A generation ago, legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko said, “I make the best ribs anywhere.” He then started the Mike Royko Ribfest to prove it. More than 400 entrants challenged the Chicago-based satirist – who, despite the initial barbecue bluster, did not win his namesake contest.
Royko, the son of a tavern owner, probably did not wash his defeated ribs down with wine. One would assume that the winners losers of this and subsequent ribfests also took another beverage path to celebrate or commiserate.
But the late columnist’s appetite for ribs was matched by more than just a streak of thriftiness. This would have made Royko a great candidate for drinking (but not quaffing) value wines. If he could be perfectly happy with holes in his shoes on a dry day, a value-priced “rib wine” might have graced his chicken-scratched shopping list.
Thankfully, barbecued pork ribs and wine doesn’t present the typical effete wine pairing. Actually, it’s one of the great wine-and-food pairings of all time! So what if the stemware is caked/glazed with barbecue sauce?
Pork is versatile enough as a meat to pair with a number of different wines. With the many rubs and sauces available to adorn a satisfying rack of ribs, the wine search can be quite fun. Even better, good wine choices for any style of barbecued ribs are not overly expensive. A nice chilled bottle of rosé, all the way to a fuller-bodied Bonarda can all work quite nicely, depending on the seasoning, spice or smokiness.
“If I am having a barbecue, especially outside, I enjoy a rosé with ribs,” says Doug Dunlay, co-owner of Smoke Daddy BBQ. “You get bright, expressive fruit that really pairs well with the spices from the barbecue rub and the sauce. Two that I really enjoy are the Chateau Trinquevedel (Grenache) from Tavel, France and Muga (Garnacha Viera and Tempranillo) from Rioja, Spain.
“If I’m having red wine, I will usually stay in Southern France with a medium-bodied Terrebrunne from Bandol ($17), or any blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Southern Rhône Valley,” Dunlay adds.
Here are a couple of other options that could be added to even the most dog-eared, scribbled, Royko-style shopping lists (and good for cold-weather barbecue fanatics):
Feudi di San Marzano Puglia IGT Primitivo 2009: Primitivo is Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, sometimes even called the “matron of Zinfandel.” It’s not as sweet or as concentrated as some of her American descendants. This one is light-to-medium bodied with a nice approachability and balanced fruit, plus a subtle, herbal finish. Great with tangy (not smoky) sauces and rubs – on liberally mopped ribs cooked on an old-fashioned kettle cooker. Sip it beforehand while slowly cooking away, and relax. $13.
Amador Foothill Winery Esola Vineyard Zinfandel 2007: The balance of acidity and fruit make this hard-to-find-but-worth-it Zin a classic barbecue wine. It’s also versatile enough to pivot from smokier sauces to the sweeter, stickier options. Aromas are of black fruit and black pepper, and the palate features black cherry, a bit of mushroom, and a seamless finish. $15.