If you think about your favorite dishes, they’re probably all elevated by a strategic combination of flavors, textures, and aromas. But wine pairing holds a special place in the hierarchy of food combinations.
Pairing wine with any food, and particularly steak, is surrounded by an undeserved mystique. The truth is all you need to do is stick to a few simple guidelines and you’ll have the perfect wine to match your steak every time.
In this post, we’re going to teach you the simple and easy way to pair wine with steak.
The first thing you need to know about how to pick the right wine for your food is that there’s no right or wrong answer. Sure, some wines taste “better” than others with certain dishes, but the main deciding factor is what tastes best for you.
There are two broad ways to pair wines – congruent pairing and contrasting pairing. Contrasting is easier to understand because it’s simply seeking balance by contrasting tastes and flavors. When you’re looking for the right wine for your steak, you’ll mostly try to find a contrasting pair.
Congruent pairings do the opposite. That is, match flavors with other flavors that complement them.
In wines, you’ll find three basic flavors or taste components. They are sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. What you won’t find in wines is fatness, saltiness, or spiciness.
On the other hand, you’ve got steak.
Steak has saltiness, fat, and meatiness or umami as it’s three basic flavors along with myriad minor notes. So you’ll be looking to cut through the fat in the steak with a matching degree of acidity, complement the umami with sweetness, and mellow out the saltiness with bitter notes.
You also want to consider how the steak is cooked. An open-fire grilled steak will be a little less overpowering that one sauteed in butter, for instance.
Most of the wines that will fit the description above are going to be red. Here’s a simple mnemonic, red meat goes with red wine. And here are the top red picks:
Cabernet is the most popular wine for a reason. Cabernets have a relatively balanced flavor profile and tend to have the acid and bitterness to cut through even the meatiest of meats.
Cabernet Sauvignon is your get out of jail free card if you’re trying to pair a wine with your steak. It’s available everywhere and it comes in a variety of price levels so you can be as fancy as you like with your steak dinner. If you need a recommendation, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons are among the best in the world.
Zinfandel is a more specific choice and it shows you’ve got a plan going into this pairing. And that’s because Zinfandel has moderate bitterness and acidity, and more fruity notes. But that doesn’t make it a poor choice.
The bitterness in Zinfandel is just right to wash away some of the meaty flavors of a New York strip steak or ribeye without competing too hard for your attention. The dark fruit flavors are also an excellent complement for a medium done steak without excessive fat content. Zinfandels are primarily made in California, and a Cali Zin is exactly what we recommend.
One of the most popular wines in the steak lover’s paradise of Argentina, Malbec made there is intentionally crafted to pair well with red meats. It has smoother tannins than a Cabernet while still retaining enough acidity and bold flavor to contend with even the fattiest cuts. As a side note, Malbec pairs well with any red meat, such as lamb.
The one caveat about Malbec is that it may be too bold and full-bodied for some steaks. While there are great Malbecs to be found from California and France, Argentine Malbecs are typically regarded as the best.
Pinot noir grapes have thin skin and low phenolic compounds. Without getting into too much wine theory, that means it tends to be low in bitterness and medium-bodied. It is, however, quite acidic, so it won’t have trouble keeping up with steak. It’s also better to go for a young Pinot Noir since the low tannins make its aging process somewhat unpredictable.
Since it’s less pronounced than (say) a cabernet, you can easily overpower its fruity flavors and notes. For best results, try it with a low fat cut, such as a filet mignon. French and California Pinot Noirs are widely regarded as the top choices.
The Syrah varietal (or Shiraz if you prefer), is an excellent choice for a dense and heavy cut of meat with rich marbling and high fat content. The thing about Syrah grapes is they’re quite susceptible to the temperature where they’re grown. So a French Syrah will be acidic and bitter while Australian Syrahs are softer and more fruity.
You’ll need to experiment a little to find your perfect Syrah and steak pair, but older wines tend to be more earthy and balanced. A vintage Syrah is almost always a slam dunk paired with a thick ribeye.
If you just can’t stand red wine with your steak, there’s some hope on the other end of the spectrum. However, you should know white wines – as a rule – can’t keep up with steak all that well.
That said, you might have some luck with a bold and full-bodied Chardonnay or an older bottle of Riesling. Again, not ideal but it can work depending on the cut.
And if you’re not convinced, skip the wine entirely. Instead of a white wine, consider a bourbon or Scotch. Whiskey has plenty of complexity and punches to stand up to a steak. Alternatively, a full-bodied dark beer can be a good choice to go with a steak.
So now you know what kind of wine goes with steak, but here are some broader wine pairing tips if you’re ever in a bind.
At the end of the day, wine pairing is subjective and it depends on many factors, including the cooking time and methods. If you’re ever in doubt, ask for a recommendation from your server at Stubborn Seed.
When you’re at the best place to eat in Miami Beach, you don’t have to worry too much about the wine pairing. Our Koji New York Striploin mostly speaks for itself. But don’t take our word for it, reserve a table today and see for yourself.
But if you’re looking for that perfect wine, one of those listed above will work great.
The key to developing a good feel for wines is a lot of tasting, so what will your next wine pairing be?