Prime Rib Roast and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


By Davies Wakefield

When my wife and I first got married, we spent the first two years of our married life eating spaghetti, chili and peanut butter sandwiches while we worked horrendous hours trying to save up enough money to buy a house. I worked as a welder at a truck trailer manufacturing company, working 12 hour days and 10 hour weekends on the second shift, while my wife worked the day shift at a restaurant from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., leaving us just a few hours a day to be with each other. My dad used to bring a two gallon jar of crunchy A & P peanut butter to us whenever they visited us. It was tough but we were able to save enough money to make a down payment on a house in just those two years.

Once we were a little better off and I had been promoted to Q/A manager on the day shift, we wanted to invite some friends over to a real dinner. As a Viet Nam veteran, I was 24 when I started college and had made friends with a young college philosophy professor, Frank Taylor, and his French wife Odette. We had been to many dinners at their home and we wanted to return the favor. I had watched my mother fix many meals at home, but I did not understand all the ramifications of roasting beef. The beef rump roast that we roasted to well-done came to the table absolutely grey inside and profusely bleeding any remaining juices, which was the result of not resting the meat for 20 minutes after coming out of the oven. This prompted Odette to ask her husband, not so innocently, “Est ce un roti porc?”

The embarrassment of this screw-up was not lost on us and we decided that we needed to find out how to cook meals in the French manner like our friend’s wife, who was a fabulous cook from the Alsatian region of France near the city of Metz. The vehicle for this knowledge was Julia Child. We had noticed that the local PBS station was carrying her show “The French Chef.” We watched the show religiously every Saturday afternoon and then purchased her two seminal books “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” By the time we had our next big soirée we had solved the puzzle of how to properly roast and braise beef. After years of practice and a small herd of cattle, we now comfortably make these roasts without much thought other than timing the meal to coincide with our guests’ arrival.

Prime rib roast is the quintessential Christmas meal along with roast goose, but here in Wisconsin, prime rib is the Saturday night meal of choice at most supper clubs. I want to show you how easy it is to do and give you some great wines to go with it. There are two schools of thought on a procedure to roast a prime rib. We are going to do a slow roast that gives the meat a uniform medium rare degree of doneness.

A three bone standing beef rib roast (6-8 pounds). Ask the butcher for the three bones on the small end.
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
4 large garlic cloves minced. I use a micro-plane and grate the garlic. It is much quicker.
The night before roasting, cut the bones away from the roast in one piece. Season the boneless roast all around with the salt, pepper and garlic.
Reattach the bones to the seasoned roast with butchers twine and let the roast marinate in the refrigerator.
The roast will take 4-6 hours; so take it out of the fridge accordingly and let it sit at room temperature for one hour. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Yes, that is 200 degrees F.
Roast in the bottom third of the oven until the center reaches 120 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Our roast was 8 lbs and took four hours to reach 120 degrees F.
Take the roast out of the oven and let rest for 1 hour covered with foil.
Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and return the roast to the oven until a dark brown crust forms over the top of the roast.
Remove the roast cut the strings and serve.
Since the meal is for a special occasion the wines I’ve selected are not inexpensive. A grand meal calls for some grand wines and these wines are from the finest region in the United States for growing Cabernet Sauvignon; Napa Valley California.

As I’ve explained in previous columns, Napa can produce some very alcoholic Cabernets in the 15.5-16 percent range but the 2010 and 2011 vintages were decidedly cooler. The 2010 vintage was wet and cool with picking extended into November. Growers removed leaves to let the grapes get more sun exposure. They also removed some of the grape clusters that had flaws. The Wine Spectator rates the vintage as 98/100.

The 2011 vintage was similar with a below average crop, however there was a heat spike during harvest which helped to balance sweetness with acidity. If sweet, ripe wines are what you want from Napa these aren’t the years for you; but if you long for freshness, brightness and lower alcohol you’ll find wines to love in these two vintages.

The first wine I’ve selected is from the Stags Leap Wine Cellars. The 2010 Artemis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 13.5 percent alcohol and about $53. The winery was founded in 1970 by Warren Winiarski who with help from Andre Tchelistcheff produced the first wine in 1972. The 1973 Cabernet was part of the famous 1976 Parisian tasting that demonstrated that Napa Cabernets could compete with the finest French wines like Haut Brion and Mouton-Rothschild. The winery is still managed in that same vein by the current owner Chateau Ste. Michelle. The wine is 88 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 12 percent Merlot. It was rated at 91 points by the Wine Advocate. The aromas are of sandalwood, dried herbs with notes of black cherries and plums. The cherry and plum notes continue on the palette. Fine grained tannins lead to a berry-cherry finish. This wine was my wife’s favorite; it was smooth and matched the taste of the beef. The smoothness was probably due to the high percentage of Merlot in the blend.

The next 2010 wine is the Clos Du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at 13.5 percent alcohol and about $28 Clos Du Val Winery was founded in 1972 by two men born into the French wine business. This winery also participated in the now famous Paris wine tasting. The style of the wine is purely in the French tradition; never overstated a blend of Bordeaux varieties, and usually an outstanding value for the money. This particular wine was awarded a bronze medal by Sunset Magazine. The 2010 is a blend of 86 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Merlot, 7 percent Cabernet Franc, and 2 percent Petit Verdot. The wine is accentuated with aromas of ripe black and red fruit with subtle hints of toast and black pepper. The palette displays seamless integration of rich flavors including chocolate, toffee, and ripe blackberry. This wine also has an extended finish and rich mouthfeel as a result of the longer cooler growing season. This wine was the lightest and more elegant of the three. It might be better with a strip steak.

The last wine is the Charles Krug 2011 Yountville-Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 13.9 percent alcohol and about $22. The winery was founded in 1861 by Charles Krug. It is the oldest winery in Napa Valley. The winery was purchased in 1943 by the Mondavi family and has continued under the Peter Mondavi family. The winery is also dedicated to producing Bordeaux style wines of elegance that are food friendly. This wine is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Petit Verdot and 5 percent Merlot. It exhibits aromas of black cherry, currant and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, cocoa and cassis blend with supple tannins that lead to a graceful, elegant finish. This wine is the sweetest of the three, probably due to the higher alcohol. It was my favorite.

All three of these wines have the ability to age and should be at peak drinking in two-three years. I would recommend opening the wines about three hours before eating so they can breathe.

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