Great info on wine for your holiday dinner
I help out on the sales floor during the holidays, and the most frequent question I get this time of year is “What wine do you recommend with Prime Rib?”
Here are some guidelines that will ensure a good pairing, and then we’ll get into some specific recommendations.
1. Tannins and Acid are key. Tannic wines will help cleanse your palate of fat from the Prime Rib, keeping each bite flavorful, while the same fat will soften out tannic wines. Acid, on the other hand, helps cut through the meat’s richness and keeps the food – and wine – from feeling too heavy.
This is why Cabernet is a classic pairing – it boasts both high acid and tannin.
2. It’s time to splurge. Prime Rib is luxurious, so now is not the time to pick a budget bottle. You don’t have to break the bank, but celebrations call for stepping up a price point or two from your daily drinker.
3. Let the food be the star. I love big, rich, high-alcohol reds that have lots of extraction as much as the next guy or gal, but those wines are often better off drunk as a cocktail after dinner rather than with it. Don’t get me wrong – with Prime Rib, you’ll want a substantial wine, but some popular American and Australian wines out there will run roughshod over just about any food you throw at them. I’m looking at you, Caymus, Orin Swift, Mollydooker, DAOU, and Prisoner. Again, drinking these wines is fine, but you may want to bring them out before or after the meal rather than with the food.
4. DECANT EVERYTHING. There is not a wine on the list below that won’t benefit from at least an hour of decanting. You’re going to let your meat rest before carving. Let the wine breathe before serving.
The Recommendations:
The Napa Valley Blue Chips:
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay – Lighter and more feminine in style than most SLWC, I find Fay to be the most food-friendly in the lineup, with a little more acid to cut through Prime Rib’s fat.
BV Georges de Latour Cabernet – A classic wine from a classic producer, it’s hard to go wrong here.
Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet – Like the BV, it’s a wine that has kept consistent quality over the years and has excellent balance.
Far Niente Cabernet – A bit richer than Montelena, with big, valley-floor ripeness. You’ll want to decant every wine on this list before serving, but this one especially.
St. Supery Dollarhide Vineyard Cabernet – St. Supery flies under the radar for many, but this Napa Cab is just as good as those the big names are putting out.
Cos d’Estournel Pagodes de Cos – The 2nd wine from famed Bordeaux Chateau Cos d’Estournel, this delivers all the classic left-bank Bordeaux heft and complexity you’re looking for without shelling out for a 1st or 2nd growth.
Spare No Expense:
Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet – This wine is stupidly good, probably the best Napa Valley Cabernet I’ve ever had. Don’t balk at the price tag; it’s worth every penny and then some. I’ve had wines three times the price that don’t hold a candle to it.
Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet – This Knights Valley bottling is a showstopper. Made by the same winemaker as Verite, Anakota is a bit fleshier and more accessible than their other bottlings, and it’s a personal go-to for California Cabernet.
Chateau della’Ornellaia Ornellaia – People often ask me what my favorite wine is. I usually dissemble and say something about it being like picking a favorite child or that it depends on the mood I’m in. I’m lying through my teeth every time. It’s Ornellaia. It’s always Ornellaia.
Southern Hemisphere Selections:
LaPostolle Clos Apalta – This wine is a perennial favorite on top 100 lists, and for a good reason. It’s one of South America’s finest wines and feels incredibly expansive on the palate.
Finlayson Camina Africana Cabernet Franc – Not as heavy or tannic as Cabernet Sauvignon, this South African example nonetheless packs in a lot of flavor and power while remaining elegant. Layers of savory herb flavors in this one to unpack.
Spice Route Malabar – This complex blend is also from South Africa. Sings on the palate, and a perfect complement for red meat, as its lithe acid and body keeps everything feeling moreish.
Catena Adrianna River Stones Malbec – This is your bragging rights wine at the Christmas table – it’s not every day that you get to share a 100pt bottle. Like all Malbecs, it goes hand-in-hand with beef.
