Autumn is rolling around slowly and it’s time to think about cosy sweaters and mittens again. But our favourite thing about chilly weather? The rich and comforting food! Yes, it’s time to turn those ovens on again. It’s the season of pies, pumpkins, and long slow roasts in the oven.
For many cooking aficionados out there, it’s also time to start planning rich meals for holidays or simple family gatherings. And one of the best cuts you can make? The prime rib. Of course, a perfect meal needs a perfect glass of wine too, and today’s guide is all about that. The good news is, pairing wine with rich meat and spices is a real joy.
We’ll start with everything you need to know in order to cook the perfect prime rib, and move on to all the options you can work with when it comes to wine pairing. From budget-friendly options to exquisite choices for really special occasions, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know to choose a wine that will make you meal unforgettable.
Most Important Prime Rib Wine Pairing Tips:
- First of all, you’ll definitely want to choose red wine for a hearty meal like this one
- When we talk about prime rib, we are talking about one of the fattiest cuts of beef out there – you’ll need a wine pairing that can shine through all that fat
- Think in the direction of: Syrah, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon
What Is Prime Rib?
Choosing the right cut of beef is somewhat like choosing a wine to pair with it. There is a lot to choose from and the differences can be small, but important. From t-bone steak and sirloin, over rump steak or a beautiful brisket cut, there is really a lot to work with.
Yes, there are a bunch of different cuts of beef. But what exactly is prime rib? Prime rib is also sometimes called a “standing rib” and, as you might guess, it comes from the rib area of the cow. So, if you look at the classic butcher chart of a cow, this is the area you’ll want to focus on. However, you’ll still notice there are many different cuts that come from the rib area.
That does make sense, when you consider how big a cow actually is. The rib cage of a cow consists of 13 ribs on each side and this makes for a really large piece of meat. If you would take an entire rib rack from a cow and measure it, it could weigh up to 24 pounds. However, the entire rib rack is usually not on the menu, as you might suspect. It wouldn’t fit even in the largest oven.
In order to understand the rib area of a cow, it is useful to divide it in 3 sections. Here they are:
- Chuck selection: ribs 1 to 5
- Rib sections: ribs 6 to 12
- Loin: the 13th, final part
If you are looking for prime rib, you will be actually looking for a cut of meat from the second (middle) section. This is still a large area, so it is usually also divided into two more sections.
First of all, there is “the first cut” which covers ribs 10, 11, and 12. This part of the cow actually consists of one long muscle and it is the smaller part of the rib section. For this reason, it’s often called the “small end”. It is also the part closest to the loin which is why it is also sometimes referred to as the “loin cut”. If you are looking for a smaller piece of meat overall, this might be the right choice.
There are two key things to remember about the “small end”. First of all, this cut contains less fat than other options. Second, despite what you might expect, the meat from this area is usually very tender. This is because the cow doesn’t actually use the muscle in question a whole lot when moving.
The second option is conveniently also called “the second cut”. This covers the ribs 6, 7, 8, and 9. These rib cuts are usually a bit larger than those from the first cut. Unlike the first cut that consists of a single muscle, this part contains lots of different muscles as well as connective tissues – and lots of fat too. For a long, slow, roast, this is usually the perfect choice.
What Does “Prime” Actually Mean?
Now we are getting to the tricky part. Yes, prime rib (or standing rib) is a cut of meat. However, some confusion might arise around what prime actually means because “prime” is a legally protected term in the USA.
However, when we say “prime” here, we mean the grade of beef – in US markets “prime” is considered the highest grade, and a cut of meat needs to fulfill certain standards in order to be called thus. However, a “prime rib” or a “standing rib roast” is still the name of a specific cut regardless of the grade. So a “prime rib” might or might not be considered “prime” in terms of quality.
For the sake of conversation, let’s reflect on this grading system for a second. In the US, beef is graded as “select”, “choice”, or “prime” according to the level of marbling. The most marble cuts are labeled as “Prime” – actually those that have at least 10% of marbling. The grading also takes the age of the cow in account, so for Prime-Prime Rib, the cow must be aged between 9 and 30 months. Besides the salt, you can add any seasoning you want and that fits with your side dishes, but salt is a must!
How to Choose the Perfect Prime Rib?
So how should you choose the prime rib to buy for your dinner? Regardless of the classification above (depending on where you live, the grading system might not be in use), you’ll still want to look for a highly marbled cut. One thing to keep in mind is that, as a rule, the best possible cuts are not available in the supermarket. The best bet is to look at specialty shops or your local butcher shop and ask for advice from the professionals.
