When it comes to choosing what wine goes with beef, it is no secret that red wine is king. Knowing which style of red wine to order with different preparations of beef can be the key to a harmonious pairing that elevates all elements of the dish.
Choosing the Best Wine for Beef Dishes
Choosing the perfect bottle of wine to accompany a beef dish is about more than simply matching a certain cut of beef to a corresponding type of wine.
Many factors must be considered when matching wine with a plate of food including the fat content of the beef, its preparation technique, and accompanying sauces and flavors.
Spices and side dishes should also be accounted for, as these factors can completely transform the way that a bottle of wine interacts with the dish.
While every plate of food should be assessed on a case-by-case basis when deciding on a wine pairing, there are a few general guidelines that many wine enthusiasts find helpful when deciding on a wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular wine in the world, and is often referred to as a “Steakhouse Wine,” and with good reason. Steakhouses worldwide sell more Cabernet Sauvignon during dinner services than any other type of wine.
Industry leader and James Beard Foundation Award winner Madeline Puckette highlights this pairing in her extremely informative “Handy Guide to Wine and Steak Pairing.”
The reason that Cabernet Sauvignon is such a popular choice with steak dinners is its combination of aggressive tannin and bold heavy flavor.
The high levels of tannin in this strong red wine work to break up the richness and fat some of the most sought-after cuts of steak bring to the table. For these reasons, the sommeliers over at somm.us included the pairing on their list of “Ten Classic Food and Wine Pairings.”
The intense flavors of Cabernet Sauvignon are able to stand up to the boldest cuts of beef, even when prepared with heavy cream or butter-based sauce.
Barbecue is known for its heavy-handed infusion of smoke and flavor, especially when it comes to beef. From barbecue ribs to smoked brisket, Syrah (called Shiraz when produced in Australia) is the ideal red wine to pair with a barbecue platter.
While a cold beer is a traditional beverage to reach for at a summer barbecue or smokehouse, a high-quality glass of peppery Syrah is often the ideal option to elevate the flavors of the dish.
Syrah is known worldwide for its distinct peppery taste accompanied by notes of smoke and bacon fat. This makes it an ideal candidate for pairing with decadent and smoky barbecue dishes, as well as its high tannin content.
Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and steak dinners, the tannins in Syrah break down the fattiness of barbecue staples like ribs and brisket.
A helpful tip when deciding on a Syrah to serve is to take into account the flavor imparted by the smoke sauce of a BBQ dish, and choose a wine with similar characteristics.
While it may sound like an oversimplification, the best wine to pair with a traditional Italian dinner featuring beef is a traditional Italian wine.
The trusted wine website VinePair agrees with this popular guideline, and the old sommeliers saying “what grows together goes together” is certainly the case when it comes to regional cuisine and wine.
The acid and herbaceousness brought on by tomato sauce and traditional Italian herbs and spices pair harmoniously with medium-bodied Italian wines like Sangiovese and Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo.
Pasta-based dishes served with Italian staples like bolognese sauce and meatballs with marinara sauce pair extremely well with medium-bodied Italian red wines.
Aged wines from the Piedmont region like Barolo and Barbaresco are also fantastic candidates for these dishes, as their tannis tend to soften with time and pair well with these less aggressive Italian flavors.
Heavier Italian dishes like beef braciole and those with heavy notes of garlic and spice should be served with a more substantial Italian wine like Amarone or a Super Tuscan blend.
The higher tannin levels and more aggressive flavors of these high-alcohol Italian reds are able to stand up to even the strongest and most flavorful of meals.
Latin flavors can be heavy and extreme when infused into beef dishes and tend to pair better with light-bodied, or sweeter jammy reds.
The spices and acidity of a Mexican carne asada can be inflamed and become overwhelming when served with a more full-bodied style of wine, and benefits from a light-bodied wine like Pinot Noir.
The salty and bold spice of traditional Cuban picadillo works best when paired with a sweet Zinfandel, and pepper-crusted Brazilian steaks are known to sing when paired with Gamay from the Beaujolais region of France.
Bold sauces like Argentinian chimichurri are often served in steakhouses and should be paired with a jammier red wine like Grenache.
General Guidelines for Serving Beef with Wine
When starting with a desired bottle of wine and deciding the ideal beef dish to prepare with it, the tannin and acidity levels of the wine should be considered, as well as the amount of residual sugar contained and the flavor profile.
Here are some basic guidelines for choosing a dish with a certain style of wine.
Full Bodied Reds
Full-bodied red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Malbec are best used when served alongside heavy beef dishes with high levels of fat and a butter-based sauce.
The elevated tannin levels in these heavy red wines will not be overpowered by a cut of beef that is marbled with high-quality fats and can stand up to even the richest of sauces.
Medium Bodied Reds
Many leaner beef dishes fall into the category of too “light” for a heavy red, whale needing more body and roundness than a light-bodied red can provide.
Medium-bodied red wines like Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc are well suited to leaner cuts of beef that are often served on sandwiches and in lunch preparations.
Light Bodied Reds
Red wines that are more delicate with a lighter body are best when served with heavily spiced beef dishes, and are not suitable for heavier, fatty dishes.
While a light and refreshing sip of Pinot Noir works perfectly to balance out the heat of a spicy Latin dish, the very same wine would be completely overshadowed by a fatty cut of beef with a heavy sauce.
What Wine Goes With Beef? Conclusion
From steakhouses and barbecues to hibachi dinners and Italian restaurants, red wine is one of the most commonly served beverages with beef dishes, and many consider the two to be synonymous.
Comment below with your personal favorite pairings for beef dishes!
- Steak Dinners are best served with Cabernet Sauvignon
- Syrah is the best option for Barbecue
- Italian food and Italian wines should always be served together
- Latin flavors require lighter and more delicate reds