Let’s get one thing straight: a white will never be a red. Even the best bottle on this list will have trouble beating out a decent Beaujolais-Villages or Italian Dolcetto in the steak stakes. But, contrary to popular opinion, you shouldn’t rule out your Rieslings, Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs completely. At the right table — and with the right cut — they’ll do the job handsomely.
Don’t believe us? Then have some science, won’t you? The reason red wine is considered a better batting partner for steak is because darker wine tends to have more tannins. And tannins, those bitter-tasting organically-occurring substances you’ll also find in tea and berries, add complexity and astringency to your meal — so can stand up to the rich, heavy flavours of meat. But tannins are not the reserve of red wine alone.
In fact, all wines have tannins — albeit at differing levels. And, just as some high-tannic whites work with steak, some low-tannin reds do not. So it pays to pick wisely. Below, to help you broaden your gastronomic horizons, we’ve uncorked seven steak-suitable bottles of white wine. With bright, fresh acidity and generous mineralogy, they’re the white wine exceptions that prove the established red rule…
For a lean, powerful pairing: Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc
Pair it with: A rare Filet Mignon, with not a scrap of fat in sight.
Why it works: Your South African Chenin Blanc is a curious beast. Naturally leaner in texture than its French cousins, it’s a more powerful take on the grape. This means more alcohol, and a notable increase in both richness and ripeness. The oak used to age this dry Kaapzicht helps find a balance between flavour and freshness — which then pairs perfectly with lean, rare red meat.
Kaapzicht Bush Vine Chenin Blanc
For a richer, fattier cut: Crozes-Hermitage Blanc
Pair it with: A juicy ribeye, or similarly fatty cut.
Why it works: With this delectable, unctuous Hermitage Blanc, winemaker Jean-Pierre Mucyn has magnificently captured the rich, oiliness of the Marsanne grape. Thankfully, such a well-rounded, weighty textured white can stand up commendably to a fattier slab of meat, such as a ribeye. The nutty and spicy notes of the style — try this 2016 vintage from Domaine du Colombier if it’s a special occasion — will only add to the depth of flavour.
Crozes-Hermitage Blanc, Domaine Mucyn, 2018
For an assertive, cutting edge: Bread & Butter Chardonnay
Pair it with: A thinly slice, charcoal-grilled flank steak.
Why it works: Your classic Chardonnay contains potent, piquant acids — which have a similar effect on beef as the tannins in red wine. They slice through the meat like a steak knife, cutting through the fat and rich flavour. Happily, this lightly-oaked Californian offering also has an indulgent nutty, creamy quality — meaning it’ll sing through and pair wonderfully with a thinner cut thrown on an outdoor grill.
Bread & Butter Chardonnay 2018
For a subtler steak and wine pairing: 2018 Domaine Fontarèche
Pair it with: An inexpensive and underrated Sirloin Tip Side steak.
Why it works: Like the Chardonnay above, Viogner has its steak and eats it. Known as the ‘hedonist’s white grape variety’, it has a lush, full-bodied feel — but with the same dominant, direct characteristics that will stand up to your average steak. So, while this Domaine Fontarèche may struggle with a New York Strip, point it at a Sirloin Tip Side and you’ll have a match made in hedonism.
2018 Domaine Fontarèche, Viognier
For the fullest flavour: Rioja Blanco 2018 Muga
Pair it with: Entrecôte, the thinly-cut boneless ribeye steak.
Why it works: Many meat aficionados will tell you that a red Rioja is the best steak pairing. So it figures that the white take on the grape would do pretty well, too. Look for a slightly older bottle — the nutty, honeyed flavours will have had more time to develop — and you won’t be disappointed. Poured alongside an Entrecôte, the notoriously meaty ribeye derivative, this complex toasted 2018 Muga will do just fine.
Rioja Blanco 2018 Muga
For an unexpected, robust treat: 2015 Kamptaler Terrassen Riesling
Pair it with: The Strip and Tenderloin taste-bomb; the T-Bone.
Why it works: This isn’t your father’s Riesling, that’s why. Forget the peachy, sugary style you associate with the German grape — because older, richer, bottle-aged Rieslings are bone-dry and perfect for pairing with steak. Not only that, Austrian offerings such as this Willi Bründlmayer bottling are so complex — expect notes ranging from fresh lime to beeswax — that they could even go toe-to-toe with a T-Bone.
2015 Riesling, Kamptaler Terrassen
For fizz and flavour: Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012 Champagne
Pair it with: A barely cooked, sumptuously succulent Filet Mignon.
Why it works: Well, it wouldn’t be a decadent list without a bottle of Champagne, would it? Thankfully, some older bottles of fizz — this Grand Vintage 2012 from Moët & Chandon, for example — have bubbles fine enough and layers complex enough to work with extremely rare, lean cuts of beef. That means cook your Filet Mignon blue, pour yourself a flute and savour every succulent, juicy mouthful.
Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2012
Want to learn more about wine? Here’s why English bottlings may be better than you think…
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