5 Beef Friendly Reds

Wines that are perfect for the summer barbecue season


I should have titled this article “5 Wines for Grilled Beef,” but the wine recommendations that I’ll be making are pretty much all beef friendly. It’s just that all of the beef I plan to consume from now through Labor Day will very likely be of the charcoal-seared persuasion. Don’t worry, I’m old school and use only hardwood charcoal, so there’s just pure beef and char going into my food and wine pairings here.

So what do I look for when pairing wine with beef? It’s a good question so let’s lay down some simple points on which to riff.

1. Smoky flavors are complementary.

2. A little sweetness can help balance out the char.

3. Bold flavors are natural partners.

4. Beef likes some peppery spice.

5. Fatty foods like a little acid trip.

If you want to see what I mean, read on!

Photo courtesy of jeffreyw via Flickr/cc

Smoky Flavors are Complementary

One of the great appeals of grilled food is all that smoky deliciousness that permeates the meat. Those flavors of wood smoke are both subtle and yet somehow assertive, and they can pretty easily overpower a wine. What to do? Look for smoky flavors in your wine.

You can find smoky flavors from barrel aging, from new, toasty oak, or from terroir. South African Merlot and many red blends are famously smoky and often have a nice edge of chipotle and jalapeño adding complexity to the black-fruited palate. I find that these wines are best paired with grilled strip steak, served with some chimichurri sauce.

Two to try:

Stellenbosch John X. Merriman

Thelema Mountain Vineyards Mountain Red

Photo courtesy of Christine Gallary via Chow.com

A Little Sweetness Can Balance Out the Char

Sometimes we get carried away when grilling and the smoky, sweet flavor becomes obscured by some overaggressive char. Fear not! Even a steak that’s crusty and black on the outside has a perfect partner. In this case, something that helps to soften those crispy edges is just the ticket.

A little sweetness can help balance out that bitterness. Many wines actually work fairly well, attesting to the current tendency of many wine producers to leave a little residual sugar in their wines. Big fruit can also help to reinforce that impression of sweetness, as can the use of American oak barrels, making a good old Zinfandel perfect for the bronco burger you burned, or maybe it was a London broil. You thought 4 inches was the right thickness?

Two to try:

Sausal Family Estate

Klinker Brick Old Vine

Photo courtesy of adactio via Flickr/cc

Bold Flavors are Natural Partners

Sometimes you want something mellow and refined, other times you want fireworks. Bring it on! Spice up my steak and let me worry about the consequences like what wine to pair with it.

Big flavor foods tend to need big flavor wines, but that doesn’t mean that they need complicated flavors. Sometimes, like with a nicely marinated sirloin steak, a wine just needs to roll in with rich fruit and a lot of self-confidence. I think New World Grenache is a woefully overlooked partner to grilled steaks, and one you should be investigating forthwith my friends.

Two to Try :

Broc Cellars Grenache

Andrew Murray Vineyards Grenache

Photo courtesy of Romulo Yanes via Epicurious.com

Beef Likes Some Peppery Spice

Syrah is the pepper king. Some say cool climate is peppery and others say warm climate, I simply say to bring the black wine, which pretty much means New World. There’s a ton of spice in many New World Syrah wines both from the grape and from aging in new oak barrels, making them almost a condiment when it comes to big, beefy flavors.

A lot of New World Syrah tends to be a little low on the acid side, which makes them better for lean cuts of meat. Bonus: many Syrahs are beefy tasting, adding a nice layer of teriyaki jerky complexity over your dry aged grilled flank steak.

Two to Try:

Novy Cellars Syrah

Koyle Syrah

Photo courtesy of Becky Luigart-Stayner via MyRecipes.com

Fatty Foods Like a Little Acid Trip

 One thing you can’t deny is that the fatty ring around your rib-eye can be mind-bogglingly good! The only problem is that it’s the fat-is-flavor rule in effect. When you have a particularly fatty cut of meat, you need wine with plenty of acid to come to your palate’s rescue.

Truth be told a big, juicy rib-eye is my favorite steak (bone in, of course) primarily because its actually like having several steaks in one all separated by delicious fat. You need a bright, juicy wine to combat all that fat. Fortunately, I love Sangiovese and find that it works like a charm here. You can rock with your favorite Chianti, but I’m going to reach for something a bit bigger. Rosso di Montalcino, come to poppa!

Two to try:

La Palazzetta Rosso di Montalcino

Campogiovanni Rosso di Montalcino

Photo courtesy of citymama via Flickr/cc

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Mikeperson
    815819 73

    complEment / complEmentary

    Just tryin' to help.

    Keep up the good work.


    May 23, 2012 at 3:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks Mike!

    it is appreciated.

    May 23, 2012 at 3:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,003

    I find with fatty meats that I really like the high tannins in Petite Sirah, but mostly with lamb chops rather than beef. But Brunello and rib-eye or oxtails? Right on.

    May 23, 2012 at 4:11 PM

  • What about some great Aussie reds.

    I can tell you that the Henschke Keystone or Petaluma Coonawarra Merlot go damn well with a bbqed rib on the bone!

    May 23, 2012 at 6:54 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Great recommendations, both of you. Thanks for the suggestions!

    May 23, 2012 at 6:56 PM

  • Here are 3 reds that are a match made in heaven for beef.

    1. Marques de Caceres Grand Reserva ; A wine with a great, fruity character and a good structure. It's chalky tannins make this wine a real good match.


    2. Parker Coonawarra Estate First Growth 2004 : With a strong, firm palate of liquorice and cedar flavours, it's dark dense, black fruits and a nice, long finish, this wine really is at it's best with rare beef.


    3. Planeta Merlot 2003 : With a lovely, creamy texture and velvety richness in the mouth. The touches of spice and mint is what really makes this wine a good paring with beef.


    May 24, 2012 at 3:52 AM

  • One you would overlook, just like I did, to go with lean beef
    Pinot Noir D'Alsace.
    I was surprised how this cold, clear but deep dark pink light red wine went well with steaks on hot summer evenings when in Alsace two summers ago.
    Good burgundies like Gevrey Chambertin also have an aspect of animal about them, a slight meatiness or whiff of dog, that suggest a good pairing with lean beef.
    Shiraz and beef - you cant go wrong. Rioja Reservas, ditto, also powerful Gigondas
    Cabernet can pair well with fattier, gristlier steaks, as can cru beaujolais.

    Generally anything with a bit of wood helps, I have only had disappointments by going too young when selecting red matches for steaks/beef.

    May 24, 2012 at 6:30 AM

  • Snooth User: duncan 906
    Hand of Snooth
    425274 2,274

    I agree with William.The perfect wine with steak is Burgundy.I had a Les Caves Hautes-Cotes Bourgogne the last time I had a steak and both were superb

    May 28, 2012 at 12:51 PM

  • Snooth User: coltspam
    1327708 34


    Aug 02, 2013 at 11:57 PM

  • well

    Aug 30, 2013 at 2:49 AM

  • good one

    Aug 31, 2013 at 4:55 AM

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