What are the best wines to have with steak?

My top 3 red wines to pair with steak represent the best of the old and new worlds and a new world twist on an old world grape variety.

The challenges of pairing wine with steak

The best wines to have with steak are those that can hold their own against the meaty flavours and rich texture of steak. You want a red wine with strong complex flavours and rich tannins that will compliment and enhance your steak.

Fortunately there are lots of wines to chose from. Unfortunately the number of choices can feel overwhelming.

Narrowing it down to just 3

With so many options there were some tough choices to make. But it was lots of fun. My long list of wines has developed over the years as I have learnt more about wine and food wine pairing. Interestingly when I looked at my final three I realised that I had never tried any of them before I started studying wine. I would never have even thought to try them.

My top 3 red wines to pair with steak

1. Old vine Zinfandel from California
2. Amarone del Valpolicella Classico (aged 5+ years) from Italy
3. Mad Dog Sangiovese from Barossa Valley, Australia

I have deliberately not listed specific wineries or brands for my first two choices in case you want to use them to help guide your own wine choices. My reason is simple. To avoid frustration!

Avoiding frustration

Whilst I love reading my favourite wine writers’ suggestions for specific wines. I never seem to be able to find that exact wine on the wine shelves of my local supermarket, wine shop or on a wine list. Even if I can (very occasionally) recall the exact name of the wine as I stand looking at the vast array of wine bottles in most wine sections.

My third choice is a specific producer, Mad Dog. I realised if my list was to truly reflect my top three then I had to include the Mad Dog Sangiovese. If you are in the UK I get mine from Corney Barrow (where I first tasted the wine) but otherwise online is probably your easiest option.

The Zinfandel and Amarone should be much easier to find. The US/California and Italy sections of good wine shops and supermarkets should have options for both.

Old vine Zinfandel from California

Before I started studying wine Zinfandel from California (if I thought about it at all) was just a slightly sweet rosé. Definitely not a fantastic accompaniment to steak. And the “old vine” bit would have meant nothing to me.

Zinfandel has powerful flavours of black fruits (think blackberry) and sweet spices (cloves and liquorice). It can also have some dried fruit flavours like prune or raisin. Rich and full bodied it is great with steak.

If you can, select one marked “old vine”. As the name suggests this will be made from grapes grown on old vines and in my experience will have richer more intense flavours. This is partly because as vines mature the grapes they produce often improve in quality. It can also indicate that they have been grown on some of the original, and best, vine growing areas.

Amarone del Valpolicella, a celebration wine

Just the label of an Amarone del Valpolicella would have frightened me off before I started my wine studies.

Very ornate and fancy, nearly always old fashioned they don’t give much helpful information about the type of wine you will find inside.

Meeting my husband for a meal the evening I finished WSET Level 2 I was so excited when I spotted an Amarone on the wine list of our restaurant. We had been studying the Amarone technique and had tasted the wine.

For the first time I knew that it would be an ideal pairing with our steaks. It was great to put learning into action so quickly (and deliciously).

A good Amarone has intense flavours of raisin, spice and red berry fruits. Rich and full bodied.

Try to get a Classico if you can. This indicates it is made from grapes grown in the traditional and best areas of Valpolicella and should mean a better wine.

Definitely go for one that is 5+ years old. Ageing really does matter with this wine. I wouldn’t buy a younger one if my plan was to drink it straight away.

I enjoyed it so much it was the first wine I blogged about when I launched this site.

Mad Dog Sangiovese

My love for this wine came about because of my increasing obsession with trying wines created from grape varieties grown in new, often unexpected areas of the world.

In this case the Italian Chianti region’s Sangiovese grape grown in the hotter Barossa Valley of Australia. Producing a bigger stronger flavoured red than achieved in the cooler Chianti region it compliments steak perfectly.

Aromas and flavours of baked or stewed red berry fruits like cherry and strawberry and spice. Depending on the year it can have herbal and earthy tones. Rich and full bodied.

Your choice of wine?

What are your top wines with steak? I would love to hear your thoughts. Join me on Instagram @how2enjoywine and #topwinewithsteak.

Whatever you chose, have fun and enjoy!

Cheers! Janne