It’s no secret that you want to break out your big red wines with steak. When that steak is grilled, don’t be afraid to serve wines that have seen some new oak—the smoky-sweet flavors of the barrels work well with the char on the meat.
California and Washington Cabernet Blends. Napa Valley Cabernets with grilled steak are a classic combo, and you can’t go wrong with this pairing. For wines that are a little more interesting (and might be a better value), look for Cabernet blends (sometimes called Bordeaux-style blends) from less-known regions, like California’s Paso Robles and Washington State’s Walla Walla.
Bordeaux. If you prefer European-style wines, red Bordeaux—which is made of a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, among other grapes—are a good bet. These wines tend to have more acid and tannins (what’s known as “structure”) than the California wines, which you might appreciate with a rich, buttery sauce. The somewhat savory flavors in Bordeaux can also be great with an herb-laden condiment. For affordable Bordeaux that are dominated by Cabernet, look for wines from appellations like Haut-Médoc or Graves.
Malbec. Steak is to Argentinians what burgers are to Americans. In Argentina, you’ll almost always find bottles of local Malbec on the table, and it’s a great alternative to Cabernet. The rich, round, earthy reds (which many Americans now love) can sometimes even smell beefy. Yes, in this case, that’s a good thing.
Zinfandel. If you’re rubbing your steak with sweet spices or brushing it with a dried chile sauce, like mole, try berry-rich Zinfandel from California. These low-tannin reds work well with some spice but are still rich enough to go with the steak. They’re also a good choice if you’re serving steak alongside barbecued meats, like ribs, because they’re great with sweet sauces.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and author of the forthcoming The Modern Potluck (Clarkson Potter, 2016). She is also the cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.