In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related queries to the world’s top sommeliers. In this instalment, sommelier and wine buyer for Friarwood Fine Wines Salvatore Castano advises on the best wines to pair with steak.
My partner and I are big steak fans and I’m planning on cooking a special steak dinner next weekend, but I’m running out of inspiration for new wine pairings. I usually go for a big, bold red, but it would be nice to try something a bit different, or perhaps even try a different style of wine altogether. What’s the best bet?
Tamara from Toronto, Canada
Sommelier Salvatore Castano responds:
‘Red wine goes well with steak: there’s a reason why it’s the most classic pairing. Steak matches so well with the pronounced tannins in red wine, and generally, the heavier the body of your red wine, the better it will go with the meat.
‘When considering the perfect wine match for a steak, there are three main considerations. Firstly, the body of the wine must match up with the texture of the steak. Secondly, the tannins need to work well with the protein in the meat. Finally, the alcohol level must be high enough to cleanse your palate from the fattiness, even with leaner cuts of meat.
‘Of course, which specific wine you pair should depend on how the steak is cooked, as well as what sauces are served with it. Each type of preparation will potentially require a different wine from different regions around the world. If the steak is grilled, it gets a bit of bitterness and smokiness to it, so I would suggest pairing that with a United States Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot; these wines have a slight sweetness on the palate, which will contrast nicely with the bitter notes of the grilled or barbecued steak. They also have an oaky or even smoky nose that should complement the dish.
‘When I used to work at [London steak restaurant] MASH, we had so many different styles of meats, including dry-aged meat, which is just an explosion of flavour in your mouth. So, you need a wine that’s quite intense and complex to go with this style of steak, otherwise the meat will completely overpower the flavour of the wine. One such wine, and one of my personal favourites for dry-aged ribeye steak, is the Ducru Beaucaillou 2005 from St Julien in Bordeaux, a full-bodied and fruit-laden Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend.
For cuts like ribeye and sirloin, I’d opt for something more full-bodied to counteract the fat content
‘In terms of the cut of meat, you can opt for some lighter-bodied wines depending on the fattiness of the steak. The fillet is the leanest cut, so I would pair that with a Pinot Noir with light body and elegance. For leaner cuts, I’d even say an oaked Chardonnay from the US or Burgundy could make a good pairing. For cuts like ribeye and sirloin, I think it all depends how the steak is prepared, but generally I’d opt for something more full-bodied to counteract the fat content.
‘Pairing also depends on where the meat comes from, in my opinion. For example, if you’re eating a steak from Argentina, it’s nice to pair it with something from the same region, like a Malbec from Mendoza. If you have steak from the US, where lots of the meat is corn-fed so the meat has a sweeter taste, you could pair it with a US Cabernet Sauvignon. For steak from Italy, and in particular Tuscany, I’d go for a nice Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino; for Piedmont beef, go with a Barolo or Barbaresco.
‘For the white wine drinkers, you always need to look for high alcohol and high acidity, which can help balance out the fattiness of the meat. Intense flavours work best, so something with a bit of oak always works well. I’d recommend an oaky Chardonnay like the Williams Selyem 2010 from Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, or a white Rioja made with American oak. For rosé, the best choice for me is the Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 2008 from Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, which is quite a rare wine, but it doesn’t break the bank, and it has that high alcohol, oak, and body that pairs so well with steak.’
Interview by Louella Berryman