The Best Wine Pairings with Steak (and the Best Cuts of Steak!)

The Hawksmoor in Manchester, England is one of the locations for the popular and award-winning chain, known for succulent steaks and cocktail bars offering some of the best pairings. The restaurant has indeed earned acclaim for tender steak with some of the finest wine and other pairings. But this May, one customer, whose name has not been disclosed, received a wine pairing he did not order.

According to a report through both Newsweek and People, the customer ordered a fairly expensive bottle, a 2001 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, which retails at over one hundred U.S. dollars. What the customer received instead was an especially rare Chateau Le Pin Pomerol 2001, which instead runs around four thousand U.S. dollars. Chances are, the customer didn’t mind enjoying one of the best wine experiences of his life–and there’s no indication he knew about this mistake.

Still, the good news is that you don’t need an especially rare wine to enjoy some of the best pairings with steak, nor does it need to be over one hundred dollars. This guide with providing some guidelines to the best wine pairings with steak, no matter if you’re enjoying your steak in an established steakhouse like The Hawksmoor or for a grill out in your own backyard.

First, though, we’ll discuss steak itself. By doing so, we’ll establish a basis upon which we can understand pairing with certain types of steak, flavors, and methods of preparation.

What are the best cuts of steak?

With steak as popular as it is, there is ample room for disagreement when it comes to what the best cuts of steak are. Nonetheless, even though it does come down to a matter of personal preference, it is also true that different cuts of steak not only have different flavors but also work better for different types of cooking and preparation methods.

Let’s do a quick rundown of the most common cuts of steak:

  • Top Sirloin: This is among the very most popular cuts of steak, and is different from other types of sirloin in that round muscles have been removed, providing more tender meat from a portion that is normally tougher. It is neither the leanest nor fattiest cut of steak, and the preferred method of preparation is grilling, although it may also be stir-fried, pan-broiled or broiled. Overall, top sirloin tends to be a very popular cut.
  • Ribeye Steak: Ribeye is about the richest cut you can purchase, known for its tenderness but also marbled fat. It is considered among the fattiest cuts of steak but also the most flavorful. In the United States, Ribeye is sold with the bones removed, making it still easy to prepare. Ribeye makes a perfect steak for grilling; it can also be cooked on a stovetop using a cast iron skillet.
  • Filet Mignon: Filet Mignon is popular in that it provides the very most tender cut of steak that is fairly lean, and when prepared correctly, has been described as having a texture that almost ‘melts in your mouth’. Though it is delicate and tender, it lacks some of the flavors of more fatty meats and is sometimes served with a fat component, such as bacon or sauces. One of the most common cooking methods is on a stovetop using a cast iron skillet.
  • New York Strip Steak: Strip Steak comes from the short loin and provides a fairly tender cut that is also suited for marbling, with a rich but tender flavor; it is considered one of the richer cuts of steak, after Ribeye. Pan searing and oven roasting are two of the most popular ways to prepare New York Strip Steak.
  • T Bone/ Porterhouse Steaks: T Bone and Porterhouse steaks that are both cuts from the short loin, though T Bone steak is cut towards the front and Porterhouse near the rear. Both are fairly sizeable cuts of steak that are often compared with Ribeye, in that both of these cuts tend to be flavorful and are suitable for grill or broil. They are a bit more tender and slightly less fatty, but also hard to cook rare or medium rare.
  • Flank Steak: Flank Steak is among the leanest cuts of steak with a decent amount of flavor, but it also tends to be rather though due to the muscles running through it, and must be thinly sliced. While it can be grilled or seared, it does require marinade. Skirt Steak, which is often confused with flank steak, is stronger in flavor than flank steak, but also even tougher.
  • Other Cuts include chuck, neck, rump, and breast–all of which are not as prized for regular steak dinners but often used for combination dishes such as stews.

What are the different methods for cooking a steak?

You may be ordering out, but in case you do want to cook your steak yourself, let’s go through the most common methods for cooking steak. If nothing else, it may help you know how to order your steak.

  • Grilling is among the most popular cooking methods for steak. For most steak, a dry heat works because the steak has natural fats; something like a flank steak must be marinated because it is lean. For the most part, fattier, more flavorful cuts of steak are favored for grilling, like Ribeye and Porterhouse, while something like Filet Mignon may not do as well. Grilling adds a smoky, heavier finish. It can be less precise than other methods.
  • Pan Searing involves high, dry heat over a short time and browns the exterior of steak. This is a good method for Flank Steak, and also Filet Mignon, but both require marinade with this method; the high heat may make the exterior a nice texture but also risks drying the steak out. Often, butter or oil must be used to produce flavor.
  • Slow Cooking may be less common, but it produces some of the most tender and succulent steaks. Low heat over long periods of time means the steak is less likely to dry out. However, the steak that is most commonly cooked cuts like Top Blade and various kinds of Chuck Roast, which is lean and fibrous.
  • Broiling is a way to ensure you get the natural flavor of the steak without too much interfering; it’s also a no-fuss preparation method. However, it is about the worst way you can prepare steak because many ovens do not have broilers that can reach the proper temperature; it’s also very difficult to cook steak evenly.
  • Sear & Roast combines stovetop cooking with oven roasting. The searing produces a crispy exterior, while the roasting process helps to cook the steak evenly, but it’s very easy to overcook steak with this method, so it’s better with fattier cuts of steak, as opposed to cuts at risk of drying out.
  • Sous-Vide is considered the most preferred method for cooking most cuts of steak, in that it cooks the most evenly and provides succulent steaks with a final sear–if you order steak out at a fine steakhouse and it’s not grilled, chances are that it’s been prepared using this method. Steak is cooked using wet heat, submerged in temperature controlled water for about an hour, then finished off with a sear. Plus, this method works for any cut of steak. These steaks tend to be the juiciest and tender and also most true to the original flavor of the cut.