How to Cook the Perfect Prime Rib
Prime rib has a bit of a reputation. Many cooks will tell you it’s difficult to make and easy to make a horrible mistake. But, we are here to tell you, with the right knowledge and a bit of preparation, there is no way you could go wrong.
The first step, of course, is to prepare your meat the right way. Just throwing the piece of meat will not cut it. There are two key parts to keep in mind: seasoning and temperature.
Let’s start with the seasoning. Seasoning will not only let you create the taste you want for your meat, but it also helps prepare the meat for cooking. By this, we mean especially salt. Salt is pretty much unavoidable when it comes to making a prime rib roast. And you’ll want to add it early – at least an hour before you actually cook the meat. This will create the perfect texture for your roast. If you add the salt too late, it will make your meat dry.
However, when it comes to prime rib roast, you’ll want to do the seasoning even earlier. We recommend adding salt at least the day before cooking – or if the cut is already in your fridge, you can do it even 2 or 3 days in advance.
Besides the seasoning, there is another thing to keep in mind when it comes to all kinds of beef really. It is the temperature of the meat before cooking. You should absolutely allow the beef to come to room temperature before you even consider cooking it. Putting cold beef in the pan or in the oven will result in a chewy, flavourless dish. Just don’t do it.
Moreover, if you’d like your meat to be crispy on the outside, you might also want to leave it exposed to air while it warms up to room temperature. This will dry out the external layer (but not the core) and enhance the crispy crust effect.
Cooking Prime Rib Roast
Once you’ve prepped your meat the right way, it’s time for the enjoyable part – the cooking! Now, if you look around, you’ll find there are actually quite a few different methods for cooking a standing rib roast, but we’ll tell you about one that is most common and comes out perfect every time. This method involves first searing the meat on super high heat, and then letting it cook low and slow.
Phase 1: High Heat
Just like with most cuts of beef, we want to use high heat to seal in the juices and create a beautiful caramelized crust. Our favourite method of doing this is using a cast iron skillet on the stovetop and then finishing the roast in the oven. What you’ll want to do is set up the heat really high and warm up your skillet first. If the skillet is seasoned, you won’t need to use any oil, but you can – if you want. Just let the meat cook for two minutes, approximately, one each side. Don’t be surprised if it sizzles – that’s exactly what is supposed to happen. Then, simply transfer the skillet into the oven. If you are using cast iron, it will retain heat, which means there will not be an awkward break between the two phases of cooking.
If you are making your meat on the grill, you’ll want to create two areas. But lots of coals on one side, so the area is sizzling hot, and much less on the other half. Sear the meat on the hot section and then move it over to let it finish slowly.
Phase 2: Low Heat
In the first phase, we’ve basically only sealed the outside crust of our roast. The main part of the cooking happens in the second phase. We want the meat to cook all the way through, but you have to be careful not to overcook it. The goal is to get the center of your cut to 50 degrees Celsius, but not much over that. If you overcook it, the meat will get tough and chewy. The prime rib is not a cut you want to overcook. Using a meat thermometer can help with that, as it is hard to guess when the center of the cut is ready.
So, your prime rib has come out of the oven and it looks delicious? Looks like it’s time to dig in. But wait! Do not, we repeat DO NOT do it too soon. Letting your prime rib roast rest after cooking is extremely important. Cut into the meat too soon, and all of the juices will simply float out of it. If you let it rest for 30 minutes, though, you’ll give the meat time to reabsorb the juices and the fat and create a delicious, juicy texture. Let the meat rest for 20 minutes in the pan, then take it out and place it on the cutting board. Give it another 10 minutes and only then dear to slice.
Bone-In or Boneless?
Should you cook your prime rib roast with the bones inside? We suggest you do so, and there are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, prime rib cooked with the bones really looks spectacular. You don’t want to skip on that! Moreover, some will claim that keeping the bones adds extra flavour to your meat.
One downside of having bones in your prime rib cut is that you can’t really rub your spices of choice into that side of the cut. However, there is an easy solution for that: simply cut small slits around the bones. Not huge, just a little bit, so you can tuck the spices in there. To prevent the cut from falling apart while cooking, you can use baker’s twine to keep everything together. Just don’t forget to remove it before serving.
Finally, boneless prime rib is also always an option. While many purists will tell you you need the bones, the roast will still be delicious if you buy boneless. So, if it’s more convenient for you to get a boneless cut for whatever reason, don’t fret too much – you can still make an amazing roast.
