Beef serves as the centerpiece for many classic American diners, but which wine should I serve with it? The answer depends on the preparation. Beef often has a rich, hearty flavor and can have a high-fat content, so it typically pairs well with full-bodied, tannic red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. Tannins and fat interact with each other in such a way that the wine and beef together add up to an experience where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In this article, I’ll present some of my favorite pairings for beef.
Steak – Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
Among the most classic of pairings, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has proven the virtues of the combination in steak houses around the world. Not only does Napa Cab have the strength of flavor and tannic structure for steak but it has developed a prestige comparable to the place a good cut of steak has in our society. Try younger Cabernet in the two-to-five-year range for fatty cuts of corn-fed steak and older wines from five-to-twenty-years-old for grass-fed, dry aged cuts. While sauces can be delicious with steak, a good wine is all the sauce you need with a well-cooked piece of meat seasoned simply with salt and pepper.
Burgers – Mendoza Malbec
Burgers have a lot of flavor, especially when augmented with cheese, vegetables, and various condiments. You need a powerful wine to stand up to a burger, but not so powerful that it distracts from the intensity of the food itself. Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina showcases dark fruit flavors, ripe tannins, and a round mouthfeel that will make the best burgers even better.
Smoked Barbecue Brisket – California Zinfandel
Brisket has become increasingly popular over the past decade or so, despite its long cooking time. A carefully prepared brisket with barbecue sauce has both smokiness and a hint of sweetness – characteristics complemented by California Zinfandel with its flavors of black pepper, woodsmoke, and stewed, dark fruit.
Dry-Rubbed, Texas-Style Ribs – Northern Rhône Syrah
The hallmark of Texas-style barbecue is its dry rub. Unlike other parts of the country where various sauces are used, Texans let the meat speak for itself and avoid sauces in favor of dry spices. This focus on savory meat flavor with aromatic spices calls to mind northern Rhone Syrah with its dense, spicy palate. Try Syrah labeled “Hermitage,” “Cote de Hermitage,” “Cote Rotie,” or “Saint Joseph.”
Classic Pot Roast – Napa Valley Merlot
There’s something comforting, homey, and unassuming about pot roast, but it can be among the most flavorful and delicious dinners. Merlot is similarly underappreciated, offering tremendous value and deliciousness. The elegant, round body of the Merlot will heighten the enjoyment of the meat, and the wine’s rich, fruit flavors will enhance the flavor of the braising liquid and gravy.
Beef Carpaccio – Champagne
The purest and most elemental way to eat beef may be raw in a dish like beef carpaccio. The meat is generally pounded thin and covered with refreshing, acidic ingredients like capers, parsley, and citrus. The bubbles and crisp acidity in the Champagne will enhance the effect of the toppings and refresh the palate.
Philly Cheese Steak – Barbera D’Asti
The cheesesteak is a sandwich featuring shredded beef and cheese on a long roll. In most of the country, the cheese variety is optional, and onions and green peppers are generally added. In Philadelphia itself, cheesesteaks – sometimes simply called “steaks” – are ordered either “with” or “without,” plus a cheese preference. The terms “with” and “without” refer to onions or an absence thereof. The cheese choices are generally whiz or American. However you like your cheese steaks, you should eat them with Barbera D’Asti – a friendly, medium-bodied red wine from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. Barbera is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, with dark fruits and bright acidity to match and enhance the flavors of the meat and cheese.
Beef Fajitas – Bierzo Mencia
A festive, sizzling plate of beef fajitas deserves an exotic Spanish wine as accompaniment. Mencia is a medium-bodied, dry, red wine from the Bierzo region of northwestern Spain which has flavor intensity to match fajitas and a lively spicy finish to enhance the overall dish. Fajitas and Spanish red wine make great dinner companions.