Best wines for Steak

It has to be red, but why?

Before we look at the question of what is the best wine for steak, you should understand why red wine is favored.

Red meats are higher in protein and are best paired with red wines. The tannin in red wine binds itself to the proteins in the meat. Wine tastes different when drunk with red meat compared to drinking it on its own. The protein reduces the tannins, leaving your palate less dry.

What should you look for?

We are looking for a red wine that is higher in tannin but also one that is higher in acidity.  Acidity is no bad thing when it comes to wine and helps to cut through the fat in these higher protein meat dishes. That acidity also helps to clean your palate between mouthfuls and retain that first bite consistency.

In general, you will enjoy the richer cuts of steak with a bold, fuller flavored red that is also high in tannins.  Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet/Merlot blend for example.

Let’s take a closer look at each type of steak and what works best

Fillet (filet mignon)

The king of steaks deserves a strong red wine. The tender texture of a fillet luxuriates with a cabernet sauvignon or cabernet/merlot blend.  The cabernets from the cooler climates are distinctly blackcurrant in flavor with high acidity and tannins that complement a fillet so well. Arguably, the best wine for steak debate ends with a Cabernet Sauvignon but there are other excellent choices.

These reds work best when paired with the fattier red meats, which reduce the tannic effect and dilute the acidity, to create a delightful balance.

A full-bodied Sangiovese will also work extremely well.  It is rich with the fruits of cherry, blackberry, and plum and an edge of herbs.  As with many fuller reds, its high tannin and acidity will deliver with a fillet.

Rib-Eye (Entrecote)

The earthiness of rib-eye calls for a more traditional Bordeaux or Syrah.  My go-to here is usually Carmenere with its black fruit flavors and lower acidity. Velvety smooth with a hint of spice and clove, the higher tannin works so well with the rib-eye.

Another good option is Syrah (Shiraz) with its black and red berry flavors accompanied by notes of black pepper and spice.  This wine is medium to high in acidity and high in tannins that partner so well with a rib-eye.

Legrein is another nice choice for rib-eye.  This medium to full-bodied red also has black and red fruit flavors with a hint of spice and vanilla.  It is high in acidity and tannins and will partner well with the rib-eye and any sauces you decide to have with it.

Sirloin

Sirloin is flavored by the fat that runs through it, so you want to select a wine that works well with this.  The best choices are Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Pinotage. All of these have a higher acidity, and the Cabernet and Sangiovese are also high in tannins, which cut well with the fat to balancing the dish.

The Pinotage from South Africa is a less obvious choice but well worth a try.   It is similarly full in body with red and black fruit flavors, with subtle notes of oak.   

Topside or Silverside (roast beef)

The British favorite.  There are plenty of options for your Sunday roast, and most will opt for a bold Cabernet, Bordeaux, or Pinot Noir.

These are all great options, but I’d urge you to think about it a little more for maximum reward. Choose one that suits your preference for how you like it to be cooked. It will make a difference.

If you prefer your beef on the rare side, I’d go for a lively, young Tempranillo or Sangiovese.

On the other hand, if you like your beef well done (and let’s be honest, many do) you need a wine that will rejuvenate the flavors and restore some moisture to the drier cuts. In this case, I recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend.

These are full-bodied wines from the Bordeaux region which are high in tannin and acidity and give delightful flavors of blackcurrant, cherry, and plum. A rich combination to enliven your Sunday roast beef.

Barbecue & Smoker steak

We are dealing with stronger flavors, sweet sauces, and spicy rubs with barbecue food. Add the smoky flavors from the charcoal grill or smoker and there is a lot going on that the wine needs to work with.

I tend towards the smoother, more powerful reds from South America or California. Malbec is a good example and stakes (no pun intended) a strong claim to be the best wine for steak.

Malbec is full-bodied with red and blackberry fruit flavors and a note of violet and spice. It is lower in acidity, so best with the leaner cuts of steak.  The tannins are medium to high, so it still binds well with the proteins but leaves plenty of room for the various additional flavors that barbecue often presents.

Zinfandel is excellent with barbecue meats.  A full-bodied wine with ripe raspberry flavors with notes of herbs and spices.  It has medium to high tannins and the acidity is similarly medium to high that enabling it to partner well with the stronger barbecue flavors on offer.

Tagliata (Italian style ribe-eye or sirloin)

I had this whilst on vacation in Umbria. The Italians serve it cooked the way you want, sliced on a bed of rocket leaves with just a drizzle of olive oil.  Basic but extremely good.

As per the general rule, you’ll want to pair it with a powerful red with high tannins and acidity.  My choice was a local Sangiovese which is rich in dark fruits with notes of herbs and spice. Wonderful pairing.

Wines from other regions will work too of course but if you are serving it Tagliata style I prefer to remain in the region.  After all, when in Rome…

Steak Tartare

In short, I suggest you select a Bordeaux. Carmenere and Petit Verdot are both excellent choices.

The first time I had steak tartare, I must confess that I ordered it by accident.  In truth, I had no idea what I ordered.  I was staying in a hotel and the menu was limited, so I ordered the steak of course!  I remember well the waiter coming to my table and mixing everything together in a little marble dish and then walking off, leaving me to it. The redemption came with the wine, as it often does.   

I had two velvet smooth glasses of a full-bodied Carmenere, which had dark fruit flavors of blackberry, cherry, and plum. The tannins are high which fills the gaps of steak tartare rather nicely.

Is steak tartare safe to eat? Find out more here.

Beef Bourguignon

Read our article on what wines work best for beef bourguignon here.

Summary

The best wine for steak must be red.

Many reds will work with these different types of steak dishes, and there are many other superb choices I haven’t covered here.  If you stick to the general rule and consider what you are eating and how it is cooked, you won’t go wrong.  Don’t be afraid to experiment to find your own favorite pairing.  That’s half the fun when selecting wine.

My recommendations above are based on my own experience and the knowledge that they work so well together.