Few things in life pair better than a rich, savory prime rib and a bold, acidic red wine. Add a chilly evening, a warm fire, and some great company, and you’ve got yourself the perfect evening. Selecting just the right wine to sip along with your entrée can make the difference between a good meal and a truly memorable one. Follow this guide to ensure that you choose the best prime rib wine pairing and that your dinner is as delectable an experience as possible.
Tips for Pairing Prime Rib with Wine
There’s a science behind why prime rib and a forward, structured red go so well together. First, let’s understand what makes this cut of meat so “prime.”
What Exactly Is Prime Rib?
The section of a cow’s rib rack is cut from the sixth to the twelfth rib. That whole range can weigh up to 20 pounds, so it is further divided into a first cut (ribs 10-12) and second cut (ribs 6-9). But it’s not just where the meat comes from in the cow that makes the rib prime. “Prime rib” is actually a legal term that denotes quality. “Prime” is the highest grade of beef available in the U.S. and in order to be considered “prime,” the cut must be heavily marbled (with 10-13 percent intramuscular fat) and from a cow only nine to 30 months in age. This helps to ensure that the meat is as flavorful and tender as possible.
What Kind of Wine Goes with Prime Rib?
All of the meat's delicious fat needs some acid to cut through it, which is why a structured red wine complements a prime rib so well. A wine with good fruit and savory herb notes will also highlight the flavors in the meat. Tannins are astringent; this is what gives coffee, tea, and chocolate their bitterness and edge. Very young, tannic wines might not be so sippable on their own, but when paired with the rich fattiness of a prime rib, they come alive, balancing perfectly with the meat on your palate.
Since the meat itself is hearty, you’ll also want to consider the weight of your red. A full-bodied red can overpower the dish, and one that's too light won’t be chewy enough to complement the meat. But a medium-weight red is just the right balance for the richness of the prime rib, without feeling like a meal on its own.
In considering the flavors of your wine and prime rib, you want to think about locality as well. You’re making an investment in the quality of both your beef cut and your bottle, so you’ll want to know as much as possible about where each of them is sourced. Both meat and wine have a terroir—a distinct flavor profile that comes from the unique soil on which they're raised—and bringing those tastes together will ensure the perfect harmony for your meal. For example, if your rib is sourced from California, you might choose a California wine to pair with it, reuniting those flavors on your table.
Best Wines for Prime Rib
Naturally, there are a lot of factors to consider before you purchase that bottle. If you want the perfect wine for your prime rib dinner but you need a nudge in the right direction, the following are some wine selections you might try.
Barolo comes from the Piedmont region of Italy and is among the most lauded of all Italian reds. It is solely composed of the Nebbiolo varietal, high in both acid and tannins. Barolo is rich, full-bodied, and bright with notes of rose, tar, and dried herbs. It's aged for at least two years in oak and one year in the bottle, and has a moderate alcohol content. Look for bottles of “Riserva,” a label indicating that the wine has been aged in cellar for at least five years.
Cabernet Sauvignon is a dark-colored wine that's full-bodied with a medium level of acidity. It’s dry and tannic, which makes it perfect for pairing with a rich meal like prime rib. Cabernet Sauvignon also has a relatively high alcohol content. It’s aged in oak, lending a range of notes to the glass that often include pepper, tobacco, dark fruit, and vanilla, all of which blend well with the flavors in your meat. Look for Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Australia, and Chile, or Bordeaux with a high Cabernet content such as those from the Left Bank.
Rioja Gran Reserva
Spain’s Gran Reserva is a structured, tannic wine. It’s similar to Cabernet with more fruit in the balance, especially dark cherry notes. The Gran Reserva is a Rioja made in years with exceptional growing seasons, and from the best harvested grapes. It's aged in oak for at least two years and spends at least three more in the bottle. Rioja is a blend of Tempranillo and typically Grenache, Carignan, and Graciano. It’s a strong wine that accentuates the richness in prime cuts.
Malbec is another dark, intense, tannic varietal. It has notes of plum, garlic, and tobacco, all of which bring out the flavors in the meat. Look for Malbecs from France, Argentina, California, and Washington.
Although Petite Sirah sounds similar to Syrah, the two wines are distinct. Petite Sirah is tannic and acidic with notes of blueberry, chocolate, pepper, and spice. California is probably the best known region for Petite Sirah, however it is grown in other parts of the world, for example in Australia where it is more commonly called "Durif".
Syrah—or Shiraz, as the varietal is known in Australia—is even darker and more tannic than Cabernet. It’s a chewy, full-bodied wine with notes of pepper, berries, tobacco, and smoke—the perfect complement to a meaty dish like prime rib.
JJ Buckley Fine Wines
You can find all of these wines available at , with in stock, ready to ship wines for all your pairing needs. For more personalized recommendations, can advise you on just the right bottle for your memorable meal. Their knowledgeable wine specialists provide honest, impartial advice without pretension. JJ Buckley’s free personal wine services can help you build and expand your wine collection and tailor recommendations to your individual preferences.