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Food & Wine Pairing - Beef

Simple rules to get started pairing food and wine...

Wine and Beef is a glorious combination...

Pairing Wine with Beef

Most beef recipes are filling and hearty, and are served with starchy side dishes such as potatoes, rice or bread. Very few beef dishes can be considered light, which is why red wines go so well with beef. If your beef dish has a strong, bold flavor, you’ll want to select a wine that can stand up to it. A basic rule when pairing wines with food is to put similar flavors together. Strong goes with strong, acidic with acidic, sweet with sweet, et cetera. Here are a few examples.

  • Beef grilled over charcoal will have an intensely smoky flavor. Choose a red wine that is rich and high in tannins to complement it. Try a Shiraz from California or Australia with your favorite steak.
  • Lean cuts of beef, such as filet mignon, taste better with a less tannic red wine. Go with a Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Best bets come from California, Spain and Italy.
  • Prime Rib, which is very rich and has fat marbled throughout, needs a young wine to cut through the flavor of the beef. Choose a Bordeaux from France or a Merlot that hasn’t been aged very long.
  • Stew or Brisket that have cooked slowly for hours take on a rich, earthy flavor. You’ll need a bold wine that can compete with the intensity of the dish. In this case, a slightly fruity red wine can be the perfect match. Go with a big Burgundy from France or a Zinfandel from Sonoma, California.

Rules were made to be broken, and not everyone agrees that similar flavors go together. For instance, sweet wines go with spicy foods such as beef curry, but perhaps that is because there are no truly spicy wines. Some people prefer to pair opposite flavors together, and will pair a dry, acidic wine with a rich creamy sauce. The choice is simply a matter of personal preference.

  1. Leaner cuts like filet do best with aged reds or wines that are less tannic. Richer cuts with a higher fat content, like a rib-eye steak, can stand up to a more concentrated and tannic red.
  2. Roast tenderloin is a lean cut, so it’s a perfect companion for a red whose tannins have softened a bit from aging. Bordeaux is a great choice, as are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from California or Australia. And don’t overlook Spain or Italy.
  3. Prime rib is richer, and it’s delicious served with a younger or more tannic Barbera or Cabernet-based wine or a more robust Merlot, Bordeaux, or Bordeaux-style blend.
  4. Pan-seared filet is great paired with a moderately tannic red like Merlot or a medium- weight Australian Shiraz. The fruit in these wines is lovely with the filet’s browned, caramelized crust, and their tannins won’t overwhelm a lean cut of meat.
  5. Brisket, short ribs and other stew meats are usually cooked slowly for a long time. The sinewy cuts break down and take on big, rich flavor. I like Rhône blends —the robust tannins, herbal notes, and earthiness of young Grenache-based wines like Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas work beautifully with the rich flavors.

Serve mature red wines with beef steak, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Blends – they dont mind mustard. Peppered steak which sometimes is served with a powerful sauce needs big reds, actually huge reds to counteract the weight of the beef. A big red peppery, Shiraz will do the trick here, as well as a Cabernet Shiraz Blend or a complex Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ripe, full – bodied, or savoury reds ( Shiraz, good quality Cabernet, weighty Pinot Noir ) are good with beef casseroles that are packed with vegetables and savoury, herby flavours. With casseroles or stews, choose low tannin, lighter reds such as Merlot, or a ripe, well – structured Chardonnay.

Serve mature red wines with roast beef, particularly reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Merlot Blends. Younger, fruity styles, with less tannin, are good for those who prefer their beef cooked in the traditional manner. ( especially if their is Yorkshire Pud on the plate !! ).

If the food is braised in a red wine, usually the same wine is a great match for the food. Red Burgundy and Malbecs are good partners for dishes such as Beef Bourguignon.

A gamy or high flavoured dish, like Osso Bucco generally needs a big, full bodied wine to go with it. For example, an Amarone has an extraordinary jammy/berry flavour wrapped in a velvet glove which can keep up with the flavours of the Osso Bucco. A Brunello di Montalcino would also be a great partner. Whereas the Amarone approaches from the sweet berry/jammy side, the Brunello would offer rich tannins surrounded by plummy/berry and vanilla flavours.

Experienced wine drinkers would also enjoy a big, earthy Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Where the braised dish has a lot of peppery-spice, a red Zinfandel, with it’s spicy fruit approach would also work well.
A common Japanese dish, sashimi, is raw seafood served thinly sliced with traditional condiments such as grated white radish, wasabi, or ginger, and ponzu sauce. Applying a twist to this time-tested recipe, replace seafood with Piedmonts beef strip loin, searing it in a hot oiled pan and then slicing thinly.

To complement this updated dish appropriately, pair it with an old world wine, preferably red wine from the Loire Valley, France, such as Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Gamay.

Choose light, fresh, medium – bodied and fruity reds, especially Merlot led blends. ie: Where Merlot has the greater percentage, such as Merlot based Bordeaux.

Beef marinated and served in rich wine sauces, can accomodate big, actually huge rich reds, mature Cabernet and Shiraz, alone and Blended varietals. As the sauce becomes richer and fuller, the wine will need to keep up as well. 

The basic rules apply, however eliminate the Merlot as a contender and add some full wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape into the mix as possible options. If you are not familiar to this wine, stick with the better known ones, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz and Zinfandel.

Good rounded Chardonnay or Semillon Chardonnay blends work well with simple grilled beef burgers. Medium – bodied, fruity light reds such as Merlot / Cabernet Merlot Blends are good with BBQ beef burgers. Add buns, onions, relishes and load with cheese, serve these, or young, sweet fruited, low – tannin Shiraz and Shiraz Cabernet Blends.

