Red wine with beef, and white wine with fish. For the longest time, this was the simple mantra that resounded in restaurants around the globe. Patrons whispered this under their breath as they perused the menu and wine bar selection. They didn’t want to make a wine faux pas and look foolish in front of their guests and sommelier. Of course, there’s merit to choosing the ever-reliable Cab or Syrah to go with a dry porterhouse or T-bone. Red wine does go hand-in-hand with red meat, after all.
The Fundamentals of Flavor
One of the reasons many steak enthusiasts shy away from white wine is the prevailing belief that it isn’t strong enough for the steak. It lacks the power, the punch, and the tannins to really highlight the smokiness and the savory elements of grilled meat or game. While it’s true that not all white wines will go well with beef, there are a large number of dry and fruit-forward whites that are great matches.
Take, for example, a full-bodied Chardonnay or Viognier. These wines are robust enough to stand up to the richness of freshly grilled steak. Bright and complex white wines, with healthy doses of acidity and limestone or rock minerality, can also do wonders when it comes to cutting through the fat of a choice prime rib or rib eye.
Leaner cuts like filet mignons and Chateaubriands are subtle enough in flavor to go with a myriad of white wines. Whether roasted or grilled medium rare, these cuts taste heavenly when paired with a stunning Spätlese or dry Riesling. As many wine experts will tell you, the key to pairing white wine with beef is to find a tipple that can match. Or at least, mimic, the intensity and weight of a solid red.
Also Consider these Three S’s: Side, Sauce, and Seasoning
Beyond basing your choice of wine on the cut or marbling of your steak, we also highly recommend focusing on the dish’s side/salad, sauce, and seasoning. Why? Well, these elements of the dish are just as important as the actual meat, at least in terms of your choice of tipple.
One of the things that sommeliers agree on is that spring vegetable salads are better off with white wines than they are with reds. The crispness of a solid white just elevates the nuances in flavor of a good arugula, asparagus, artichoke, and cherry tomatoes salad. Thinking of grilling your artichoke hearts and asparagus alongside a hearty slab of strip steak? Then pair this dish with a traditional German Riesling or a New World Chardonnay. That combination is a gustatory homerun.
As for sauces and seasoning, the tangier you go with your sauce or marinade, the more you should consider taking a bottle of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc out of the wine cellar. Whether we’re talking lemon and pepper, lemon and thyme, or perhaps a juicy New York strip with a side of herb salads and cherry tomatoes, the citrusy notes of these wines will highlight the freshness of the dish.
Do you want to go with contrasting over complementing flavors? You can do so. You can ‘tame’ a spicy rub or sauce—one that’s full of black pepper, onion, and garlic fire—with a cool, sweet wine like Moscato or Gewürztraminer. This even works for curry-rubbed cuts like Indian-style or Thai-style steaks. These aromatic wines are also great choices for dry-aged prime steaks.
When in doubt, go for Riesling or Chardonnay
In case you find yourself at a loss when it comes to picking the right white wine for your steak, we offer you our top two most food-friendly wine picks: Riesling and Chardonnay. Unless you’re planning on smothering your steak with barbecue sauce, various styles of these two wines should work well with an array of cuts, sides, and sauces.
Riesling. Considering its versatility, Riesling is one of the more underrated food pairing wines in the New World. With its wines ranging from saccharine to bone dry, this tipple goes with a staggering plethora of flavors. For example, dry Riesling from Alsace, Australia, or Germany, complements dry-aged rib eye or porterhouse extremely well. Dry-aged steak usually has a light minerality to it that really brings out the earthiness and smoky undertones of a good Riesling. This dry wine also helps bring out the richness of the more flavorsome cuts of steak.
Chardonnay. Chardonnay also offers a wealth of options when it comes to its style, structure, and flavor. When oak-aged, this wine develops a creaminess that makes it ideal for bone marrow-, herb-, and garlic-butter steaks. European-style (unoaked) Chardonnays on the other hand, work very well with sauces and salads that have a bit more bite. Think rib eye with lemon or lime hollandaise sauce, and again, steak with a side of citrusy salad.
Now that you know the basics of white wine and steak pairings, we suggest you give it a try. The next time you’re in a steakhouse, curb the urge to order Cab. Get a Riesling or a Chardonnay instead. Doing so will definitely change the way you view white wine.