What else impacts the flavor of steak?

Of course, it’s not just the general cut of meat or even the method of preparation that impacts how steak tastes. Other important factors include:

  • Quality Grade: Quality Grade refers to the overall quality of the meat, as officially graded by the USDA, and refers to the age of the cattle, as well as ratios of lean tissue, muscle, and fat.
    • Prime Grade comes from young, well-nourished cattle and is the highest quality you can get. Prime Grade steak will be abundant in marbled fat and is suited for dry heat cooking, such as grilling and searing.
    • Choice Grade tends to have less marbling but is known to be succulent and tender.
    • Select Grade tends to be reserved for leaner cuts, such as flank steak, has less marbling, and is not as juicy as other steaks; steak in this grade are decent quality but less suited for certain methods of cooking.
  • Grain Fed vs Grass Fed: Grain-fed cattle, which is more common, tend to consume diets high in soy and corn products, and are only free to graze up to the first twelve months of their life, in an effort to be fattened up for the market. Grass-fed cattle are allowed to graze and eat a diet of grass and hay, which tends to produce leaner meat, no matter the cut. Humanitarian causes favor grass-fed beef, though grain fed does tend to be a little more flavorful. Grass-fed beef is slightly different in flavor; it depends upon personal preference. Grass-fed is more likely to be raised without hormones, which can impact flavor.
  • Meat Aging: Aging also impacts the flavor of your steak. Contrary to seafood, like salmon or lobster, beef is more flavorful when it’s aged as opposed to entirely fresh. Non-aged steak is not only less flavorful, but also a sign of lower quality steak. Dry-aged steak is prepared by being hung for thirty days, where water loss and the accumulation of microbes intensifies the flavor of the steak. It’s preferred over wet aging, in that dry aging tends to produce a stronger, more distinct flavor.
  • Marinades and Seasoning: Marinades are typically used especially for leaner cuts of steak and add a salty, oily component. Salt, pepper, citrus, and wine are all commonly used for steak preparation.

What should my general approach be when it comes to finding the best wine pairings with steak?

When searching for the best wine pairings with steak, you need to think about wine that complements the rich, umami flavors. But one mistake people make is looking for wines that are overly complex or overpowering. While some complexity is fine, too many flavors risk competing too much with the taste of high-quality steak.

Subtle flavor notes and pairings can make a big difference. You always need to also remember balance: the best wine pairings are made by balancing fat, salt, acidity, and body. Thus, the simple basic rule that red meat pairs best with red wine is not nearly specific or encompassing enough to cover the different cuts of steak or nuances of preparation. You also want to keep in mind accompaniments, just as seasons, glazes, marinades, and side dishes.

Finally, when it comes to finding the best wine pairings with steak, always keep in mind personal preference. Just because wine pairings are recommended doesn’t mean you can’t experiment some.

What are the best wine pairings with steak?

Let’s jump right into looking at the key factors the make for the very best wine pairings with steak.

  1. Do I need to go with red wine? It’s long been established that red wine generally pairs best with red meat, while white wine pairs are better with lighter meat, such as white seafood, chicken, and turkey. When it comes to steak, you are going to want to stick with this rule, with the exception of a possible Rosé, for leaner cuts, such as flank steak. The reason? Red wines have higher levels of tannins. Tannins add bitterness, complexity, and astringency. Low tannin levels cannot hold up to the rich meaty flavors of steak and such wines can easily be overpowered even by less flavorful steak. As such, you’ll also want to avoid low tannin wines, such as Barbera,  and Cinsault.
  2. Do I always need to reach for a high tannin wine? No, in fact, depending on the cut of meat as well as the method of preparation, steak also pairs well with wine moderate in tannins, such as Zinfandel and Malbec. Zinfandel, for instance, has a low to moderate level of tannins but also has spicy components and ample complexity to pair with steak that’s been prepared with a sweet glaze or dressing. Malbec, which is moderate in tannins typically, has a well-rounded flavor with earthy notes perfect for leaner cuts, such as flank steak or sirloin.
  3. What about acidity? Wine with high levels of acidity tends to taste more tart and crisp. For most cuts of steak, look for a wine with medium to high acidity. The acidity helps balance out the meaty and rich components and is especially helpful for cutting through steak with marbled fat. Syrah is known for a crisp touch to its acidity and especially well paired with something like Ribeye or Top Sirloin.
  4. What flavor notes are important? When pairing wine with steak, look for a few flavor notes. Unlike lobster or salmon, which do well with lighter citrus notes, you’re better off looking for more fruity wines with steak. Stone and darker fruits, such as plums and blueberries offer rich and deeper flavors. Spicy touches, such as pepper, are perfect for grilled steak, but especially for fattier cuts. You can pair leaner cuts of steak, such as filet mignon, with wines with brighter, lighter fruit flavors. Rich notes, like cocoa and dark jam, can be found in some Bordeaux Blends.
  5. Should the wine be full or light bodied? When it comes to wine body, your general rule of thumb is to look for a red wine with a fuller body, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. For leaner cuts of steak, you still want a pleasant mouthful but of more medium weight, such as Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir.

