Stocking your wine pantry for steak dinners or trying to decide on a different wine than your usual? We have a few ideas for steak and wine pairings you should try.
Wine Selection: What Goes Good With Steak?
Meat and potatoes. Peanut butter and jelly. Salsa and nachos. Certain foods just go together. They complement one another’s taste texture, and appearance. Steak and wine are two foods that pair excellently for an extravagant dining experience in almost any situation. However, not all steaks and wines pair well.
We’re here to provide you with information about what goes good with steak when choosing your favorite wine vintage. Red vs. white wine and fruity vs. earthy are factors you have to remember. Let’s get a little background on why steak and wine have appealing tastes before figuring out how to combine them.
Why Humans Enjoy Steak
Steak is made of red meat, high in iron, protein, and fat. In steak, the human taste buds get two of the three flavors that signify nutritious food: salty and savory, also called umami. The sweetness comes from wine or other foods paired with the steak. The protein and fat in the steak, when broken down by saliva, stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain.
Overall, steak is one of the most nutrient-dense meats and fills most of our dietary needs. Unfortunately, quality steak is expensive and best saved for a night out.
Setting aside the obvious qualities of wine as an intoxicant, when it is paired with the right food its taste complements the food. The wine has an acidic flavor that comes from the grapes used to make it. Also, wine has tannins that further break down the proteins that exist in most foods, making it easier to taste the flavor.
Going back to the three essential flavors in food, wine covers sweetness, especially if it’s a red wine; white wines, on the whole, are sweeter than red wines, though earthy whites and sweet reds do exist. Examples include Sauvignon Blanc for the former and Merlot for the latter.
Also, although the common terms are “red” and “white,” the flavors they create should be called “bold” and “light” if you’re in wine-tasting circles.
What’s The Difference?
Red wines are made by putting red grapes - skins, seeds, and all - into a fermentation vat with yeast, then allowing the mixture to ferment. The fermented juice is run through a strainer to remove the solid pieces and left to age in an oak barrel. This process imparts tannins to the wine, as does storing it in a barrel.
Tannins are what impart a drier or more bitter taste to the beverage. They contribute a rich flavor that goes well with rich, fatty steaks or side dishes.
White wine, on the other hand, is made by pressing the grapes so that only the juice goes into the fermentation process. As with red, it is combined with yeast to ferment, and stored in stainless steel vats before bottling. White wine tends to be lighter and more fruity, pairing exceptionally well with leaner cuts of meat and light side dishes.
Cuts Of Meat
Now that we’ve talked a bit about wine let’s move on to the steak. Not all steak cuts are the same; their qualities depend on how long they are cooked and the original location of the meat. Steak is the muscle tissue of a cow; the more the muscle was used, the tougher the meat is. Conversely, less-used muscle is more tender and marbled.
We’ve listed the most common cuts of meat, which are:
- Filet mignon
- New York Strip
How Steak And Wine Combine
Generally, the fat in steak balances out the tannins in wine, so you get less of a bitter alcohol-like taste. You can more easily taste the fruit elements of the wine if you pair it with a steak that has high-fat content.
At the same time, the tannins in wine help to break down the fat molecules in the steak, bringing out its flavor in turn.
You might know it as tenderloin. This is the cut of meat that you order when you’ve got plenty of money and are on an expensive outing. Filet mignon is by far the most tender cut of steak; it goes from the ribs to the flank of the cow. This muscle is rarely used, which is why it has such tenderness.
Filet mignon doesn’t have a lot of flavors comparatively, but it practically comes apart when you touch it with a steak knife. Filet is one of the thicker cuts of meat, but because it has the least flavor you need to pair it with a similarly light wine. Otherwise, the wine will overpower the meat. Go for dry, red wines like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon.
If you prefer white wine, it works best with a filet mignon. This is probably the only cut we’d recommend pairing with white wine, aside from sirloin
With the T-bone steak, you get two different textures and flavors. This cut comes from the abdominal area of the cow, and has a good bit of tenderness, but not as much as the filet. However, it does have a little more natural flavor. It also has some more marbling alongside the bones. Marbling refers to the thin veins of fat running through a cut of steak.
When steak is cooked, the fat naturally breaks down and imparts flavor to the meat, which it otherwise would not have. A T-bone steak, because it has more taste on its own, can pair with a stronger wine than a filet can. The go-to for many steaks are Cabernet Sauvignon, but others include Zinfandel, Shiraz, or Malbec.
As you might guess from the name, the ribeye comes from around the ribs of the animal. It has a wealth of flavor that comes from its marbling. You can get ribeye steaks with or without the bone; the boneless steak is harder to cook correctly because it has a higher fat content that is subject to burning. Therefore, most people prefer it medium at most.
Because of this, it’s best to pick a dry red with a lot of tannins to help bring out the most of the steak. Zinfandel, again, is a good choice here. Another option is Chianti.
If you like T-bone steaks, you’ll like the porterhouse. That’s because they share the same basic structure and flavor profile. Porterhouses are a little thicker and contain a little more flavor than a T-bone. They are not as tender, because their closeness to the legs means the muscle was used more frequently.
You should pick a stronger wine for this cut when determining what goes good with steak than you would with a T-bone. A Syrah would work well for most porterhouse steaks.
Sirloin is one of the leaner cuts of steak and the cheapest. It has a low amount of flavor on its own and can have some marbling, but it is a tough cut of meat when not cooked properly. Many people who prepare sirloin steaks will use a marinade, which can affect the type of wine you would pair with the steak.
Because sirloin is a relatively lean cut of meat with less flavor, it’s another one that we’d recommend choosing a light red wine or even white wine. Sirloin steak is among the cheapest cuts you can buy, and it’s easy to grill and serve.
New York Strip
New York strip steak is a top-quality steak, almost on the same level as a filet but with more flavor. Strip steak has excellent marbling throughout the steak. It comes from the same area as the T-bone, so many of the same characteristics apply to it.
Because of this fact, you can pair the strip steak with a Merlot for the best combination of flavors.
In addition to the cut of meat, you have to consider how long the steak is being cooked. In general, keeping meat over the fire for longer cooks it more, but it dries it out and removes a good deal if the flavor that you otherwise would have. If you cook it too long; you’re serving a strip of leather on a plate rather than a cut of meat.
Rare and medium rare steaks retain most of their fat so that you can use bold wines with high tannin levels. By contrast, anything past medium loses a lot of its fat and flavor. You would, therefore, need to drink a lighter wine to avoid overpowering your palate.
The wine and steak pairings we’ve listed are our recommendations based on how they interact with one another. You are free to try out your combinations and determine what tastes best to you. In short, though, you should pair rich, fatty steaks with bold wine. You should pair lean steaks with light wine. Rose tends to fall somewhere between the two extremes.
Also, take into account your side dishes when finding out what goes good with steak. Pasta, for example, is often a rich food that offsets the tannins in the wine.