Callejon Grand Reserve Petit Verdot – Most often used as a blending grape, single variety Petit Verdot can be stunning when grown in the right place and treated well, and this particular example has been treated very, very well.
Ventisquero Vertice – This is also from Apalta in Chile, just like LaPostolle Clos Apalta. It’s a bit tighter and leaner than the Clos Apalta, but is no less satisfying.
Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet – Two Hands tends to find more balance in their wines than some other Australian producers, and this is no exception. Medium-to-full bodied, with dark berry, herb, and anise notes.
Garzon Single Vineyard Tannat – One of the most tannic grapes in the world, Tannat has found its home in Uraguay, where it is tamed by the combination of tropical sunshine and cool Atlantic breezes and transformed into deliciously round and smooth wines. This Single-Vineyard Tannat shows more complexity and structure than others in the market, and it makes a great complement to the richness of rib roast.
Drink More Syrah, Dammnit –
Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah – From Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, this Syrah of unlikely origin may well be the finest red wine produced in New Zealand. Seamless.
K Vintners The Hidden Syrah – I don’t think there has been a single vintage of this wine that scored less than 96 points, yet people walk right by it to buy uninspired Cabernet. Yes, I’m salty about it. Make me less salty, and buy some to drink with your Prime Rib. You’ll thank me.
Levo Under the Gun Syrah – It’s no secret that I’m having a bit of a love affair with Paso Robles Syrah and Grenache right now, and Levo plays a big part in that. Wonderfully ripe and juicy while showing fantastic balance. Don’t let the irreverent label fool you; this is a serious wine.
Herman Story Nuts and Bolts Syrah – Another Paso Syrah, Herman Story is remarkable for producing some of the biggest, most high-octane wines out there, yet somehow keeping them in balance. Big, but still round on the palate, expect currant, grilled meat, flourless chocolate cake, and fresh cracked pepper.
European Selections:
Antinori Guado al Tasso Red – One of several Super Tuscans I’ll recommend, this is dense, muscular, and raring for some Bistecca alla Fiorentina, but will settle for Prime Rib.
Argiano Solengo – Super Tuscan #2. From Tuscany’s Montalcino region, super velvety with a long finish.
Brancaia Ilatraia Toscana – Super Tuscan #3. From one of my favorite Tuscan producers, Ilatraia is creamy, concentrated, luscious, and all-together, eye-rollingly good.
Gerard Bertrand Chateau l’Hospitalet Rouge – Shows surprising ripeness and richness for a French wine while maintaining some of the savory herbal complexity that wines from Southern France are known for.
Pacos Jr. Simbolo Douro Red – Not much of this is left in Alaska, so if you find a bottle, snatch it up. This is a steal of a Portuguese Red that is supple, elegant, and moreish.
Balling on a Budget – Selections Under $60:
Upchurch LTL Cabernet – From Red Mountain Washington, this super-satisfying Cab is the personal project of the winemaker of Delille in Walla Walla. Delille is delicious, but for the money, the LTL Cab takes the prize.
Bistue Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley doesn’t have many great values left, but this is one of them. At this price point, most Napa Cabs are unbalanced, with a lot of residual sugar and lacking acid, but Bistue is terrifically balanced, showing Napa flavor with the sophistication of wines several times its price.
Sans Liege Adversary Mouvedre – Medium-bodied but with layers of complexity that seem to go on forever. Brooding, but not heavy; get a couple bottles for the table, as this will disappear from your glass before you know it.
Desparada Sackcloth & Ashes – This Bordeaux Blend from winemaker Valia From is punchy, complex, and, like most of her wines, freakin delicious.
Tooth & Nail The Possessor Red – Blue and black fruit, cocoa, espresso. The front palate has lots of sappy fruit, but tannins kick in on the mid-palate and finish to complement the ripeness.
Enjoy, and remember:
Life’s too short to drink bad wine!
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