Can you summarize what kind of cuts is best for what wines?

In general, you’re best off with a red wine with moderate tannins, moderate to full body, medium to high levels of acidity, and deeper fruit notes as the main flavors.

  • For higher fat cuts of meat or meat that’s grilled, opt for a wine that pairs acidity with spicy notes, such as Syrah or Malbec.
  • For a steak that’s prepared with a sweeter glaze, you may possibly go with a Rosé or a lower tannin Zinfandel.
  • For lean cuts of steak, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir are nice options.
  • For fattier, richer cuts of meat, make sure your wine has a moderately high level of tannins and a fuller body.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Mixing Wine And Meat Bad For Your Health?

As is well known, any excess can be damaging for your health, including meat, and alcoholic beverages. It is recommended to eat red meat between 2 and 4 times per week, and consume as much as 100 grams of alcohol each week. Take in mind that if you have any health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity, this amount can drastically vary.

Can I Serve Just Wine On A BBQ?

BBQ is all about enjoying -usually- a really big amount of food. Most people need to pair their food with a drink, and the most common one to serve during a BBQ party is beer. It’s light, it doesn’t have a high level of alcohol, and you can drink a fair amount without the risk of getting drunk. Wine, on the other hand, it might not be as refreshing as a cold beer, and it definitely should be drunk with more precaution due to its level of alcohol. If you want to serve wine during a BBQ, it can be a great idea as long as you have another option to vary.

Can I Cook With Any Wine?

It is very popular to add wine to multiple recipes. It can ad a really nice deep, rich, and acid flavor to the meal, it adds color, and it can even tenderize meat. But it is very common to hear that “cheap wine can be used to cook”, and it might not be as good as it is popular. Experts recommend to exclusively use a wine that you would actually drink, to add to your food. This doesn’t mean that you should use you best wine to cook, but a good quality wine would do the job.

Can you suggest specific wine pairings with steak?

Now that you know how to find the best tasting steak and the best wine to go with it, let’s take a look at some wine pairings that may just lead to your best dining experience yet:

  1. Preparing with a sweet glaze? Go for Zinfandel, like Scarlet Path 2017. This unpretentious American wine presents a surprisingly nuanced balance of flavors, with sweet and spicy notes for the ideal balance. Cherries, spices, and just a bit of oaky flavor make this a pleasing choice; the smooth finish also rounds out the sweet glaze.
  2. For grilled steak, consider Syrah from Morgan Winery (2017).  Produced in California, this inexpensive wine is aged in oak for a richer taste, and has balanced acidity, with rich blackberry and licorice notes. Spicy notes come from black pepper and darker fruits, making it a great selection for matching the smoky flavor, especially with marbled fat steak. If you prefer Malbec, Luca Old Vine Malbec 2015 Uco Valley, Mendoza is a nice alternative. Plum, black cherries and violet make for a rich flavor profile but the myriad of spices akin to spice cake lift it to pair with a smoky, grilled steak.
  3. Having flank steak? Go for a medium-bodied Cabernet Franc, such as Mad Housewife 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Quixotic as the name may be, this Cabernet Franc enhances the flavor of more lean steaks without overpowering them. Cherries and raspberries produce a simple flavor with a medium body that has enough depth but is not overly complex–which is exactly what you should be looking for.
  4. Want the most classic and richest experience? Cabernet Sauvignon, like 2013 Wynns Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label might be your best bet. This red wine is vintage from Australia but still comes at under fifty dollars a bottle. Licorice, berries, violet, and a full body with structure makes this a pleasing choice for the most succulent grades of steak.
  5. For slow-cooked chuck or rump, look for a structured Syrah with a long finish, like Marrenon Luberon Grande Torque Terroir d’Altitude Rouge. Produced in Rhone, France, this reasonably priced wine is a blend of 80 percent Syrah to 20 percent Grenache. It’s notable for brighter and darker berries, as well as a spicy, long finish, and great for slow cooker recipes with meat like rump and chuck that is high in flavor but lower in fat.
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Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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