When it comes to pairing food and wine, most people know the old adage of “red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat”. We’ve even written a whole article about why steak and red wine go so well together. But if you want to break it down even further, which wine goes well with which beef?
We’ve put together this guide with the expert advice of Melbourne-based sommelier of 10 years and founder of Feravina, Mike Rapajic, to help you pair the right wine with your beef.
How to find the right match
As Mike explains, it all starts with understanding the basics of food and wine pairing. “Every food component has its perfect match – and its perfect clash – in wine.”
To find the right match you must consider three things: the structure of the wine – that’s the acidity, body, tannins and sweetness; the flavour profile – the fruits, herbs, peppers, meatyness or mushroomy-ness; and then you must consider the food itself – is it salty or sweet? Bitter or bold? Sour or spicy?
“A good sommelier will keep this in mind to provide delicious and interesting pairings for their customers,” says Mike.
What does red wine do to beef?
Red wine provides the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of so many beef dishes. “The tannins in red wine in particular stick to the palate and interact nicely, prolonging the flavour so that both the wine and the beef remain on the palate after being swallowed,” explains Mike. “This makes the whole experience infinitely more enjoyable.”
Is there a general rule to follow when it comes to pairing beef and wine?
In a nutshell, bolder flavours go with bolder, full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, while fattier flavours need more tannin and acidity, such as Shiraz. But having worked in two high-end Australian steakhouses, Mike says it also comes down to the cut and how the beef is cooked.
“With steak specifically, fatty and flavourful cuts like rib-eye would benefit from a full-bodied red with high tannin. Leaner cuts such as an eye fillet calls for a less tannic wine and a more elegant blend. Extremely fatty steaks like wagyu need more acidity, and since it isn’t as full-flavoured as grass-fed beef, a lighter bodied red would be a better choice.
“Secondary cuts like skirt or flank have a lot of flavour, but less fat – therefore bolder reds with a medium tannin work best.”
Mike says it also helps to think about the other flavours present in the dish. “If there is tomato in the dish, then a wine with complementary flavours like Sangiovese is a good choice. If there is capsicum in the dish then Cabernet Franc, or Cabernet Sauvignon, are good ideas. For pepper, a Shiraz (aka Syrah) is a natural pairing.”
Can you drink white wine with beef?
The flavour profile of many red wines complements the flavour profile of beef and beef dishes in a way that white and rosé wine simply do not. But Mike says there are some exceptions.
“The spiciness in certain beef dishes, such as beef curries and stir-fries, pairs well with sweetness in wine. This makes it work with sweeter whites like Gewurztraminer. Also, in creamy dishes such as beef stroganoff, I would pair the creaminess of the dish to a rich white white like an oaked Chardonnay. Rosé, both still and sparkling, is a natural pairing for raw beef dishes such as tartare and carpaccio,” says Mike.
Skin contact white wines (aka orange wines) can be substituted for reds sometimes, since these wines tend to be more full-bodied, dry, have noticeable tannin and a more savoury flavour profile when compared with regular whites.
What’s the best red wine to cook with?
Contrary to popular belief, it actually doesn’t really matter as wine in cooking is mostly used for its acidity and for deglazing a pan. Any flavour nuances that different wines have are completely lost in the cooking process.
“Every top restaurant I ever worked at just used cheap boxed wine or left-over wine from service for cooking, “ says Mike. If you don’t finish a bottle at home in a day or two and it starts to oxidise, keep it for cooking.
“It’ll be perfectly fine to cook with for months if you store it in a cool, dark place. You can even combine different leftover wine in the same bottle to save space. Otherwise, just buy a boxed dry red wine and keep it in a cool cupboard for cooking. My advice? Save your money on cooking wine and invest it in drinking wine instead.”
We hear you, Mike.
The Ultimate Beef & Wine Pairing Guide
While not every one of these wines can be found in every bottle shop, a good wine merchant should be able to provide an alternative with a similar structure and similar flavour profile for any of the wines.
Open wine, open mind
Mike says having an open mind is key when it comes to choosing your wine. “Most of the time wine drinkers stick to what they know, which prevents them from finding better value stuff that they’d enjoy even more if they just gave it a chance,” he says.
“There are literally thousands of grape varieties out there and dozens of wine producing countries other than Australia and New Zealand, all of which have a bunch of unique wine regions and sub-regions within them.
“In my online wine business, Feravina, I always aim to pleasantly surprise my clients with different wine varieties and regions that they’ve never heard of – but all are exciting and delicious to drink.”
So next time you are in the bottle shop, take Mike’s advice and step away from the most common red wines (Shiraz, Cab Sav, Pinot Noir etc) and try asking them to recommend a wine for you. “Some of the alternative varieties and lesser-known regions tend to provide the best value for money.”
There is a wine for every beef – and when you venture out into the world of wine, you just might be pleasantly surprised.
Feravina is an Australian wine service specialising in wine that is organic, additive-free, low in sulphites and keto-friendly.