Nothing defines summertime in the US more than the tantalizing aroma of a steak sizzling on the grill. From a thick Filet Mignon to a juicy, well-marbled Porterhouse or New York Strip Steak, American beef is at its best when cooked on your own backyard grill. Here are a few surefire wine pairings to serve with your favorite steak at barbecues and cookouts this summer.
The king of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon is often the number one choice for steak and wine pairings. Beef steak has lots of strong flavor from the meat itself and from smoke, marinade, sauce, or pepper, so it calls for choosing a wine that is also full-bodied. Cabernet Sauvignon’s robust fruit tastes and powerful flavors can stand up to most any steak. The tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon (coming mainly from the red skin of the grape) and relatively high alcohol levels also help cut through the fat of the steak, making the wine taste smoother and less bitter… and the steak more flavorful. Learn more about Cabernet Sauvignon in this two-minute video.
Zinfandel has moderate tannins and high acidity, making it a fitting match with steaks that contain relatively good amounts of fat. Rib Eye, T-Bone or Porterhouse steaks are ideal partners for Zinfandel. A little less refined than Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel has a characteristically bold grapey spiciness and thick richness on the pallet. Learn more about Zinfandel in this two-minute video.
Zinfandel also makes an interesting marinade for some of the tougher ( and less expensive) cuts of beef for the backyard grill like Tri-Tip or London Broil. Here is a Zin marinade recipe we like from John Christopher Cellars for Zinfandel Marinated Grilled Tri-Tip.
Malbec is an up and coming red wine that is definitely steak friendly. In fact, Malbec is the number one consumed red wine in Argentina where it’s considered the ideal wine to pair with beef. Malbec is a versatile, rich and food-friendly red wine that may break with tradition but won’t break the bank. Check out Malbec wines from Argentina or Chile. You won’t be disappointed. Learn more about Malbec in this two-minute video.
The classic wine choices to pair with grilled steaks are big, bold red wines, especially California Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz from Australia), Sangiovese, Chianti and Pinot Noir are also good choices and will produce softer red wine and steak pairings, which you may prefer depending on the steak, the doneness you prefer and whatever else you are serving.
As a general rule of thumb, fat in food tends to soften the perception of tannins and high alcohol levels. So a steak with ample amounts of fat, especially cooked rare or medium rare will make “big reds” taste smoother and mellower. By contrast, when you grill steaks well-done, they will drip and lose fat in the grilling process, and will ultimately have less fat to counterbalance the perception of tannins. So a bold, high tannin wine will taste somewhat more bitter when served with a well-done steak as compared to the same steak cooked to just medium or rare. Some people will not notice the difference but others may.
Similarly a very lean cut of steak like a filet will have significantly less fat than a T-Bone, for example, and will be enhanced more when paired with a wine featuring softer tannins like Merlot, Chianti, Pinot Noir, or an aged Cabernet, while the T-Bone or Rib Eye would stand up to Zinfandel, Malbec or a young Cab. None of these are hard and fast rules, of course… just general rules of thumb to consider as you select the wines and steaks to pair for your summer grilling.
Not to be forgotten, a crisp chilled Rosé wine or a bubbly Sparkling Wine (especially brut or rosé) is almost always an enjoyable pairing with steak and other grilled fare. Just be sure to chill them in the refrigerator or on ice for several hours before serving. In fact, we recommend also chilling your red wines to avoid any “hot wine” influence on the taste of the steaks. If you’d like to learn more about Rosés and Blush Wine, check out this short two-minute video overview. There are some good ones out there!
Finally, you may also be interested in watching our short video on BBQ & Wine Pairings.