as the latter may over-accentuate the heat of the spices.
A juicy cut of beef can be further elevated by serving it with a savory sauce, the texture and flavors of which must be taken into consideration when choosing the wine pairing. A classic entrecote bordelaise, which comes in a robust sauce of red wine and shallots could be ideal to pair with an equally bold Bordeaux or a red wine from Roussillon. A peppercorn sauce could pair beautifully with an unoaked Syrah from the northern Rhone Valley or a Zinfandel from California, whose hint of spice will match the sauce nicely. A creamy, tarragon-scented Bearnaise will go nicely with an oak-aged Pinot Noir or even a rich white wine from Chardonnay, like an oaky Meursault. For a classic green sauce and wine pairing, try a chimichurri steak with a Malbec from Argentina. And for steak coated with a tangy barbecue sauce or hoisin glaze, try a voluptuous rosé Champagne.
When steaks are dry-aged on the bone for several days, moisture evaporates from the meat and its flavors become more concentrated and complex. Earthy, nutty, gamey nuances may come to the forefront, resulting in a more rustic, almost umami quality. In order not to overwhelm these subtle nuances of flavor, it is important to choose a wine with some personality but nothing too strong, a red wine with fine, smooth tannins and a bit of age. We recommend a Nebbiolo-based wine from the Piedmont region of Italy, like an aged Barolo or Barbaresco whose nose of rose petals, tar and meat will make this wine the ideal match with a cut of dry-aged beef.
From a chilled mound of raw beef tartare to a black-pepper crusted New York Strip, steak comes in many shapes and sizes. And while steak and red wine makes for the most classic pairing, the specific style of wine to pair with each kind of steak dish should take into account the natural characteristics of the cut and how it is prepared. Do not limit yourself to Cabernet Sauvignon! Try a variety of different wine and steak pairings to discover your favorite.