What Wines Pair with a Philly Cheesesteak?

Staff Writer
A taste test to determine the best wines to drink with Philadelphia’s signature dish
What Wines Pair with a Philly Cheesesteak?
Danya Henninger

The cheesesteak. Those living in Philadelphia are blessed with the real deal, not some beef and Cheddar sandwich that tries to pass itself off as authentic. More than just late-night, post-drunk mouth-stuffers (although they do pretty well in that regard, too), a cheesesteak can be a respectable meal. As such, the question arose as to what wine would pair best with the city’s iconic sandwich.

 

Champagne?

It has been suggested, on more than one occasion, that the proper vinous accompaniment is champagne; even Barclay Prime’s infamous $100 "cheesesteak" (it gets quotes because it comes with foie gras, truffles, and other non-faithful ingredients) comes with a mini bottle of bubbly on the side. But somehow, this pairing doesn’t make sense. Just thinking about the delicate flavors of champagne is difficult if you start imagining the thick, gooey mess that comes with each bite of a properly constructed sandwich.

Ask the Experts

"Yes, champagne goes with everything," Philadelphia Inquirerfood and wine critic Craig LaBan wrote, "But I don’t think that’s the drink that will really help take a great cheesesteak to the next level." So, what would he recommend?

Noting he was just days away from his grand expedition to Belgium with the Philly Beer Week crew, he offered simply a bit of quick, off-the-cuff advice: his inclination would be to choose something "red and rustic," ideally American, that wouldn’t "show up the steak with some big ticket pedigree."

Keith Wallace, founder of The Wine School of Philadelphia, offered another suggestion. "The fat [would] totally overpower champagne," he said via email, "A cheesesteak and champagne pairing is more about being hip and rebellious than actually being any good. If you want the best pairing, you need concentration of acids and alcohol to overcome the fat content, plus a very aggressive flavor profile that will play nice with the bland white bread. That would be either a chateauneuf du pape blanc, or a similar white wine (a grenache blanc and/or roussanne based wine) from Santa Barbara in California."

One recommendation for red and one for white later, we realized that to determine our own favorite matchup, we would have to do some actual tasting.