Rumor has it that beef ribs are often overlooked, as pork ribs are what most people visualize when they hear “ribs”. French politician Jean Glavany claims: “Those restaurant chains that are withdrawing beef ribs are . . . participating in this psychosis and should try to avoid it, . . . There is no question of banning beef ribs in our country.” And posts can be seen on American forums begging for good beef rib restaurant recommendations. Evidently, pork prevails in the ribs race.

But rib enthusiasts know how compelling these parts of the cow can be. Parts plural, as rib meat is found on several locations: short ribs come from a cow’s underside, spare ribs, AKA “back ribs”, are located at the cow’s top back, and the chuck cut of beef, used when short ribs aren’t available, is sliced out of the rib section. Short ribs, considered the most flavorful, are also more meaty than spare ribs, and are the preferred rib in France, where chefs tend to sear the meat, combine with vegetables and stock, then simmer several hours. Texas cooks favor spare ribs, preparing them by covering with a rub and smoking throughout the day at a low temperature. Interesting fact: Germans who settled in Texas in the 1800s learned barbeque methods from Mexican residents, then added their own twist that created the now-traditional Texas barbeque.

The California Wine Club

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Preparation of beef ribs generally includes removing the tough membrane from the bone side, washing throroughly and trimming much of the fat, but not all, to ensure tenderness. Aficionados use several methods for cooking: grilling, baking then grilling, braising then broiling or stewing in a pot of water.

Among avant-garde foodies, rib visionaries also exist who must be different. They’ve conceived rib recipes that range from a coffee rub to a soy sauce/wheat beer concoction to a coconut-curry treatment to spinach and horseradish cream accoutrements. I don’t claim experience with any one of these, but am considerably intrigued.

Beef rib fans may have a variety of penchants for cooking and treatment, but what do they like to drink with them? Many choose beer, but if your inclination is wine, we offer the opinions of several experts to guide you to the best match according to their favorite rib recipes. Recommendations are by one master chef, one visitor center owner, one wine writer and one winery designer. Be sure to scroll to Heather Young’s section for a quote from award winning chef, Michael Chiarello, followed by a rib recipe appearing in his book, Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California's Wine Country.

IntoWine asked our panel of experts to share their recommendations for the best wine to pair with Beef Ribs:

Beef Ribs are mean, hearty and earthy, so I love to create a sauce that adds a little fruit and herbs to the complexity. I would would pair with a southern Rhone wine, like a 2007 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape. I would make a red wine reduction from this wine, perhaps add a little dried rosemary, and once reduced, glaze the ribs in the oven with it as the final operation. I would then drink the same wine that I made the glaze with.

When making a sauce or glaze, I usually drink the same wine, as it is a natural bridge with the solid – the beef ribs in this case – to the liquid, the La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape. – Chef Sir Roy J. Salazar, Certified Master Chef, Sommelier and Taster; Chef Instructor, San Francisco, CA.

 ----------------------------------------

Ribs are on my short list for real comfort food; it is a warm, spicy hug. The flavors are so savory and complex and the texture of the meat is so tender. I like Texas-style, dry rub, slow-smoked, fall-off-the-bone ribs. There is no shortcut for making great barbeque. Something about barbeque and zin bring out the best in each other: each has layers of complex spices with similar lush texture that just balances the other. An example of a zinfandel that works beautifully with beef ribs is the 2008 Fiddletown Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel, Amador County. Bright with acidity and spicy vanilla notes, this lovely old-vine zin also offers juicy raspberry/blackberry fruit. The spices of the dry rub sing louder and clearer and change with every bite. The sunny acidity is refreshing and makes you yearn for another bite and another . . . – Gregg Lamer, Owner, Amador 360 Wine & Visitor Center, Plymouth, CA; www.amador360.com.

----------------------------------------

I like a non-sweet, vinegar-based preparation for my beef ribs. My wine industry friend hailing from North Carolina assures me that’s one treatment loved by southern natives, usually also including water, mustard, olive oil and a few spices – maybe chili powder and cayenne.

Vinegar-based foods are tricky to pair, as vinegar can make wine taste spoiled. The best way around this is to find a wine that is bright, clean, low-tannin and high, but not biting, in acid. The two acids together have the unexpected effect of slightly reducing the sharpness in the mouth, and the acid will also cut through the rich, fatty ribs. A wine to satisfy these requirements can be found in a good barbera, like the Pio Cesare Barbera D’Alba D.O.C., with its ripe fruit, blackberry nose and slightly toasted tobacco note. Further, the Barolo area of Italy, home to this barbera’s grape, yields a robust structure and plummy, complex flavor in the wine. The Pio Cesare’s spicy, full-bodied character can take on the hardy, hearty beef ribs. – Paula Barker, Wine Writer, IntoWine.com, Santa Ana, CA; www.intowine.com/user/paula-barker.

----------------------------------------

Though barbequed ribs are delicious, I often find the barbeque flavor overpowers the natural flavors of the meat and further allows some of the great meat qualities to become lost on the palate. I prefer to prepare beef ribs with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper, then allow the ribs to brown in a blend of olive oil and butter. Finally, adding garlic and onions to the pan before allowing the ribs to tenderize for hours in a light beef stock, creates a simple yet great-tasting rib. The meat is flavorful and lightly seasoned, allowing for a great wine to contrast these attributes. I found these qualities in the 2008 Chiarello Bambino Cabernet Sauvignon.

