A Prime Rib dinner packs a lot of flavour and pairs best with bold red wines like Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel or a Super Tuscan. Prime Rib Roast is a tender and juicy cut of beef roasted on the bone and served medium-rare. For my pairings, I am selecting red wines that will complement the meat and not all the other fixings that accompany the meal. After all, the show’s real star is the Prime Rib; it’s where the money is at. As much as I love coleslaw, dinner rolls, mashed potatoes, and maple glazed carrots, they are just filler when it comes to the dinner.
Best Wine with Prime Rib Roast
Prime Rib vs Prime Beef
The main difference between Prime Beef and Prime Rib is that Prime beef can only come from graded meat, which is voluntary and based on how much marbling occurs in the muscles. North American Prime Beef sits at about 6% to 8% fat, where Kobe beef from Japan is 20% to 25% fat.
About 2% of beef is graded as Prime in North America as the whole cow must be graded, meaning every cut of the cow is Prime (and features rich marbling). Thus, you’ll only find it Prime Beef Roasts served at high-calibre restaurants or high-end butchers.
Prime Rib found in the supermarket is often Choice Beef Rib and Choice Beef make up about 91% of all beef sold. Choice Beef Rib comes from the rib region of the cow, and a full roast weighs 35 pounds. Incredibly flavourful, fatty, and delicious, the rib cut of beef is always in high-demand. My pairings listed will apply to both Choice Beef Rib Roasts and Prime Beef Rib Roasts.
From working in fine dining for over three decades, I have eaten a lot of Prime Beef Rib Roasts – and while it is notably more tender and delicious than a Choice Beef Rib Roast, I am perfectly happy feasting on either. Fun fact, when I was a 14-year-old dishwasher, I was the person cooking the Prime Beef Rib Roasts at the private club I worked at. The chefs worked split shifts and left at noon, so they trained me to put the roasts into the oven at 1 pm and take them out at 4:30 pm, so they were ready to serve at 5 pm. It was quite the feat as I only weighed 85 pounds at the time, yet I was hauling boxes, and siziling hot pans of beef with scalding grease around that weighed more than I did.
Bordeaux & Prime Beef Rib Roast Pairing
If you’re having Prime Beef Rib Roast at a fine dining restaurant, Bordeaux is a must! Bordeaux is a blended red wine from France and delivers fruity aromas of plum, cassis, and dark cherry, as well as notes of smoke, dark chocolate, vanilla, truffle, licorice and coffee bean. Thus you get contrasting fruit flavours, along with complex notes that complement the smoky and savoury flavours of your Prime Beef Roast.
Bordeaux is one of the most collectable and sought-after red wines, which makes it intimidating to approach. When dining out at a high-end restaurant, a bottle of Bordeaux may cost you upwards of a hundred dollars or more. This pairing will be amazing with your Prime Rib, and will make for an evening you will never forget. The tannin in the Bordeaux denatures the already tender prime rib beef and makes the meat taste even more savoury. Meanwhile, the fats and proteins of the beef further soften the Bordeaux, making the combination of wine and beef taste soft and velvety.
If you are unsure what bottle of Bordeaux to choose from the wine list, ask the wine sommelier. If you are embarrassed to discuss price at the table, feel free to call the restaurant in advance to arrange what bottle you want, and have them set it aside for you. A wine sommelier is more than happy to do this for you, and it will help you enjoy your evening even more.
If you are going to a party where Prime Rib is being served, chances are it will be Choice Prime Rib. In this situation, I’d go for a lower-end Bordeaux, as a high-end Bordeaux is going to go over the head of most of the dinner party’s guests. A 35 pound roast of beef is a lot of meat to serve up, which means a lot of guests. I imagine there would be a lot of side dishes as well, like mashed potatoes, pasta salads, garden salads and steamed carrots. Thus, there is no reason to bring a high-end version of Bordeaux unless you want to secretly cry inside as you watch someone add ice cubes and chunks of fruit to it as an impromptu glass of sangria.
Cabernet Sauvignon & Prime Rib Roast Pairing
Cabernet Sauvignon, when young can be fierce with tannin, and there is no better way to tame the tannin in the wine than a healthy slab of Prime Rib. The high amount of fat and protein in Prime Rib subdues the tannin, allowing the bold and bright fruit flavours of plum, cherry and cassis to shine bright. Meanwhile, you’ll get a splash of spice, herbs, dark chocolate, smoke and vanilla with the Cabernet Sauvignon to complement the savoury meat flavours.
I’d pair a young Cabernet Sauvignon with the Prime Rib ends which are a bit charred and crispy. The meat on this end is cooked well-done and not that flavourful to begin with (as a lot of the fat has been cooked out), thus, you’re not missing out on much when the fruity and spicy flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon flood your senses. The vanilla, bitter chocolate and smoke flavours of Cabernet Sauvignon complement the charred notes, while the flavours of black cherry and cassis offer ample refreshment against the symphony of beef.
