How To Impress With Your Wine Pairing Prowess - The really easy guide to pairing red wine with steak
The ability to match the perfect wine to the perfect steak is a skill that is often overlooked yet very much appreciated when the steak is on the table and the glasses are yet to be filled.
When doing our research for this article we were set upon by wine blogs and industry buffs who advised, in 5,000-word articles, that the absolute pinnacle of wine to pair with your 90 days aged ribeye was an obscure bottle of red that was covered in dust and came with an eye-watering price tag. I have no doubt that this wine would be fantastic with the steak, it may even truly be the best wine for it.
However, that’s not much use when you’re standing in the wine aisle with mouth agape, staring at all the labels, colours, and bottle shapes.
Do you bin your steak night because they don’t have a 1986 vintage shiraz? Of course not.
Forget what you know about stuffy sommeliers in cravats or snooty waiters with collars so crisp they could cut like a knife. Grabbing a good bottle from the shelf to go with dinner is no longer the preserve of the select few. By just remembering a few key points, you too can feel like Bond when ordering in a restaurant or impress the socks off of guests by whipping out a Malbec with the meat course.
We will touch on the tannin content of wine compared to the marbling of your steak and how the flavour correlates to create a sumptuous pairing but, for now, at least, let's start off easy by remembering the two almost common sense keys of pairing wine with steak.
Fatty steak requires a full-bodied wine.
Leaner steak requires a lighter wine.
Just by remembering these two tenets of steak and wine pairing, you are already ahead of about 50% of the population but let's take it a little bit further. Its all fine and well saying you need a full-bodied wine with your fatty and flavourful cut of meat but what does that mean when you’re staring at row upon row of bottles?
Here are the types of wine that count as full-bodied and light. Look for these labels on the bottle and match them with the steak in your basket. We’ll refine down even further a bit later but should you get to know these varieties of wine and their pairings then that bumps you up into at least the top 30% of amateur aficionados.
Light - Medium Reds for Lean Steak
Full-Bodied Reds for Fatty and Flavourful Steak
This table of wines will get you out of trouble most of the time and make for a very pleasant evening or take the pressure out of ordering from a wine list.
That's a great start but can we go more in-depth?
If you do want to dig a bit deeper down and really uncover the greatest pairings of wine with the perfect steaks that, when combined, produce an eating experience unlike anything else. We need to start taking a more in-depth look at the steak itself, how it is served, and even the way it is cooked.
We’ll start with the cooking aspect because, believe it or not, the doneness of your steak will have a bearing on how well the wine pairs with it. You may even have to switch varieties to get the best possible pair.
In short, if you like your steak on the rarer side then the meat will actually affect and lessen the sensation of tannins in the wine. This means that rare steak is ideally paired with younger wines, namely Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignons, as the meat will mellow the flavour out and make it a lot more enjoyable.
The inverse is also true, if you prefer steak to be left in the pan a little longer then a smoother and more aged wine would be a better choice. Neither old nor young wine paired with rare or well-cooked steak would be a bad choice specifically, but these are the nuances to look out for.
Another thing to take into account is the sear on the steak. If you have a thick and brown crust on your steak, aside from being glorious in flavour, it will add a note of bitterness to the meat. To counteract this, you need to reach for something a little bit sweeter like a good new world Sauvignon.
The last thing you’ll want to consider when turning a good pairing into a spectacular one is what is going onto the plate along with your cut of beef.
Your typical accoutrements such as vegetables and potatoes aren’t going g to have a huge bearing on the taste of the steak and wine that is in the glass next to it. However, the sauce you lovingly pour over the meat will make an impact and will need to be considered when pairing.
The firm fan favourite sauces like your rich red wine sauce will require a richer wine that is still able to pierce through the flavours and make itself known on your pallet. A good rule of thumb is to always drink a step up from what you cook with when it comes to wine sauces and wine on the table.
If you prefer a peppercorn sauce on your steak then reach for a bottle of something less acidic and crucially less alcoholic. The pepper in the sauce and the acidity from the wine and the alcohol content can quickly overwhelm you with hot and spicy flavours.
Lastly, and potentially most controversially, if you’re going for an old school Béarnaise sauce then ditch the red altogether. The composition of the Béarnaise with its emulsified eggs, white wine vinegar, and a handful of herbs lends itself a lot better to a rich white wine like a full-bodied chardonnay. This leads us on to our next point.
Can you drink white wine with beef or must it always be red?
The easiest and quickest answer to this question is, of course, no. You can drink whichever wine you like with whatever cut of steak you prefer. I’ve raised my fair share of waiter eyebrows with seemingly strange combinations in restaurants but half of the fun of eating good food is trying new things!
You’re not going to make a great bottle of white wine undrinkable by ordering steak and likewise, you won’t make a fantastic cut of beef taste like cardboard by having a glass of rosé. It's all subjective.
On a more real level though, the reason why steak is paired with red wine 99% of the time is that the flavour profile of 99% of red wines compliments the profile of beef that wines such as white and rosé simply do not.
So what should I grab from the shelf for my steak dinner tonight?
Well, hopefully, this article has given you enough knowledge to make a well-informed decision based on what steak you have, how you like to eat it, and what’s available on the shelf.
There are literally thousands of grape varieties out there that can produce some fantastic wine that will only get better when paired with the perfect cut of meat.
We’ve given you the established favourites and what goes well with them. Consider this your jumping-off point into the world of wines and steaks so go spread your wings and discover some of the huge varieties of wines out there, you may find a new favourite.