Succulent ribs can be prepared from pork or beef, but in terms of selecting a wine to drink with them, the sauce and spices are the most important consideration. The wide variety of rib styles (check out our barbecue style guide!) allows for lots of wine experimentation.
Ribs are big hunks of meat, true, but the flavors can actually be quite delicate. Huge wines can mask the hours of slow-cooked flavor. Look for wines with plenty of fruit flavors and moderate tannins to bring out the best in your ribs.
For the purposes of these pairings, we have made a general distinction between dry, spice-rubbed ribs and wet, tomato-based sweeter sauce styles. (There are obviously a ton of other variations.) Dry-rub ribs have spicy notes that respond well to earthier wines. The wet ribs need something fruitier or off-dry to balance and enhance the sauce.
We love sparkling wines with ribs! The bubbles help to cleanse the palate and keep your mouth fresh and ready for more rich food. Ribs with a sweeter sauce pair well with off-dry wines—try Mumm Napa Cuvée M, which has an earthy scent that leads to ripe white peach flavors. Perfect for balancing a well-sauced rib. ($16-$25, find this wine)
For dry-rubbed ribs, a red lambrusco like the Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso is ideal. The dry, earthy flavors of fresh black cherries and herbs pick up on the spices in the rub, and the delicate bubbles keep everything clean and easy-drinking. (Around $16, find this wine)
A white wine with racy acidity and round stone fruit flavors like a pinot gris treats all kinds of ribs well. Try the 2009 Robert Sinskey Los Carneros Pinot Gris for a treat. ($22-$29, find this wine)
Spanish Rosado tends to be a richer, fruitier style more akin to a light red wine. These juicy rosés, like the Grupo Matarromera Bodegas Valdelosfrailes 2010, are packed with fresh raspberry fruit and complement a sweet bbq sauce. (Around $11, find this wine)
Rich and fruity reds bring out the juiciness in all styles of ribs. Try a full and silky syrah with cassis fruit and a touch of sweet spice like the 2006 Jelu Reserva from Argentina, especially with a vinegar-heavy sauce. (Around $16, find this wine)
For a darker, more concentrated (even meaty) wine, try a California Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2009 Chad Red Hills Lake County Cabernet pairs particularly well with dry-rub. ($17-$20, find this wine)
Disclosure: The Lini 910 Lambrusco, Mumm Napa Cuvée M, and Valdelosfrailes Rosado were provided as samples for review.
About the Author: Sarah Chappell is a winemonger and writer living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has contributed to Foodista, Palate Press and WineChap.