Valentine's Day

This Is the Best Red Wine to Pair with Steak

updated Apr 30, 2019
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To me, steak is one of the ultimate special-occasion foods. We don’t eat it very often, but when we do it’s usually when Valentine’s Day or my husband’s birthday rolls around. That’s when I pull out all the stops: a nice piece of meat, extra-buttery potatoes, and, of course, good wine.

When you think of steak, you probably think of red wine. It’s the most classic pairing for the meat, and for good reason — it’s bold enough to hold up to every rich bite. What kind of red wine, though? Most will say Cabernet Sauvignon from California because it’s full-bodied and as rich as the steak itself. It’s a great match, yes, but really good Cabs can be pretty expensive and I am not always up for spending a lot even if it’s a special occasion. Luckily, there’s another red I like even more with steak that’s easy to find and under $20 a bottle. Here’s my top pick.

Rioja Is the Best Wine Pairing with Steak

Perhaps it’s a recent trip to Spain that’s given me the Rioja bug, but I’ve currently been loving this red wine and firmly believe it’s one of the best matches for steak. Rioja is made in the northern region of Rioja, Spain, and is a blend of a few different kinds of red grapes — it’s mostly Tempranillo mixed with some Garnacha (aka Grenache) and often a couple of other common Spanish red grapes varietals.

Rioja is separated into four levels of classification that are based on how long the wine is aged before it’s sold. For steak, Crianza Rioja and Reserva Rioja are your best bets. Both have been aged for at least a couple of years, which means they’ll be medium-bodied and balanced. Since these are in the middle of the classification spectrum, it also means they’re pretty affordable.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

You can pick up a high-quality Crianza or a Reserva Rioja for under $20 at most wine shops and feel confident it’s going to pair really well with your steak. Like the best California Cab, they both have lots of fruitiness and tannins, with toasted, almost meaty notes from being aged in oak barrels. Yet, they don’t come with the same price tag — and it’s just a little different than what’s expected, which is always fun.

4 Bottles of Rioja Under $20 to Try

  • El Coto Rioja Crianza Rioja, $10.95
  • Marques De Caceres Crianza Rioja, $14.95
  • Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja, $15.99
  • Marques De Riscal Reserva Rioja, $19.95