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Ideas for pairing wine with beef this Christmas

From fillet steak to delicious roast topside from your local butcher, here are some things to consider if you're pairing wine with beef this Christmas - plus a selection of recent reviews by Decanter experts.

Whether it’s a couple of succulent steaks or a hearty roast for a small gathering, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to matching delicious wine with beef.

Pairing wine with beef: Styles to look for

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 
  • Grenache or ‘GSM’ blends
  • Malbec
  • Shiraz
  • Aged Nebbiolo (Barolo)


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It’s not too hard to find a red wine that’ll work, and there is always an element of personal preference when it comes to wine and food matching, but think about the cut, age, cooking time and accompaniments if you’re seeking to try a more precise pairing.

White wine lovers should not despair, however, as Matthieu Longuère MS argues here.

Cut

‘The easiest way to pair wine with beef is to think about matching the flavour intensity of your wine with your beef,’ said Mark Quick, wine director for Hawksmoor steakhouse restaurants.

‘The fat in your cut is where all of the flavour is locked up,’ he told Decanter.com.

‘More fat equals more intense beefy flavour. For example, a fillet would be one of the leaner cuts and usually have a very subtle flavour, on the other end of the scale would be a heavily marbled rib-eye.’

Leaner cuts, like fillet or topside, can be beautifully, melt-in-the-mouth tender, but could also be overpowered by a wine that is too bold.

‘You could be better off going with a lighter and more subtle drop,’ said Quick. ‘For example, a red from the Jura, a Pinot Noir from anywhere, or there are some very good lighter Garnachas [Grenache] coming out of the New and Old world nowadays that work very well too. Dani Landi, ‘La Uvas de la Ira’, is one of my favourites right now.

Decanter World Wine Awards judge Patricio Tapia previously suggested looking towards Altamira and Gualtallary in the Uco Valley for a fresher style of Argentinian Malbec to drink with steak.

Fattier cuts of beef, such as rump, fore rib and shin, have a deeper flavour than leaner cuts.

Quick said that the higher the fat content of the beef, the higher its capacity to pair with richer wines that have bolder tannins.

Fat content washes away tannin in your mouth and vice-versa, he said. ‘That’s what keeps you coming back for more of both your wine and your steak.’

This could be classic Cabernet Sauvignon territory and well-balanced wines will have tannins to help dissolve the fat, acidity to lift the dish and lots of  black fruit flavours that can stand up to the richness of the meat.


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Age of your beef

If you’ve gone for dry-aged steak or beef, then think about how long the meat has been aged for.

‘Heavily aged beef possesses a gamey, sometimes cheesy characteristic that marries extremely well with old wines,’ said Quick.

How about wine with a few years of bottle age? ‘An aged Barolo or red Burgundy would be epic,’ said Quick. ‘It could be the perfect excuse to drink that bottle that has been staring at you.’

Cooking time

Those who enjoy beef at the rarer end of the spectrum might want to opt for a wine that has richness but also a lovely juicy character.

You could opt for a Grenache-based wine or a Syrah/Shiraz-Grenache blend here, such as those from the southern Rhône or South Australia.

Languedoc-Roussillon also has some excellent-value options in the ‘GSM’ arena – wine-speak for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre – and you could look to the Terrasses du Larzac or Pic-St-Loup for wines with plenty of fruit and a lovely ripe and balanced character that will match the succulence and tenderness of rare meat.

A Malbec from Argentina – or one of the more modern styles from France’s Cahors area – could also be a fantastic match here.

Accompaniments and sauces

Many of the classic sauces with beef hold pretty strong flavour themselves. How about meeting that peppercorn sauce head-on with the peppery notes of a great Australian Shiraz, for instance?

Roast beef with red wine sauce or jus might work better with a red that shows ripe fruit, while a traditional gravy has more savoury elements to it.

When it comes to steak, Hawksmoor’s Quick said, ‘Ignore all of my advice about avoiding big, powerful, tannic wines with lean cuts if you are going to pour sauce all over your steak. You are essentially covering your steak in butter or beef fat anyway, so should revert to the advice about fatty steaks in this instance.’

White wine with beef?

It might be considered a faux-pas in some circles, but several sommeliers and experts believe white wines can indeed match up to the intensity of beef.

If you’ve got a lovely caramelised crust on your meat then a white wine with nutty flavours can be brilliant, said Quick. ‘Look for extended oxidative ageing,’ he said, suggesting Jura or traditional white Riojas.

He also highlighted Sherry as a potential match here. ‘If that’s what you are into, [it] would work wonders,’ he said.

Oloroso, for example, is a Sherry style known for its nutty complexity.

Tasting notes: Inspiration for pairing wine with beef this Christmas

The wines below have been recently reviewed by Decanter experts.

This article has been updated in December 2020. Earlier versions were written in 2016 and 2018 by James Button and Georgina Hindle.


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