As the Chiarello Family Vineyards are owned by award-winning chef Michael Chiarello, it only makes sense to ask him what he thinks. I had the opportunity to get Michael’s thoughts on this pairing: "There are many great pairings between wine and food, but to me, this is the perfect combination. My Bambino is a full-bodied wine that compliments a dish like slow-roasted ribs. The meaty richness of the ribs, full of intense flavor as they fall off the bone, demands a full-bodied wine like this."

The Chiarello family vineyards are farmed sustainably, allowing for the environment that creates these grapes to be continually respected in the process of producing the wine. The Bambino Cabernet is a low-production wine with only about 300 cases made annually. Somewhat characteristic of a zinfandel, the Bambino has an earthy, almost peppery aroma. The palate is first graced with a minty earth tone blended with a soft oaky flavoring that gently bleeds to the light plum finish. Coming from vines only five years old, the grapes comprising this cabernet yield complex flavors, creating an immediate bond with the simple rib flavorings. Especially in contrast to the ribs, the acidity of the wine shows itself brightly in the mouth. The contrast of the earth tones of the wine will find you running back to the soft meat flavors of the ribs, while the lovely tannins lingering in your mouth will return you back to the wine in a never ending circle. The contrast between the Chiarello full-bodied Bambino Cabernet and the beef ribs is simple, yet perfectly balanced on the palate. – Heather Young, Winery Designer, L & H Design, Napa, CA.

MICHEAL CHIARELLO

from Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California's Wine Country (Chronicle Books)

Smoked and Braised Natural Short Ribs with Roasted Cipollini

Serves 6

Of all the dishes I made on Top Chef Masters, this one was by far the most popular. We’ve been making this dish for twenty years, and I haven’t tasted a better short rib anywhere (and I don’t say that about many of the dishes I make). 

There are three steps: brine, cold-smoke, and braise. You’ll brine the ribs for 3 hours, then cold-smoke them for 30 minutes so the smoke flavor gets pulled into the middle of the meat when you braise the ribs—it’s not just a smoke jacket. Even in midwinter, it’s worth breaking out the grill for a killer cold-smoked and braised short rib. Choose aromatic woods for the wood chips. I use the wood from wine barrels and fruit trees, as well as grape-vines. The last step is braising the ribs in red wine for 6 hours, which makes them incredibly tender.

Succulent, bold, tender yet hearty, this beef dish demands a muscular, teeth-staining red wine.

BRINE

2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons juniper berries
1 bay leaf
6 short ribs, about 1 1/4 pounds each
A few handfuls of oak, apple wood, or other fruit wood chips

ROASTED CIPPOLLINI ONIONS

24 unpeeled cippollini onions (about 2 pounds)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup diced peeled carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups Roasted Chicken Stock
or store-bought low-salt chicken broth
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 bay leaves

Ancient-Grain Polenta for serving

FOR THE BRINE: In a large pot, combine the water, kosher salt, sugar, 1 1⁄2 teaspoons juniper berries, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let the brine cool completely, then chill it in your refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

Arrange the ribs, bone-side up, in a single layer in a nonreactive 9-by-13-inch pan or other pan that fits all the ribs. Pour the brine over the ribs. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove the ribs from the brine and discard the liquid. Soak the wood chips in cold water for at least 30 minutes. While the wood soaks, light an indirect fire in a charcoal grill. Cold-smoking means keeping the temperature at 78ºF. Each time you add damp wood chips to the coal, it will bring down the temperature, so the thermometer will show some movement. Use a charcoal chimney to start a fire in the center of the fuel bed. When the coals are ready, move them carefully to either side and place an aluminum pan in the center. Add at least 2 cups of water to the aluminum pan to keep the meat moist. Allow 30 minutes for the coals to heat up; they should have a light-gray coating of ash.

Drain the wood chips and shake off the excess water. Sprinkle a quarter of the chips over the coals. Put the ribs on the grill, cover the grill, and cook for about 30 minutes, quickly turning the ribs and adding another quarter of the wood chips every 10 minutes before re-covering. 

FOR THE ONIONS: Preheat the oven to 375°F. With a paring knife, trim the top from each cippollini onion and a bare minimum from the root end. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the onions for 3 minutes. Drain and let cool to the touch, then peel off their skins. 

Heat a large, ovenproof sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil, and sauté the onions for 5 to 6 minutes, until medium-brown on both sides. Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the onions are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250ºF. Heat a Dutch oven, a large ovenproof sauté pan, or a heavy roasting pan with a lid over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the yellow onion, carrot, and celery.  Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the vegetables until browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high to burn off the alcohol. Add the short ribs and chicken stock. Bring to a hard boil and add the juniper berries, peppercorns, and bay leaves. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, then cover the pan and transfer it to the oven. Braise for 6 hours, or until the short ribs bend and almost break when lifted from the jus. Remove from the oven and let the ribs rest in the pan, covered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven.

Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Pass the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a wide saucepan. Cook the broth over medium-high heat to reduce until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Spoon polenta onto the center of each of 6 warmed plates, top with 1 rib, and pour on a little of the jus reduction.