Pairing wine with beef: Six styles to try
Grenache or ‘GSM’ blends
Aged Nebbiolo (Barolo)
Traditional white Rioja
It’s hard to beat a delicious bottle of red wine with hearty roast beef on a wintry afternoon, whether it’s Christmas Day or simply a relaxed Sunday lunch.
Classic fuller-bodied reds, such as Bordeaux blends led by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Southern Rhône or Australian Shiraz, are often considered go-to wines that can match the flavour intensity of a roast beef dish.
Yet balance is important in any great wine. A refreshing dose of acidity can work wonders, particularly if you also have a range of trimmings on the dinner table.
A bit of bottle age can bring depth and complexity, too, as Decanter’s Tina Gellie noted recently after tasting this Château d’Arsac 2016 from the Margaux appellation.
‘It’s showing nice maturity already, with savoury saddle leather spice enhancing red plum and bright cassis fruit – a natural partner for roast beef,’ she said.
Pairing wine with beef also offers plenty of scope for experimenting and personal preference. If you’re thinking about a more precise match, consider the cut, age, cooking time and accompaniments.
Red wine with beef: what makes the 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 in December 2020.
‘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.’ He highlighted Dani Landi, ‘La Uvas de la Ira’, as a particular favourite.
Malbec lovers could look towards fresher styles from Altamira and Gualtallary in Argentina’s Uco Valley, as previously suggested by South American wine expert Patricio Tapia, a Decanter contributor.
A leaner cut of beef served rare or pink might also benefit from a red that puts bright, juicy fruit front and centre, yet still with enough depth to match the flavour of the meat.
Fat and tannin: a match made in heaven
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.’
Barolo and aged 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.’
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 Syrah / Shiraz, for instance?
Roast beef with red wine sauce or jus might work better with a red that showcases riper fruit, while a traditional gravy has more savoury elements to it.
When it comes to sauce, 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.’
Can you drink white wine with beef?
It might be considered a faux-pas in some circles, but personal taste is important – and several sommeliers say some white wines can work well with 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 2021. Mark Quick spoke to Decanter in December 2020, and earlier versions of this article were written in 2016 and 2018 by James Button and Georgina Hindle.