If the Beef is in an acidic sauce (such as a tomato or vinegar based sauce) then you should generally seek out a wine with enough acid to to keep up with the natural acids in the food.( Match acids with acids ) Another good rule of thumb is that foods go well with the wines they grew up with. So if you are in doubt, for example, you’re eating Italian food you may want to look to an acidic Italian wine.

Chianti is one wine that usually has sufficient flavour to keep up with the Beef and with the acidity from the grapes to keep up with the sauce with lots of tomatoes and peppers. Barbera and Sangiovese varietals are also good contenders.
Eastern foods can be difficult to pair with wine. The often use very distinct, spicy flavours which clash with the wine. A few ideas would be an off dry Gewurztraminer or Riesling would be a good match for spicy or highly flavoured Chinese, Indian or Thai inspired dishes. The sugars in these wines help smooth out the spices in the food.

The Gewurztraminer also has a spicy-raciness that would match the food. If you are enjoying milder food, such as a Japanese beef dish, think about the main characteristics of it’s flavour, our contender would be a Pinot Gris.

If prepared in a rich, savoury manner, such a a wild mushroom sauce, lean toward a Barolo, Brunello de Montalcino, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, or prehaps even an Cotes du Rhone.
If prepared in an acidic dish, such as Veal Scallopini, lean toward a Chianti, Nebbiolo or Rioja.

The cut of meat and its flavouring can have more of an impact on the pairing than does the cooking method. But grilled beef is an exception—it’s different from seared or roasted meat because it packs more intense flavour. Balance the grill’s intensity by serving a rich, tannic red. Especially with a grilled New York strip. Stay away from sweet or fruity flavourings with beef—their sweetness will flatten the flavours of a dry red wine.

(In case your not familiar with tannins, they are similar to what you taste when you drink from a cup of tea which has had a a teabag sitting in it too long. That mouth puckering flavour comes from both the grapes and the wood barrels the wine has aged in and – when provided in balance – provides a great flavour and helps cleanse your palate)

Choices here are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Red Bordeaux. A Zinfandel or Shiraz are especially appropriate when the dish has some spice to it.

Go from a humble beef lover to a verified meat connoisseur.

A Guide to Different Cuts of Beef

The most commonly used types of beef are:

  • Chuck: Cut from the shoulder; tough but flavorful.
  • Shank: Cut from the leg; very tough and chewy.
  • Brisket: Cut from the breast; tough if not cooked properly.
  • Rib: Cut from the rib area; very tender and flavorful.
  • Short plate: Cut from the belly of the cow; chewy and quite tough.
  • Flank: Cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow; one of the toughest cuts.
  • Loin: Cut from the back of the cow above the ribs; one of the tenderest cuts.
  • Sirloin: Cut from the back of the cow just past the loin; pretty tender and flavorful.
  • The round: Cut from the back of the cow above the back legs; chewy and tough.

The chuck, also known as the seven-bone steak (in reference to the shape of the bone), is located near the shoulder and neck area of the cow. The chuck cut yields some of the more economical cuts of beef, such as the chuck roast, chuck arm roast, and the flat iron steak.

The shank is the leg of the cow and is one of the toughest meats. This is because the leg muscle is constantly used, creating a tough, sinewy cut. Therefore, it is one of the less popular, but also one of the cheapest. The Shank doesn’t yield very many cuts of meat, just the shank or the shank cross cut. It is also used in very low fat ratios of ground beef.

Brisket is cut from the breast or the lower portion of the cow. Like the shank, it has a lot of connective tissue and can be quite tough unless cooked properly. The brisket is known by two main cuts of meat: brisket flat cut and the brisket point cut.

The rib includes some of the finest cuts of the cow, and is the known for its juiciness, tenderness, superb marbling, and flavor. The rib cut refers to ribs 6 through 12 on the cow. The rib includes several of the finest cuts of the cow, including the prime rib, short rib, rib-eye steak, and rib-eye roasts.

The short plate is located on the front belly of the cow below the ribs. It contains a lot of cartilage and is kind of fatty and tough. It contains a few different cuts including the short ribs, hangar steak, and the skirt steak. It is best known for being used to make carne asada.

The flank is a long flat cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow. It is one of the toughest cuts of meat. The flank is usually cut into flap steaks or flank steaks. It is typically used in Asian and Mexican cuisine as stir-fry or fajita beef. It can also be used in London broil.

The loin is cut from the back of the cow, typically a portion of the hindquarter directly behind the ribs. It is one of the most tender and desirable cuts of beef. The loin is best known for producing filet mignon, porterhouse steak, and the T-bone steak. However, it also contains the KC strip, tenderloin roast, and the shell steak.

Sirloin is also cut from the back of the cow, just past the loin (a.k.a the short loin). Although, not as tender as the loin cuts, the sirloin is still a very popular cut of beef. The sirloin contains the top sirloin, bottom sirloin, and center cut sirloin steaks, as well as the tri-tip steak, filet of sirloin, and the ball tip roast.

The rump, is a lean cut of meat with very little fat. It is located at the back of the cow near the rear leg. Like the Shank, the round is a tough cut due to the constant use of the cow’s legs. Despite the rump’s toughness, it produces quite a few different cuts of meat that are quite popular. Some of the more common cuts are: rump roast/steak, top round roast/steak, bottom round roast/steak, eye of round roast/steak, and the sirloin tip center roast/steak.

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