Baby Back Ribs & Zinfandel

Sticky, smoky and sweet baby back ribs are a summer staple and a classic partner for those game-day tailgate parties. Sure, most people think of grabbing a cold beer with barbecue, but I promise the right wine pairing can literally blow your mind. There are so many styles of BBQ, so for this post, I am focusing on the Kansas City style that boasts that thick jammy, sweet, smoky and spicy sauce. My go-to wine pairings are a  fruit forward, spicy Zinfandel or a rich, smoky Syrah.  The intense smokiness of ribs can be challenging to pair with wine, often overpowering the vino. Remember, the perfect pairing should complement one another and highlight the flavor profiles in both the food and wine.  Since, we are talking about casual food here, I have chosen a few budget-friendly wines under $20 to pair with Kansas City BBQ Pork Ribs.

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Super Bowl Pairings

Beer may be the beverage of choice for the big game, but wine can add another dimension to all of those culinary treats.

To create some exciting Super Bowl pairings, keep things simple and budget friendly by sticking to three options. A dry sparkling, an off-dry white and a fruit forward full-bodied red will provide the perfect pairings for many common Super Bowl snacks.

One of my all time favorite pairings with fried food is sparkling wine. The bright acidity and bubbles provide the perfect foil for salty treats.  An off-dry white like a Riesling will cover the spectrum of seafood and spicy dishes and a hearty fruit forward red wine like a Zinfandel will work magic when paired with meaty, savory dishes.

Since this weekend is all about American football, here are a few patriotic wines (under $25) to have on hand for the big game that will pair perfectly with everything on your game day table!

SPARKLINGRecommended Producers: Gruet Brut Blanc de Blanc, Roederer Estate Brut & Gloria Ferrer Brut Blanc

  • Hot Wings w/Blue Cheese (Super spicy wings call for a sweeter sparkling)
  • Chips & Dip
  • Assorted Cheeses
  • Charcuterie
  • Potato Skins
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Popcorn


RIESLING – Recommended Producers: Eroica, Kung Fu Girl & Chateau Ste. Michelle

  • Shrimp
  • Nachos
  • Seven Layer Dip
  • Vinegar Based BBQ
  • Ham & Pineapple Pizza
  • Guacamole
  • Fruit Salads
  • Chicken Satay 


ZINFANDELRecommended Producers: Federalist, Sobon Estates & Hendry “HRW”

  • Meat Lovers Pizza
  • Burgers
  • Ribs
  • Short Rib Sliders
  • Roast Beef Sandwiches
  • Smoked Mozzarella stuffed Meatballs

Christmas Pairings

Now that your Christmas shopping is “hopefully” finished, it’s time to turn your attention to the holiday feast.  As you plan your perfect meal, don’t forget about the wine! The right wine and food pairings can turn your meal from good to great! Since there are so many traditions this time of year, I chose some popular meals and provided some great Christmas pairings that will please even the pickiest palate at your dinner table.

Beef tenderloin with a Bordeaux reduction served with a side of lobster mac and Maytag blue cheese is a stable in our house for Christmas dinner. It’s the best surf and turf you will ever eat! Since tenderloin is a leaner cut of beef, you want to choose a wine with  moderate tannins. A wine too tannic will overwhelm the palate. However, the creaminess and higher fat content in the mac and cheese will give you a little more flexibility.  A left bank Bordeaux would be an awesome choice to play off the flavor notes in the reduction.  A Napa Cabernet Sauvignon with a little bit of age is also a perfect dancing partner for this dish (tannins mellow with age).  Some of my favorite California Cabs with this dish include Jordan, Cade, Pride Mountain and Stag’s Leap Artemis.  Other red options include a Syrah, Chateuneuf du Pape or even a well balanced Zinfandel like Grgich HillsRafanelli or Robert Biale’s Black Chicken out of California.  The Zin works particularly well if you do a pepper crust on the tenderloin. The Cab is amazing with an herb crusted tenderloin.