Picking a Wine for Prime Rib Roast
Which wine should you serve with a prime rib roast? If you are like most people (and if you’ve ever eaten a roast accompanied with wine), you’ve probably thought about a glass of red just now. And you are right, red is definitely the way to go in this case.
But which red should you choose? There are a few tips you can follow, but just like with any other pairing, first you’ll need to seriously consider the flavour notes incorporated in the meal you are serving.
Prime Rib Flavours
When it comes to the meat itself, prime rib really has a distinctive taste. As you would expect it’s, well, predominantly the flavour of beef. However, what makes this cut unique is the high level of fat which accentuates the beef in the best way possible. Below, we’ll be looking for the wine that can match this rich, fatty flavour.
Moreover, you’ll also want to think about anything else incorporated in your meal. Did you use just salt, or did you perhaps opt for a pepper crust on your roast? Perhaps you even went all out on spices. Is the meat accompanied by any side-dishes? Is it potato, sweet potato, or maybe pumpkin? Is there a sauce involved, like red wine sauce or clove sauce? Whatever it is, you’ll want to look for a wine whose flavour profile matches the flavour profile of your food. And by matching, we don’t necessarily mean the same flavours, but rather those that match each other well.
Tips for Pairing Red Wine with Beef
Match the flavours
As we mentioned above, the main point of wine pairing is matching the flavours. But that doesn’t have to mean that you need to look for wine with notes of clove if you’ve added cloves to your roast, or notes of black pepper if that’s the seasoning you have used. You could also think about matching in terms of intensity. We want the wine to be as bold as the flavour profile of the dish. If your dish is lighter, refrain from going too bold with your wine, as it will overshadow your dish. However, with prime rib you can often go all out and choose some of the boldest wines out there like Shiraz.
Try matching the location
Although this is by no means necessary, a fine way to honour both your food and your wine is to match the countries of origin. For example, if your beef (or rather the recipe you’ve chosen) comes from France, choose a French wine. That way, your meal will be as authentic as possible.
Combining tannins and fat
One of the main challenges of pairing prime rib with red wine is dealing with the high fat content of the dish. With something as fatty and rich as prime rib, you actually want wine that will be able to cut through the fatty sensation. Otherwise, you’d be just overwhelmed with the fatty sensations. So here is the key thing to know about wine and fat: wines that are high in tannins will be able to cut through the fat, as well as wines that are higher in acidity (so ideally, for a very fatty meal you want wine that is both fairly acidic and high in tannins). Additionally, young wines tend to work better for this purpose than aged wines.
Best Types of Wine for Prime Rib
Okay, now it’s time for the best part: choosing the wine. When it comes to pairing red wine with roasted or grilled beef, there is really a lot to choose from. Below you’ll find 6 categories with one top pick for each.
#1 A Classic Choice, Cabernet Sauvignon: 2017 Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
Many would argue that there is no better example of a classic dinner wine than Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that is bold, but not overbearing, and there is almost no room for error when matching it with beef. However, there is room for excellence.
The Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley is one such exquisite choice. Even though it’s a classic, any connoisseur would probably be amazed by this pairing. There is really a lot to unpack regarding this wine, but let’s start with the points that are most important for our topic today – pairing with prime rib roast. Every Cabernet Sauvignon is rich in tannins, and so is this one. Moreover, it’s a fairly young wine, which is another plus point.
Now, there is something that you might not expect: the Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon was actually aged in oak barrels. It’s actually fermented in stainless steel tanks at first to preserve the crispness and the clarity of the flavour, and then aged 13 months in oak. The result is a superb colour and a wine that is rich in tannins but still feels smooth and silky due to the aging of the oak. Elegant but warm – it’s simply the perfect pairing to a roast, at least if you ask us.
Californian Cabernet Sauvignon is known to be slightly softer and more mellow than the wines made in France, and this is definitely true when it comes to this one. The dominant notes are those of berries, but those on the more mellow, and somewhat darker, side like cassis and black cherry.
#2 Light But Memorable, a Bordeaux Blend: 2016 Les Cadets Ch. Les Graves de Viaud (Bordeaux, France)
“Bordeaux Blend” is a common way to refer to any kind of blend that is made of the grape varieties commonly grown in the Bordeaux region. Actually, only six reg rape varieties are officially grown in Bordeaux: Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot. Thus, a Bordeaux Blend must be made of these varieties. Our pick today is an amazing blend that puts Cabernet Franc to the forefront. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are present, but only as hints that accentuate the main start: Cabernet Franc.
