Basics: A Starter Guide to Wine and Steak Pairing
Whether you’ve tossed old-fashioned wine-pairing dogma out the window, or you like to follow some old-school rules about what you pour with your dinner, there is a balance between drinking what you like and finding a great pair. This is especially true when it comes to choosing a wine to serve with bold and fatty steak. A little thought into the proper duo can make a big difference.
To start, look for three things: acid to refresh the palate, body to match the intensity of the beef and tannins for a little magic. Tannins help cleanse the mouth of tongue-coating fats, while fat has a softening effect on coarse tannins.
But there is a lot of room for experimentation. We asked industry experts for their suggestions for the best wines to pair with steak, based on the meat’s preparation and cut or preferred style of wine. Then, our food editor matched their suggestions with highly rated bottles he loves to open alongside his steak dinner.
Steak and Wine Pairings
The Best Overall Wine for Steak
It’s hard to argue against a well-made Napa Cab as the ideal partner for all types of steak. “There’s a reason most steakhouses have Bible-sized wine lists disproportionately filled with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon,” says Vanessa Price, wine director and managing partner of Mavericks in Montauk, New York, and co-author of Big Macs & Burgundy, Wine Pairings for the Real World. “Few wines deliver the kind of high-alcohol and tannic body blow required to tangle with such a full-flavored protein.”
Price adds that a glass of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon can help the flavors linger for longer. “The buttery-black sear on a good steak also mirrors the toast of the oak barrels Napa Cabs are aged in, allowing the char and the tannin to merge while the wine’s considerable fruits dart through,” she says.topt
Best Wine for a New York Strip Steak
Sometimes known as sirloin, top loin, Delmonico steak or Kansas City strip, it’s an incredibly versatile cut that can take the flavors of a unique style of Napa Cab.
“Most will recognize the New York strip as the Broadway-sized intersection of texture, flavor and fat that made it so famous,” says Price. “One sub-AVA announces itself as the strip’s most natural counterpart: St. Helena AVA from The Valley floor. [It’s] a powerful expression of Jolly Rancher fruits, like cranberry and raspberry, with a savory jamminess and violet-laced cedar core that drops a big, red Times Square ball of flavor on any New York strip.”
Best Wine for a Ribeye Steak
Ribeye is the richest cut of steak, lusciously marbled with fat throughout. This is where you can really play with the interaction between tannins and beef fat. Price recommends Napa’s hillside AVAs, like Diamond Mountain.
“These wines are so rugged and burly, they almost seem chewy, with a wet-dark earthiness,” she says. “If you aren’t careful, they might be just brawny enough to make you grab that meat by the bone.”
It can be even more fun to experiment with some lesser-known high-tannin wines, like Tannat, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, Sagrantino or Touriga Nacional. These rarely have as worthy a culinary opponent as a ribeye steak. Uruguay consumes the second most beef per capita of any country in the world, so wine from a steak-loving, wine-growing area feels natural. After all, there are few Uruguayan asados without bottles of Tannat on the table.
Best Italian Wine for Steak
While classic Italian reds like Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Amarone can pair beautifully with a juicy cut of meat, Price suggests heading to Tuscany for a superior choice. She encourages pouring a Super Tuscan, the colloquial name for wines that operate outside the rules of such Tuscany DOCGs as Chianti and Brunello. These wines most often blend Sangiovese with Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
“Super Tuscan styles can vary, but what they all share is a unique broadside of freshness and power, and a juiciness that snaps to attention with a powerful piece of protein,” Price says. “The wine’s guaranteed acidic streak and beefy tannins from all the thick-skinned grapes work overtime to provide an Old World pairing akin to its New World brethren, with interestingly nuanced differences.”
Marchesi Antinori 2019 Tignanello Red (Toscana)
The nose on the 2019 vintage of this Super Tuscan benchmark is soft and dense, with dark macerated berries in tension with green and black pepper, a hint of hibiscus or a cranberry tea, followed by tanned leather, wet soil and moss under a tree. The palate echoes the nose but adds more decadent notes of plum, fig and chocolate mousse, with tannins that feel like a good pair of loafers—supportive, but comfortable. It’s long and harmonious. 95 Points —Danielle Callegari
Best French Wine for Steak
While it may make sense to pour a Cabernet Sauvignon when going French, Price suggests another Bordeaux favorite.
