Best Wines to Pair With Steak
If you’ve ever ordered wine and steak at a restaurant, you have likely heard the old adage: “red meat gets red wine.”
While you might presume some historical or cultural reasoning for this, the logic behind this tried-and-true rule of wine and food pairing is pretty simple. Red wines are higher in tannins, the compounds that give a bottle of red its “drying” effect, so they form an excellent partnership with fatty, juicy meats -- like steak.
So, whether you prefer a lean-cut filet mignon or a hearty, bone-in ribeye, a bottle of red is your best bet. But what are the best red wines for steak? Are certain reds better for specific cuts of meat? Does a wine’s home region affect how well it pairs with beef?
We’ll dive into all this and more in our guide to the best wines for your steak:
1. Cabernet Sauvignon
The ultimate crowd-pleaser of the red wine family, it’s hard to go wrong with a rich, fruit-forward bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Noted for its dark, fruity notes, high acidity, and prominent tannins, “Cabs” pair well with a wide variety of steaks. It’s critical to match lean beef with light Cabs and fatty beef with heavy Cabs to make the most of your next cabernet-steak pairing.
Leaner cuts of steak, such as a filet mignon, have a lower fat content and a subtle flavor profile. To complement this, try a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, noted for lower levels of tannin and lesser alcohol content, to avoid overshadowing your meal. We recommend looking for “New World” Cabs grown in warmer climates, such as California, Australia, and South Africa.
Fattier cuts of steak, such as a ribeye or a New York Strip, feature a robust flavor profile that pairs better with highly acidic Cabs displaying prominent tannins. This type of Cabernet Sauvignon often originates in “Old World” growing areas such as France and cooler regions of Italy, notable for their consistently chillier growing conditions.
2. Red Zinfandel
If the highly acidic, tannin-forward flavor of a Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t for you, a delightfully spicy and delectably sweet Red Zinfandel can be an excellent option.
While light in color and body, a bottle of Red Zinfandel can perfectly complement a savory, fatty steak -- as long as it’s seasoned properly. Originating from popular New World regions like California’s Napa Valley, a Red “Zin” serves as a refreshing change of pace from the full-bodied reds you often see paired with beef.
To highlight the pleasant combination of airy sweetness and invigorating spice in a Zinfandel, we recommend pairing it with bold, fatty steaks like New York strip and ribeye but pay close attention to how your beef is seasoned.
To maximize the flavor of your Red Zin, stick to steaks with spicy or zesty seasoning, as sweet sauces (such as a barbecue-style sauce) can over-accentuate the sweet notes of a Zinfandel, making for an unpleasant experience.
Growing in international popularity and recognition, Malbec represents an up-and-coming varietal in the red wine industry.
From exciting New World regions like Chile to Old World havens like the French countryside, this tantalizing varietal makes for various excellent steak-wine pairings.
Bold, dark in color, and moderately tannic, a bottle of Malbec offsets its dry, full-bodied structure with various fruit flavors such as blackberry, plum, and black cherry.
Combined with notes of tobacco, cocoa powder, vanilla, and rich leather, these flavors harmonize to create a complex symphony of taste that allows Malbec to compliment a steak without overwhelming its flavor.
On that note, we recommend combining Malbec with leaner cuts of steak -- such as a sirloin or flank steak. These lighter, streamlined cuts work perfectly with the moderate tannins of the Malbec to create a combination that will enhance the flavor of your beef and vino.
For an even fuller Malbec experience, we recommend trying an Argentinian varietal. As it is the country’s most popular, celebrated, and exported wine, Malbec from this South American growing region is sure to spice up any steak dinner.
Known as Syrah in French vineyards and “Shiraz” in Australian ones, Syrah is famous for its versatility in the world of food-wine pairing.
Grown in Old and New World regions alike, this medium to full-bodied varietal perfectly combines tart, fruity notes of blackberry, blueberry, and boysenberry with hints of pepper, coffee, and tobacco to create a wholly original flavor profile.
Balancing medium levels of sweetness with powerful punches of tannins and acidity, this harmonious varietal makes for an excellent companion to thick, marbled steaks such as prime rib and ribeye as well as leaner cuts such as skirt steak and flank steak.
Since Syrah pairs so well with various steaks, it also offers you the opportunity to add more daring blends of sauce and spice to your meal. To highlight the wine’s smoky, peppery notes, we recommend trying a barbecue-style sauce that adds character to your meat while further complimenting your varietal.
While Syrah won’t pair well with light meats, we recommend combining medium-bodied varietals with lighter steaks and full-bodied varietals with fattier steaks. By matching taste, consistency, and boldness, you’re sure to get the most from your Syrah-steak partnership.
Originally reigning from the much-beloved French region of Bordeaux, Merlot subverts some of the primary characteristics of red wine to create a varietal that uniquely complements beef.
Despite its soft to moderate tannins and minimal acidity (as far as reds go), Merlot still features the “dry” texture, well-balanced combination of fruity notes (primarily cherry and plum), and bold personality needed to couple up with a nice cut of beef.
Whether you’re sampling a Merlot from a cooler, Old World growing region like France or Italy or warmer, New World harvest areas like California and Australia, we recommend looking for medium-bodied varietals that will compliment lean steaks like filet mignon and full-bodied varietals to pair with fattier cuts like a porterhouse or ribeye.
A flexible varietal with room to adapt to your spices, sauces, and seasoning, Merlot’s trademark fruity notes won’t dominate lighter beef or shy away when combined with gamey meats.
The Perfect Food and Wine Pairings
Now that you know what wine goes with steak, it’s time to explore our expansive and lovingly curated selection of red wines here at Wine Insiders. Whether you’re making a tender filet mignon or a fatty New York strip, we have all the reds you need to find the perfect pairing for every occasion.
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