For the middle cuts of Prime Rib Roast that are pink or even bloody in the middle, seek out an aged or mature Cabernet Sauvignon. In this instance, the tannin will already be softened so you won’t drown out those highly sought-after tender flavours. At a restaurant, it’s easy enough to know when the wine is mature and ready to drink as you can ask the staff. At a wine shop, you either have to pay more for an aged bottle upfront or buy a young bottle at a lower price and personally cellar it for a few years.
If you are new to wine, don’t get too hung up on the details, as no matter what bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon you pick up, it’s bound to be delicious with your Prime Rib Roast. I am just adding in extra details if you want to tweak your pairings to maximum performance.
Cabernet Sauvignon will be available by the glass at most restaurants that offer a wine list. Popular choices are typically from Napa California, where the wines are made in a bolder and brooding style. Excellent and more affordable Cabernet Sauvignon also comes from Chile, Australia, South Africa, and Argentina.
Shiraz & Prime Rib Roast Pairing
If I were going to a dinner party where Prime Rib was being served, an Australian Shiraz is what I would bring. With its jammy notes of raspberry, blackberry and blueberry, Shiraz is a crowd-pleaser. While dry, the fruit flavours make it taste sweet, and we North Americans love a hint of sweetness. Shiraz also has notes of black pepper, vanilla, chocolate, smoke and herbs that pair so well with the outer crust of Prime Rib.
Us North Americans also love Australia, and seeing a wine from Australia gets us excited as it floods us with exciting imagery involving adventure, crocodiles, walkabouts and surfing. Thus, when you slam down a bottle of Australian Shiraz, the host and a few guests will nod their head in approval. Bold, powerful and jammy, Australian Shiraz is the perfect party wine.
A better pairing with Prime Rib is a French Syrah, which is less fruit-forward and bolder than Australian Shiraz. With Syrah, the wine is still fruity and spicy but are much more muted. Instead, you’ll notice wonderful savoury notes of bacon, game and cured meat that complement the savoury prime rib flavours. Syrah also has herbal notes like oregano and rosemary that jive well with Prime Rib and the gravy that might accompany it.
Barolo & Prime Beef Rib Pairing
If you want to truly binge, Barolo and Prime Beef Rib at a fine dining restaurant is a must pairing to try in your lifetime. Barolo is an Italian red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, and when young, it will slap you in the face with its searing tannin content. Fortunately, the high fat and protein content of Prime Beef tames these tannins, and it allows for a much smoother wine-drinking experience. The taming of the tannin also enables the tar, licorice tobacco, violet, rose, and truffle notes to spring out and tease you with their amazing aromas.
For an even better pairing, an already aged Barolo will be a masterpiece with Prime Rib. In this instance, the tannin will already be softened, and your bottle will taste creamy, silky and luxurious right out of the bottle. Refreshing flavours of cherry, blackberry and plum sit back far enough, so they don’t overwhelm the beefy flavours, and you’ll still benefit from those complex notes of white truffle, dark chocolate, smoke and tar that swirl in with each bite of beef.
Barolo is expensive, as is Prime Beef – so this pairing ain’t cheap. The combined cost for a dinner for two could mean a mortgage payment. However, the lifetime of beautiful memories this pairing will provide are priceless.
Zinfandel & Prime Rib with Horseradish
So many people swear by Zinfandel and Prime Rib as a pairing, and I am not one of them. As a Zinfandel lover, I find it better suited toward barbecued meats that are slathered in BBQ sauce as the boldness of the wine matches the intensity of the meat. Expensive Zinfandel is too boozy, bold and bossy for Prime Rib, and it’s just going to drown out a lot of the beef flavours. There are exceptions of course – as with wine pairing there are always exceptions.
Where I could see Zinfandel shining is for Prime Rib with spicy horseradish. Medium-bodied Zinfandel in the $20 range isn’t overly tannic or boozy, so it won’t make the horseradish burn too hot. Mid-ranged Zinfandel also has a high acidity level that refreshes your mouth with blueberry, cherry, and raspberry and whisks the horseradish heat away. Zinfandel is also known for its black pepper and smoke flavours that abide well with Prime Rib, so it makes for a decent enough pairing, but when compared to the other pairings I mentioned, it just does not compete.
Going back to the private club I worked at, we served horseradish that was so hot, it would eat through Styrofoam take-out containers. It took us months to figure out, and we’d constantly yell at our confused chefs that they had to start allowing the gravy and beef to cool a bit before putting it in the containers. I should have figured this out sooner, as I was well aware of how horseradish could be when I poured wine at the table. So many guests struggled to say thank-you but could not find their words as the horseradish had temporarily seized up their vocal skills and breathing.
**Pro tip: If you have leftover prime rib, flatten it with a rolling pin or a meat hammer, then spread some horseradish on top. Roll it up like a fruit roll-up and enjoy!
***Bonus Pro Tip – you can make mini Yorkshire puddings as a side in a mini-muffin tray for a genuinely glutenous experience, but a few of these in a bowl of gravy and enjoy like you would like a bowl of cereal. Be prepared to shave a few years off your life per bowl.