“Consider a Merlot, particularly one from Pomerol,” says Price, referring to the right bank Bordeaux appellation where Merlot shows its well-known plushness and considerable tannic structure. “Pomerol produces Merlot that smells like so many things at once it can leave you guessing for days.” Think black plum, black cherry and boysenberry with notes of violet, tobacco leaf and mint.
“Depending on the producer, Pomerol ranges from medium-bodied and supple, to big-bodied and bold,” she says. “But every last one of its iterations is a cuddle puddle of lust for steak au poivre.”
Best Wine for Steak and Lobster
Though pairing red wine with seafood isn’t off the table, there are white wine varieties bold enough to stand up to this classic surf and turf.
“Warm-climate Chardonnay that’s been barrel-aged or barrel-fermented is intense enough to match flavorful red meat as well as the naturally sweet lobster,” says Josh Dunson, beverage director for Ocean Prime, whose 18 locations specialize in luxe steak and seafood offerings. “Also, Pinot Noir has minimal tannins compared to heavier reds, but it’s still enough to work with red meat without overpowering the lobster.”
Pro-tip: When ordering surf and turf, go for a leaner steak, like filet mignon. “Leaner cuts such as filet mignon are great pairings for these ‘crossover’ wines that pair well with both meat and seafood,” says Dunson.
Deep Down 2021 Chardonnay (Marlborough)
This is an elegant Chardonnay from first sniff to long finish. Aromas of white grapefruit, fresh ginger and pear are backed by a gentle line of creamy, toasty barrel influence. The palate shows love, texture, length and drive. The supportive oak frames the lithe citrus fruit. It’s food-friendly, characterful and highly crowd-pleasing. Drink now. 93 Points —Christina Pickard
Best Rosé Wine for Steak
When it comes to pouring a pink-hued wine with a fatty steak, Dunson suggests opting for Champagne. “The effervescence cuts the fat and also refreshes the palate, while the red and citrus fruit match the intensity of the beef flavors,” he says “The yeasty bread component gives complexity and complementary flavors. The florals round out the experience and can match all cuts of steak because of the diverse flavors and complex structure of the wine.” For more tips on pairing rosé with steak, see our guide to steak and rosé.
Best Wine for Steak Tartare
Raw steak is naturally lighter in intensity and many tartare recipes include tart, contrasting flavors and deeply savory herbs, Dunson says. “Rosé is the best of both white and red worlds,” he notes. “It has red and citrus fruit profiles, lifted with florals and often a mineral or stony baseline of flavor. They are also moderate in body to match the body of the tartare, and have enough acidity to complement the interesting flavors.”
Best Pinot Noir for Steak
If you enjoy a lighter red, Pinot Noir can be a great option to complement a steak, while sticking to your personal preferences.
“I would probably head to Patagonia, which is the southernmost wine-producing region in the Americas, and its arid valleys make some of the best Pinot Noir in the world,” Price says. “Its extreme winters and cool summer nights make for a prolonged growing season that’s particularly well suited for Pinot. Bright and high toned enough for dense protein, it’s also notable for its earthy undercurrents, which a nice mushroom accompaniment would lap right up.”
Otronia 2018 45° Rugientes Pinot Noir (Patagonia)
From the southernmost wine region in Argentina comes this well-balanced Pinot Noir. After aeration the nose opens up and gives aromas of berries and nutmeg. The palate is broad, showing red fruit and herbs backed by firm tannins and lively acidity. It has a medium finish with delicious notes of baking spices. This is fresh and promising. 90 Points —J.V.
Best White Wine for Steak
“I recognize that the concept of white wine and beef may seem suspect to some, but experiencing the smoky, buttery, indulgently rich flavors of a Meursault with a filet mignon or Porterhouse will quickly dispel any notions of incompatibility,” Price says. “And what makes this pairing race full throttle is the teeming acidity that has a similar effect on the fat in steak as the tannins in red wine. It turns the volume up in your palate and then washes you clean for the next bite.”
Best Sweet Wine for Steak
Sweet wines have a surprising amount of body that can give an unexpected harmony with steak. “An Auslese Riesling from Germany offers decadent stone fruit character and enhanced silky texture from residual sugar, but it’s all in balance,” says Dunson. It’s especially good when the steak comes with tart or spicy accompaniments.
Alternatively, Price suggests a demi-sec Champagne. “Their bright acidity brings balance and lift, making the style surprisingly versatile,” she says. “And due to the autolytic character—think toasty, yeasty [and] brioche notes—and sea-salt minerality, I’d baste my favorite cut with butter to tie all the sweet and savory goodness together.”
Why Should You Trust Us?
All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.