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Pairing Wine with Steak: A Complete Guide

A complete guide on pairing wine with different types of steak.

When it comes to color, the best wine for steak is red wine! Red wine and steak go together like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, pepperoni, and pizza. It is an undisputed fact of the culinary world. Chances are, even if you aren’t a big fan of wine, this is something you already know. 

Truthfully, there is nothing I love more than enjoying a juicy, expertly cooked steak alongside a glass of dry red wine. It is a decadent dining experience that elevates run-of-the-mill Friday dinners. However, unless you’re an expert sommelier, it can be difficult to know what wine pairs well with steak. 

Whether you’re new to the wine game or simply looking for something new to try for your next steak night, we’ve put together a list of the most common types of red wine and their characteristics, as well as the best wine and steak pairings to help you out. 

Best Wine for Steak

  1. Malbec
  2. Cabernet
  3. Zinfandel
  4. Shiraz
  5. Merlot
  6. Bordeaux

Malbec

Malbec is a dry, full-bodied wine with an opaque, dark purple color. It has medium acidity and medium tannins, making it a great wine for pairing with steak. It is generally more affordable than the popular Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz varieties and has an ABV of up to 15 percent. 

Although it originated in France, Malbec grapes are now grown primarily in Argentina. Argentine Malbec has a fruit-forward flavor, with notes of blackberry, raspberry, plum, and cherry. Depending on the region it is grown in, it can also have undertones of milk chocolate, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco. 

Overall it is a bold, rich-tasting wine that pairs well with red meat like brisket and T-bone steak. When crafting a full meal, earthy and smoky spices are ideal for Malbec pairings, such as smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic, barbecue sauce, clove, and cumin. Vegetables like mushrooms, green and red bell peppers, and peppery greens like arugula all pair nicely with Malbec as well. 

Malbec is best served at a temperature of between 60- and 68-degrees Fahrenheit and should be decanted for at least 30 minutes. 


Cabernet 

There are two kinds of red Cabernets, each with unique flavors and mouth feels. However, both are excellent with an expertly cooked steak. 

Cabernet Sauvignon 

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red wine grape in the United States and is grown across the globe. Known for its full-body and deep red color, Cabernet Sauvignon is a bold, dry wine with medium acidity and between 13.5 and 15 percent ABV. 

Because it is grown so widely, there are different flavor profiles a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon can carry. Some are heavily fruity, others have a smokier, savory taste. The standard glass of Cabernet Sauvignon tastes of cherry, black currant, and blackberry, with undertones of spices like vanilla and anise. 

It has a jammy, chocolatey aroma, with hints of tobacco, graphite, mint, and even bell pepper. 

All of these sweet, complex flavors compliment any kind of steak, but especially fattier cuts like ribeye or prime rib. When cooked on the rare end of the spectrum, the richness of this dry red wine won’t overwhelm the bold taste of these cuts of meat.

Cabernet Sauvignon’s sweet and spicy notes also go extremely well with grilled steak sauces, such as red-wine reductions or mushroom sauces. 

Cabernet Sauvignon is best served at a temperature of between 60- and 68-degrees Fahrenheit and should be decanted for at least 60 minutes. 

Cabernet Franc 

The parent grape of both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Cabernet Franc is a complex, medium-bodied red wine with fairly high acidity. Cabernet Franc is a slightly lighter dry red with a robust flavor profile that pairs well with a variety of foods. 

The dominant flavors of Cabernet Franc are red fruits, like strawberry, red plum, and raspberry. It also has strong notes of herbs, chili pepper, roasted bell pepper, and crushed gravel. 

As a savory, herby wine, Cabernet Franc pairs well with any red meat but will go especially well with T-bone or Porterhouse steaks in butter and herbs. This wine stands up against the tenderness and high-fat content of these cuts. 

Before eating with steak, I highly recommend decanting this red wine for at least 30 minutes. Doing so will allow the wine to soften its natural spiciness and develop a richer flavor. 


Zinfandel

Bold and fruity, Zinfandel is a deep purplish-red wine with elements of juicy berries and peppercorn. It has a lush texture that sits pleasantly on the tongue and an ABV of around 14 percent, depending on where the grapes are grown. It is technically a dry wine but sits on the sweeter end of the spectrum. 

Despite its base strawberry and raspberry flavors, the average Zinfandel wine has notes of cinnamon, tobacco, vanilla, bramble, and licorice. It has a complex, earthy aroma with hints of chocolate, cinnamon, dried berries, and smoke. 

It is important not to confuse a Zinfandel with its cousin, the White Zinfandel, especially when pairing with steak. White Zin is a lighter, sweeter wine with a pinkish hue that goes best with fish, spicy dishes, and Asian cuisines. I once tried to pair a White Zin with a New York Strip, and while both were delicious on their own, they didn’t do much for each other. 