The result? A crisp, lively wine that’s hard not to love. Even if a Bordeaux Blend is not something you would sip on every day, we think you’ll find it’s very refreshing when combined with a prime rib roast. Les Cadets is a wine with many layers. It’s rich in tannins, but also very bright. The fruity notes of plums and cherries are brought into life by spicy hints of thyme, rosemary, and pepper.
#3 A Bold Choice: 2015 J. Rickards Brown Barn Vineyard Petite Sirah (Sonoma Valley)
Dark, bold, full-bodied wines don’t go with too many foods – but they are the perfect pairing for a beef roast. And we certainly wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Fun fact: although Petite Sirah sounds similar to Syrah / Shiraz, it’s actually an entirely different grape variety. However, there are things that both wines have in common: they are both typically very dark in colour, extremely rich in tannins (hence the colour) and bold in taste.
Expect mellow but dark nots of berries like blackberry and blueberry accompanied with bold spicy notes. Compared to some other options on the market, the J. Rickards Brown Barn Vineyard Petite Syrah is fairly smooth. Still, it’s acidic enough to cut through the fat of your prime rib roast.
#4 A Touch of Elegance: 2016 “A Peïssou” Syrah (Dom. des Amiel, France)
As we mentioned above, Petit Sirah and Syrah grapes are actually not the same, but the resulting wine does have quite a few similar characteristics. Syrah is a very old variety, one that is grown today pretty much everywhere across the world. While the new world Syrah can be perhaps too bold and youthful for some (though not everyone would agree), this bottle of French Syrah is decisive, but elegant, somewhat like a little black dress.
One sip of A Peïssou will take you on a journey into the land of exquisite taste. The distinctive spiciness will hit you first, with prominent notes of pepper, cinnamon, and clove. Below this layer, you’ll detect a dark fruity landscape of blackberry and cherry. There is a somewhat smokey feel to this wine, but as the flavours unfold you’ll also notice floral notes reminiscent of violets.
This is a wine that truly requires a strong pairing. You certainly wouldn’t want to pair it with a gentle salad or a pasta dish. However, a prime rib roast could just be the perfect match.
#5 Something Unexpected: 2015 Serraboella Barbaresco Barale Fratelli (Nebbiolo, Italy)
If you’ve tried all the classic combinations and want to give your guests something to talk about, you might want to try a Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo wines (especially this one) are really unique in the way their smell and taste match. This Nebbiolo smells incredibly soft, but it actually packs a real punch in terms of flavour.
This is a wine that’s decidedly fruity with notes of blueberries and black cherries. It was aged in oak barrels which contribute to the softness of the smell – you’ll probably be able to detect notes of vanilla and oak as well. However, this is also a wine that is very rich in tannins which means it will be strong enough to stand up to a fatty roast.
#6 For Really Special Occasions: 2010 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Lagniappe (Washington)
So far, we’ve talked about wines that are not only very good, but also fairly budget-friendly. However, we know that this is not always what you are looking for. This pick is for really special occasions where you want a wine that will stand out. If you are celebrating an important anniversary, or perhaps you’ve been invited to dinner and you really want to honour your host – this would be the wine to choose. That being said, you’ll still probably be able to find a bottle for under £100, so it’s not an outrageously priced wine.
This bottle of Syrah from Washington encapsulates everything you would expect from a Syrah. The American Syrah is known to be less harsh than some other options, and that’s definitely true for this vintage. You’ll be taken away by mellow and vaguely sweet notes of vanilla, chocolate, and roses. Still, the wine feels earthy and spicy and not overly sweet. It’s really hard not to love it!
What About Cooking Prime Rib Roast With Red Wine?
Another great way to combine red wine with your prime rib roast is to do it while cooking. Whether you are making a special sauce or soaking your roast with wine while it’s slow-cooking in the oven, choosing the right wine is still important. Do not reach for a box of ‘cooking wine’. The rule of thumb is: never use wine for cooking that you wouldn’t drink yourself. The good news is, there are still reasonably priced wines that will bring your dish to the next level. Here are some of our favourites:
#1 Bogle Merlot
One of the best moves you can make when adding wine to your roast is to choose one that is rich in fruity flavours. During cooking, the wine will caramelize and really intensify the fruitiness. That’s just what we want, since these flavours go amazingly well with a prime rib roast.
Bogle Merlot is just the right joice for this tactic. The subtly sweet fruitiness is a characteristic of the Merlot grape. In this Bogle wine, this characteristic is beautifully expressed. You’ll detect the notes of berries, strawberry jam, and perhaps plums. Slight oakiness deepens that flavour profile and gives it complexity. Pretty much the perfect cooking wine for a prime rib roast if you ask us.