When it comes to ham, there are a few options that make outstanding pairings.
For white options, choose an off-dry Riesling or a Gewürztraminer. These options work particularly well with a maple glazed or honey ham. These varietals offer the perfect foil for the salty ham. The saltiness brings out the fruit notes in the wine and the vibrant acidity found in these two varietals is the perfect palate cleanser.  Adding a pinch of clove to the maple glaze will bring out some of the sweet spice notes in the Gewürztraminer. If you prefer red, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir are excellent choices.  The red fruit notes of both varietals play well off the sweet notes of the maple glaze. The Trimbach Gewürztraminer is a great choice and easy to find.  The Dr. Loosen “Blue Slate” Riesling  or the “Dr. L” out of Germany is a great value friendly selection. If your looking for something a little more elegant look for a Grand Cru Alsatian Riesling. When it comes to Cab Franc, Virginia is offering some great selections from Barboursville, Fabbioli and Chatham Vineyards or try a “Chinon” from the Loire Valley of France.

Braised short ribs with porcini risotto is another great holiday meal. Nothing says warm, cozy and satisfying like this dish. You want a hearty wine to stand up to this meal. Consider keeping with tradition and choose an Italian red like a Brunello, Chianto Classico or Barbaresco. The high acidity and high tannic structure in these wines provide the perfect counterpoint to the weightiness of this fabulous meal. Antinori, Banfi and Pio Cesare are all excellent producers of Italian wines.


Lamb chops or leg of lamb marinated with fresh herbs (rosemary  & thyme) and garlic is also an elegant option for Christmas dinner.  I like an earthy meaty wine like a Syrah or Cotes du Rhone from the Rhone Valley of France with lamb. You can also opt for a Barbaresco from Piedmont, Italy or you can’t go wrong with a classic Cabernet from Napa.

Again lamb is a leaner cut of meet, so look for wines with a little age on it for mellower tannins.

If you’re preparing venison for dinner, a Chateauneuf du Pape or Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) is an excellent choice. And if you are opting for turkey, check out our Thanksgiving wine pairings for some great ideas under $30.

Once you have selected the perfect wines, make sure to serve them at the proper temperature and don’t forget to decant your red wines for 30 minutes to an hour before the meal! It will make a big difference in the flavor profile. Decanting will also mellow out the tannins.  Check out the 20/20 rule for achieving the perfect serving temperature.

So now that your shopping is done, presents are wrapped  and your menu is planned, kick back with a great glass of vino. You deserve it. Happy Holidays!





Paleo Pairing: Beef Tacos & Zinfandel

Since tacos are a staple in so many households I thought it would be fun to create a Paleo version.  I substituted lettuce wraps for tortillas and used mashed avocados in place of sour cream.  The result was a healthy tasty taco that I will definitely make again.

My Paleo Pairing for day 19 features beef tacos in lettuce wraps paired with a Zinfandel.  You can also opt for a Riesling if you like your tacos on the super spicy side. Other wine pairings would include a Barbera or Beaujolais for a milder version.

Refer to my chili wine pairing for a detailed analysis of spicy food pairings and recommendations on some great Zinfandels.


1 lb lean ground beef (93%)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small jalapeno (seeded and diced)
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper

8 lettuce leaves (Boston lettuce)
2 avocados (mashed)
diced tomatoes (garnish)
scallions (garnish)


Heat olive oil in medium skillet, add beef and let brown.  Add jalapeno and the rest of the seasoning and combine. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes to combine all the flavors.

Rinse lettuce leaves and pat dry with paper towels. Take a spoonful of smashed avocados, add beef, diced tomatoes and scallions. Serve immediately. Serves 2-4.

Chili & Zinfandel

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when pairing wine and chili. First, if you like 5-alarm chili, there isn’t a wine on the planet that will work well with it. The spice will completely take over the wine. You’re better off sticking with beer in this case. My “Zinful” Chili recipe has a nice zing that will work beautifully with a big jammy, spicy Zinfandel from California.  I also like to add some Zinfandel to the chili as another way to integrate the flavors. Another thing to keep in mind, alcohol tends to exacerbate the heat, so while Zinfandels tend to have higher alcohol it still works well if you serve it slightly chilled with a mild, flavorful chili. The warmer the wine the more pronounced the alcohol will appear. Chilling the Zinfandel also make the bright jammy fruits pop more on your palate.  A sparkling Malbec is also a fun alternative, but they are a bit difficult to find.

