There’s no denying how good a velvety drop of red goes with a big, juicy steak.

Even if you’re not a wine buff, most people know that red wine and beef complement each other perfectly – as does fish served with a glass of a crisp white wine. But why is that?

It turns out there’s a scientific reason behind this common culinary ‘rule’ and it all comes down to the different compounds that can be found in meat and the chemicals and fermentation process used to make wine.

In particular, it’s the tannins in red wine – which mainly comes from the grape skins and seeds, as well as the wine barrels during the ageing process – and the protein in the meat that interact to make the ideal flavour combo. As tannin molecules soften the fat in the meat, it works to release more of the flavour. At the same time, the fat lessens the astringency of the wine, making it taste smoother and less bitter while bringing out more of its fruity flavours.

So essentially, because they are opposites – with beef being fatty and having ‘slippery’ or ‘lubricating’ qualities, and red wine being astringent with ‘rough’ or ‘dry’ qualities – they work to balance each other out by reducing the opposing sensation and ultimately, create a pleasing effect on the palate.

Other benefits of pairing red wine and beef

It’s not all about taste though. There are also some great health benefits that come from pairing red wine with beef.

Scientists have found that the healthful chemical compounds in wine – such as the polyphenols (antioxidants) can also work to inhibit the buildup of bad cholesterol and reduce the amount that enters the bloodstream, therefore preventing damage to blood vessels.

Three rules to follow when combining beef and red wine

Want to enjoy the maximum flavour benefits and health benefits that pairing red wine and beef offer? Key things you’ll want to consider are the cut of meat you’re using, how you’re preparing it and what sauces or other flavours may be present. There’s a wine to suit every dish.

Follow these general rules to help you decide.

Pair bold dishes with bold wines

If you’re cooking a steak or some other beef dish that’s dominated by strong, bold flavours, the key is to pair it with a bold wine to match.

A nice, robust cabernet sauvignon is a great choice for most steaks, while zinfandel is also ideal, with its high acidity and moderate tannins – making it particularly ideal with relatively fatty steaks such as rib eye, T-bone or porterhouse. Malbec is another winning choice, with its big, bold flavour and high in tannins.

Pair simpler fare with lighter wines

If you’re cooking a beef dish using leaner, less flavourful cuts, be sure to opt for a lighter red wine so you don’t run the risk of it overpowering your fare.

Syrah is a lovely full-bodied red with punchy flavours that taper off, worth trying. Merlot is also great for a more complex red wine that’s low in tannins, and so easier to drink than some other reds. And pinot noir is a lovely, light-bodied red ideal with a range of dishes, including beef bourguignon.