Flavorful Red Zinfandel on the other hand is perfect for pairing with hearty, savory dishes and cuts of steak like Ribeye or New York Strip. It also goes nicely with filet mignon. The acidity of the wine cuts through the rich, fatty flavors of the meat and enhances the overall flavor for a satisfying, well-rounded bite every time. 

A young Zinfandel should be opened a minimum of two hours before serving to let it breathe, and decanted for at least 30 minutes to get the full range of sweet and spicy flavors. 


Shiraz

Also known as Syrah, this type of red wine is a popular variety that stuns dinner guests when enjoyed alongside a good cut of marbled steak. Shiraz is dry with firm tannins and noticeable acidity and has a gorgeous dark purple color that is almost opaque. 

It has an unmistakable bold flavor that combines floral notes with savory elements like bacon, black pepper, and smoke. A typical glass of Shiraz also has a fruity aroma, full of blueberry and blackberry scents. 

Because of its robust mouthfeel and flavor profile, as well as its high acidity, Shiraz is the perfect choice for a fatty steak like a ribeye or filet mignon. It also will taste amazing with the smoky flavors of a juicy, slow-cooked brisket.


Merlot

If you are new to the world of red wine, I would recommend you start with a Merlot. It is a beloved bone dry red that is easy to drink and enjoy with a wide variety of foods, including steak. 

Merlot has a smooth, medium-full body and medium acidity, with an average ABV of 14 percent. It is most commonly grown in Bordeaux, France, and is often confused with Cabernet Sauvignon for its blue and black fruit flavor profile and sweeter finishing notes. 

While the climate of Merlot’s different growing regions can alter the final flavors, in general, Merlot tastes of blueberry, blackberry, and plum, with chocolate, mocha, and vanilla finishes. 

Thanks to its location in the medium of the red wine spectrum, Merlot is the perfect wine selection for filet mignon or grilled steaks. Rich sauces are a must-try with fuller-bodied varieties of Merlot, including red wine and mushroom-based sauces. 


Bordeaux

Last but not least, we have the world’s most popular wine: Bordeaux. Bordeaux is a blend made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is named for Bordeaux, France, where it originates, and overall is a medium-to-full-bodied table wine. 

Bordeaux is a luscious red with a complex mix of flavors, including black currant, violet, plum, and cedar. It tends to be a fruit-forward wine with opulent notes of chocolate, licorice, and earthy spice.

Leaner steaks like flank steak are excellent for Right Bank Bordeaux red wines, which are made with the lighter Merlot grapes. Left Bank Bordeaux red wines made with heavier percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with salty, fatty cuts of steak like ribeye or Porterhouse cuts. 

This is a wine that ages well. However, before serving with steak, Bordeaux should be served at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit after being decanted for 30 to 60 minutes. 


Tips for Pairing Steak & Wine

Now that we’ve discussed some of the best red wines and their unique characteristics, let’s take a look at some general tips for pairing them with different types of steak

Choose Dry Red Wines

Generally speaking, red meat like beef or steak will go best with a dry red wine. Red wine has higher tannins than white or sparkling wines, which interact well with the protein to create a superior flavor profile and aroma. 

Think Bold & Fatty, Lean & Light 

Full-bodied red wines with a higher acidity are best for fatty cuts of steak like filet mignon, Porterhouse, Delmonico, Ribeye, or New York Strip. The high-acidity and high-tannin levels are important to counteract and balance with the fat content of the meat. 

On the other hand, leaner cuts of meat pair best with lighter-bodied wines. 

How You Cook Your Steak Matters 

Believe it or not, how you enjoy your steak cooked makes a difference in the type of red wine that will pair best with it. 

Rare steaks will lessen the tannins in a dry red wine and make it more mellow. Well-done or charred steaks have a natural bitterness to them which will require a sweeter, fruitier wine to balance it out. 

Take a look at some general recommendations I have for popular cuts of steak and their best red wine pairings: 

  • Ribeye: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Bordeaux
  • Brisket: Shiraz, Malbec, Zinfandel
  • Sirloin: Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec 
  • Filet Mignon: Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot 
  • New York Strip: Cabernet, Zinfandel 
  • Porterhouse: Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot
  • T-Bone: Malbec, Cabernet, Shiraz
  • Flank: Merlot, Malbec, Bordeaux

Final Thoughts 

This guide can help you on your next steak and wine pairing adventure. However, it is important to remember that wine is meant to be enjoyed. If a particular variety doesn’t suit your tastes, try something different! Experiment with these dry reds and their traditional steak pairings to find what works best for you and your palette.

Do you have a favorite wine to enjoy with steak? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood. Ryan also enjoys traveling and checking out local eateries in every city he visits.