#2 Domaine De La Bastide Côtes du Rhône
This wine from the Rhône region in France is another wine that is great for sipping as well as cooking. This is a medium-bodied wine, and one that has a fair amount of tannins though not so much that it’s overwhelming. This wine is a blend of grapes from the Rhône region, but more than half of it consists of Syrah grapes. This contributes to the richness of the taste, but the other ingredients in the blend keep it from being overly bold. If you ask us, it’s the perfect wine to add to your sauce and also sip while you cook. Is there really a better combo?
#3 Rodei Tinto
Rodei Tinto is a Spanish Rioja wine. If you’ve never had Rioja, think of it as similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but quite a bit sweeter and fruitier. It’s really reminiscent of sunny days in Spain. While you’d probably want to keep Rioja Reserve wines for drinking (as they are exquisite), Rodeo Tinoto is pretty much the perfect wine for cooking. It will dazzle you with bright notes of fruit and berries combined with bright spiciness of mint, cardamom, and thyme. We don’t know about you, but those really are the flavours we want in our roast.
Our Favourite Recipe and Pairing
If you don’t already have anything planned, we’ve also prepared a prime rib roast recipe for you. The recipe is simple and uses ingredients you probably already have lying around your home (besides, of course, that beautiful cut of beef).
What You’ll Need:
- A cut of beef for the roast
- 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Spices as desired
- A roasting pan (we prefer cast iron)
- Step 1: Prep the meat the way you prefer (described in the beginning of the guide). We recommend cutting small slits around the bones and also inside the fatty areas of your roast in order to allow the salt and the spices to soak in better.
- Step 2: Season with salt and the (optional) spices. Kosher salt really works better than table salt for this, because the large crystals will create just the right level of juiciness in your meat. Table salt could work in a pinch, but it’s very easy to oversalt your meat this way. Spices are optional and up to you – pepper, cardamom, allspice, cloves… They are all good options, depending on the occasion. You’ll want to do the seasoning at least 24 hours in advance. And we really mean at least. 48 hours or even more would be even better (but we know it’s not always feasible). Once you have rubbed in the salt and the spices, leave the meat in the fridge.
- Step 3: On the day of cooking, remove the meat from the fridge to bring it to room temperature. Approximately 4 hours should be enough
- Step 4: Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.
- Step 5: Warm up a pan on the stovetop and get it really hot. Sear the meat on all sides. If feasible, you can use your roasting pan. If not, just use a large skillet and transfer the meat to the roasting pan afterwards.
- Step 6: Once you’ve seared the meat on all sides, place it into your roasting dish. You’ll want the side that contains lots of fat to be up so the fat can drip onto the rest. Add garlic and butter.
- Step 7: Let roast for approximately 4 hours, util the temperature in the centre of the meat reaches 60 degrees celsius.
- Step 8: Resting. As described above – remove from the oven, let roast rest in the pan for 20 minutes. If desired, move to the cutting board, let rest for another 10 minutes. Alternatively, you can keep the roast in the roasting pan, just make sure to give it enough time to rest.
We think this recipe pairs best with the 2016 “A Peïssou” Syrah from the list above. The recipe is fairly mild other than the strong flavour of beef and fat. The bold notes of Syrah will complement it perfectly.
There is hardly a more beautiful meel for autumn and winter than a beef roast. As you have seen, choosing a wine to pair with your roast can be quite fun. We encourage you to follow our basic tips, but let your imagination roam free when it comes to choosing the wine.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between prime rib and ribeye steak?
Well, actually, the two are totally different. However, the ribeye steak is actually a part of the prime rib roast cut. If you were eating out, and ordered a prime rib roast, you’d actually get almost the same piece of meat that is a ribeye steak, but cut from a roast. Ribeye refers to the steak made from the same part of the cow.
How do I carve a prime rib roast?
First of all, if you used twine to hold your roast together, don’t forget to remove it. Then, you’ll want to gently remove the bones from the meat. If you haven’t pre-sliced your meat, you can also serve cuts with the bones for added flair. Then, you’ll simply be slicing the meat horizontally. If the bones are in, cut between each bone. If not, cut to desired thickness.
What are some good sides to serve with a prime rib roast?
The taste of prime rib is fairly neutral, so you have all the freedom you want when it comes to sides. The classics include potato, yams, and sweet potato. For true autumn delight, you might also want to add pumpkin. Some healthier options include sauteed green beans or brussels sprouts, for example. For true decadence, consider mushroom and perhaps and addition of roasted nuts.