5 Wines for Prime Rib

Ben Carter suggests five pairings for the classic Rib Eye Roast. From Chardonnay to Bordeaux, his innovative suggestions are surprising!


If you’re looking to roast a whole ribeye roast for the first time, check out this recipe:

Prime Rib with Horseradish Cream

For a few years in the first decade of the 2000s, my buddy Paul and I often hosted dinner parties where the main course was a whole ribeye roast.  I’d take care of the appetizers, soup course, fish course, and wine pairings, and then would sit back while Paul took care of the beef.  My timing was intentional, as all of my sauces and prep required a lot of work beforehand and by the fourth course of a major dinner party, I was ready to slump into my chair and enjoy eating.

It’s a pretty simple dish to make and if you can catch it on sale, surprisingly affordable.  You get the opportunity to feed 6-8 people decent sized slices of Prime Rib and the next day you can shave off thinner pieces for the greatest roast beef sandwiches you’ll ever eat.  Of course, a feast like this requires the right wines for the complete experience, and nothing is better than the perfectly aged 20 year old Burgundy that comes from a Domaine that no longer exists and can not be purchased anywhere.  But in the real world, you need something you can actually purchase and enjoy with dinner.  I’ve got a range of selections for you to explore as you break out the roasting pan.
California 13.5% $21
79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
This popular bottle is all about the berries: blackberry, black cherry, and blueberry. While the fruit is at the front of the nose and flavor, it's not overbearing. There are hints of coffee as it warms up, and the tannins are moderate.  I’ve been a long time fan of this particular Bordeaux-style California wine and it has the advantage of being available everywhere in the United States.  Since dinner parties are often occasions where you’re eating with a group of folks who are not necessarily all wine fanatics, this one is a fun conversation starter with the tie-in to the movies of Coppola.  Also, with the gold netting it makes an attractive gift if you’re the one showing up as a guest.  
46% Petite Sirah, 40% Zinfandel, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon 11%, 3% Mourvedre
Here’s your classic California option without straying into the jammy fruit bomb category.  The accompanying grapes keep this from being a one note Zinfandel. If you want a bold, fruit-forward red wine, the Phantom will work for you.  It is full of dark berry flavors, with aromas of leather and a hint of cedar. On the palate it shows firm tannins, though it is a wine that definitely improves with at least an hour of decanting. Two hours into dinner, you’ll hit a sweet spot where the bottle has mellowed out just enough to match beautifully with the slabs of roast ribeye. 
70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Real Bordeaux for a bargain does exist, and should be celebrated.  This right bank wine has a focus on Merlot and Cabernet Franc, delivering a little milder profile than my prior two selections. The initial impression carries aromas of deep black cherry, and a little pencil shavings. Underlying tones of prune and spice. On the palate, you encounter smooth tannins and a light, mildly fruity body. Pleasant finish, and an excellent quality-price ratio.  At this price, consider picking up an extra bottle to use to make red wine butter or for sauteing mushrooms and shallots to pair with the steak.  
100% Chardonnay
A rare, lightly seasoned ribeye roast has a buttery quality that I find matches particularly well with a serious Chardonnay.  I’m including this as an option for the adventurous host that wants to give his fellow diners a flavor experience they’ve probably never had before.  This lovely Chablis showed a floral nose with touches of earth. The oak is more pronounced, with a little vanilla and a firmer body.  As it opens over time, you get that nice hint of church basement‚ a combination of old wood and books.  I do recommend that if you try this, serve the Chablis before any reds.  
65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec
I had to include one selection for the collectors, and if you’re going to be serving an Argentine wine, then I would strongly suggest preparing some chimichurri to accompany your meal.  The Nicolas Catena Zapata is an impressive wine from Mendoza with real aging potential.  I was able to enjoy a bottle of the 1999 vintage last year and it was incredible.  But even the current releases are worth the price.  The 2008 was really stunning and sublime for a relatively young wine. Much of the complexity of the other wines in the Catena line but softer in every regard, allowing gentle cherry, chocolate, and oak aromas to emerge. Very long finish and quite fascinating. This is the one that you will save for a special occasion and that will keep people talking about it for hours after the plates have been cleared away. 
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