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Sep 16, 2008
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Wine With Kansas City BBQ Ribs

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

What is it about the place that makes people like the esteemed writer Calvin Trillin and our friend (and Wine Review Online colleague) Michael Apstein schedule a layover in Kansas City whenever their plane happens to be flying anywhere remotely near the place?  Well, here's one reason, as described by the inimitable Trillin in the opening lines of his American Fried:   'The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City.  Not all of them; only the top four or five.'  But it's not restaurants per se that brings these notorious bons vivants to Kansas City; the specific reason can be summed up in one word: RIBS.

We have never been to Kansas City, but we recently fired up the grill and cooked up some ribs that were coated with a rub (brown sugar, salt, paprika, chili powder, cumin, and a host of other spices including a healthy whack of cayenne pepper).  They cooked over indirect heat, with smoky wood chips, for over two hours, then emerged dark and shiny, with aromas so sublime that our neighbors surely succumbed to fits of rapture.  We had a bowl of sweet and tangy sauce-ketchup, molasses, garlic etc-on the side, but for the most part the ribs were so delicious we bypassed the sauce altogether. 

Let it be noted that there is something about stemware and fingers dripping with bbq sauce that is not a felicitous combination, no matter how many rolls of paper towel are on the table.  Stems notwithstanding, though, one thing we are now convinced of is that wine is a MUST with ribs!  Okay, beer can be a fine and thirst-quenching beverage, but the richness, complexity and just plain succulence of red wine combined with the richness, complexity and succulence of barbecued ribs is nirvana for the taste buds. 

The best thing we discovered is that we could scarcely find a wine that wasn't delicious with the ribs, even those that didn't seem all that outstanding on their own.  The dominant vinous elements that were responsible for the dynamic interplay of meat and wine were sweet fruit, earthiness, and spice.  If there are also hints of coffee and herbal notes in the wine, and/or darker flavors such as tar, chocolate, and leather-well, so much the better.



Approx. Price



Clayhouse, Paso Robles (California) Syrah 2005





Very fruity, with a hint of peppery spice in the finish, this wine shone brightly with the ribs.  The piquant rub and spice seemed to enhance it and give it added depth.




Girard, Napa Valley (California) Petite Sirah 2006






Very rich and powerful, this Petite tastes anything but what its name suggests.  It's a big, muscular wine, and might well overwhelm ribs that aren't seasoned with such a spicy rub and sauce.  These KC-style ones, though, could hold their own.




Castello Monaci, Salice Salentino (Puglia, Italy) 'Liante' 2006

(Imported by Frederick Wildman)





Made with Negroamaro (80%) and Malvasia Nera (20%), this wine tasted sunny and ripe.  Sipped on its own, it was perhaps a tad too simple, but the spicy ribs seemed almost to add flavor.




Paul Dolan Vineyards, Mendocinio County/ Amador County (California) Zinfandel 2006




A lighter Zin than many on the market these days, this wine, made with organically-grown grapes, tastes seductively sweet.  Whereas some other wines worked because they echoed the hot spice in the rub on the ribs, this one worked because it so clearly complemented the brown sugar in that same rub.





Zette, Cahors (France) Malbec 2003

(Imported by Frederick Wildman)







Very grapey when tried on its own, this wine almost magically acquired depth and substance when enjoyed with the ribs.  It provided clear evidence that how a wine tastes by itself sometimes has nothing to do with how it tastes with food.