One of the greatest pairings for beef is a white you may have never heard of: Madeira.

By Charles Antin
Updated May 23, 2017
Epic Grilled Steaks

So you're grilling a steak, and the time has come to open a bottle of wine. It's compulsory to go for a fruity, tannic red like Cabernet Sauvignon, right? Wrong! One of the greatest pairings for beef is a white you may have never heard of: Madeira. This offbeat, fortified wine comes from a Portuguese island, where it undergoes a winemaking process that includes heating and oxidization—two things that are generally considered bad for wine but which give Madeira its unique character. The result is a wine that’s almost indestructible, with flavors of toffee, caramel, fig and raisin. That might sound like dessert, but when it's vinified dry or off-dry with Verdelho or Sercial grapes, its mouthwatering acidity makes it extremely pairable, and the burnt sugar flavors are perfect with the crust on a grilled steak. The alcohol’s high, so we’re not suggesting you finish a bottle with dinner, but if you chill these down slightly, they’re a great way to kick off a meaty summer meal.

1. Blandy’s 5-Year-Old Sercial (around $24)
Blandy’s has been bottling all kinds of Madeiras—sweet, dry, expensive and affordable—for two centuries. Their 5-year-old Sercial is an excellent way to try the grape and the style without overcommitting financially.

2. Broadbent 10-Year-Old Sercial (around $42)
Bartholomew Broadbent has been singing the praises of Madeira in the US for decades. His 10-year Sercial hints at the incredible complexity you'll find in even older bottlings.

3. The Rare Wine Company Charleston Sercial (around $50)
Importer Mannie Berk’s Historic Series bottlings are named after towns where Madeira was the favorite drink during the 18th and 19th centuries: Savannah, Boston, Baltimore and the driest of the series, the Charleston Sercial. If you think the idea of pairing a fortified white wine with steak is crazy, Mario Batali disagrees—The Rare Wine Company’s website reminds us that he paired this wine with a Wolfgang Puck wild boar dish at the 2009 New York Wine Experience.