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Recipe: Beef Chili (Paleo-friendly) 


1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef (93%)
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 bell peppers (red, green & yellow), large dice
1 large yellow onion, large dice
1 jalapeño, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Zinfandel
1-28 oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock or beef stock (homemade) – if using a store bought broth, make sure it’s gluten-free and low-sodium


Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add ground beef and let brown for about 8-10 minutes. Drain off excess fat, then add garlic, jalapeno, salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder & Italian seasoning and combine. Add 1/4 cup Zinfandel (optional). Then add peppers, onions, crushed tomatoes. For thicker chili just one cup of stock. Let simmer for an hour and serve. Garnish with fresh mashed avocados in place of sour cream and scallions. Serves 6-8.

One other note, since this is chili, I would recommend a budget friendly wine for this dish. You have alot of flavors going on, so the wine really won’t take center stage but play more of a supporting role.

Everyday Wine (Under $15)

Mid-Priced ($16-30)

  • Jelly Jar Zinfandel, Lake County, California (I absolutely adore this Zinfandel, but depending on where you live, it can be hard to find so you may need to buy it online direct from the vineyard, I included the link for your convenience)
  • Federalist Zinfandel, Dry Creek, California – Available at Yianni’s Wine Shop (Virginia Beach) & Total Wine


Short Rib Sliders & Syrah


While short rib sliders make an amazing meal any time of year, they are a fall staple and a fantastic tailgate snack. This is a fairly simple yet time intensive recipe, but so worth every second. Every bite drips with decadence and the savory bacon blue slaw washed down with a bold Zinfandel or meaty, spicy Syrah is like a symphony on your palate.

You can pair a few different varietals quite well with this dish. I prefer a Zinfandel or Syrah, but a Napa Cab works quite well too!  Grab your favorite bottle or try one of these selections to pair with this feast.

Recipe: Short Rib Sliders w/Bacon Blue Slaw

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 4 hours
Makes 12-16 sliders

Ingredients: Short Ribs (Can be made one day ahead of time)

 8 short ribs (trimmed of excess fat)
½ cup brown sugar
Salt  & Pepper
2 tbls. olive oil

4 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 large yellow onion
1/2 medium fennel bulb
4 sprigs rosemary & thyme
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 bottle dry red wine (Bordeaux, Cotes du Rhone, Chianti)
1 qt. low sodium chicken or beef stock
1 tbsp. juniper berries
1 bayleaf
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 

Ingredients: Bacon Blue Slaw

1 head of red cabbage (shredded)
½ medium fennel bulb (shredded)
4 scallions
¼ cup mayo
8 oz. stilton
1 tbsp. honey
8 strips of thick-cut bacon (cooked & chopped)
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1tsp. pepper


Pre-heat oven to 350°

In a large dutch oven, drizzle a thin layer of oil over medium heat. Generously coat short ribs with salt, pepper and brown sugar.  The sugar will help caramelize the beef.   Once the oil has a slight shimmer place the short ribs in pan and let brown on all sides – about 4-5 minutes per side. Patience is key here. This is where all the flavor develops.

While the beef is caramelizing, place carrots, celery, onion, garlic and ½ the fennel bulb in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Once beef is browned on all sides, remove from pan.  Add chopped veggies to the beef rendering and caramelize for 10-12 minutes.  Once veggies are caramelized, add tomato paste and let cook 2 minutes.  Add red wine and deglaze pan. Let reduce for 10 minutes.  Add 1 quart low sodium chicken or beef stock, rosemary & thyme bundle, juniper berries and bay leaf and stir.  Gently place short ribs in dutch oven. Make sure there’s enough liquid covering all the ribs. You can add extra stock if needed.

Cover dutch oven and place in oven at 350° for 4 hours. Check halfway through the cooking process and turn the meat and ensure it’s fully covered.

While the short ribs are braising in the oven, you can prepare the slaw.  Take the mayo, red wine vinegar, honey, salt & pepper and whisk in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine shredded cabbage, fennel, scallions ,stilton, bacon and pour mayo mixture over top and fold in all of the ingredients.  Set aside.

Now that the short ribs are done, take the ribs out of the pan and let cool for about 30 minutes.  Shred the meat.  Add ¼ cup of pan sauce to beef mixture. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper to taste.  If you like a little heat, you can add ½ tsp. of Siracha.

Assembling the sliders

Take dinner rolls (White House Rolls or King’s Hawaiian Rolls), split, butter and lightly toast.

Place short rib mixture on bottom roll and top with slaw. Bon Appetit!