St. Louis Style Pork Ribs, Cherry Coke and Russian River Pinot Noir

pork-ribsBy Davies Wakefield

The other day, I was reading a wine magazine review of Pinot Noir and I kept coming across the words “cola” and “Bing cherry” in the description of the taste. I thought to myself “Why not push the boat out?” and try to fashion a recipe that would echo the cola and Bing cherry flavors of the wines I selected to go with it.

A couple of years ago, I had read an article in the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday edition about braising pork ribs in a mixture of spices and Coca Cola and thought that I could modify the recipe to accommodate the flavors of the Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs I had been tasting and reading about. Cherry Coke braised pork ribs seemed like a good idea. This story means that I published two pork recipes in a row for SCENE, but I think the foods, as well as the wines, are miles apart in flavor. I think it also illustrates the importance of proper pairing of the food with wine. The flavoring of the spices and braising liquid are major factors in determining what wines will taste best with a dish. I set out to see just how well this theory worked.

I am writing this story while waiting for winter storm Carol to pass through with another four to seven inches of snow in mid-February. This was the coldest winter in northern Wisconsin ever, but this story will appear in the April issue. By then I hope that you’ll be able to finish these ribs on your outdoor grill even if there are still snow drifts.

The recipe involves braising the ribs first in a mixture of Cherry Coke and spices, then finishing them off under the broiler or on the grill.

Cherry Coke Glazed St. Louis Pork Ribs (Serves 2-3)
1 Rack St. Louis Style Pork Ribs
½ liter Cherry Coke
1 Cup pure cranberry juice
1 Cup brown sugar packed
1 Tbs coarse Dijon mustard
½ Cup adobo sauce (available in the Mexican section of the supermarket)
1/3 Cup red wine vinegar
¼ Cup lime juice
2 tbs. soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced ginger
5 cloves garlic minced
Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Reserve one cup of the liquid for making the glaze.
Turn the ribs over and remove the silver skin or fell from the inside of the ribs. You may need to grip the fell with a kitchen towel because it is extremely slippery.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Cut the ribs into two or three rib sections and place in a Dutch oven and pour the unreserved liquid over the ribs. Cook in the oven for 2 ½ to 3 hours.
When the ribs are done take the pot from the oven and let the ribs cool in the liquid, then remove the ribs to a plate.
Heat the reserved sauce in a sauce pan until reduced and syrupy about 8 minutes at medium high heat.
Brush the ribs with the reduced sauce and broil in the oven or on your outdoor grill until heated through; about 3-5 minutes per side. Be careful not to burn the glaze.
The Russian River Valley is a geologic anomaly that is just north of San Francisco. If you have ever been to San Francisco in the summer and seen the fog rolling into San Francisco Bay during the early morning you have witnessed the phenomenon that occurs in the Russian River Valley. The Russian River Valley accounts for about one-sixth of the vineyard production in Sonoma County. With parts of the valley located less than 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the climate is characterized by cool morning fog that comes in from the ocean and burns off during the day. The cooling influence of the fog is responsible for daily temperature variations of as much as 40 degrees F. The maritime influence facilitates a long slow ripening process that accentuates the flavors of the grapes. The Pinot Noirs produced in this area are some of my favorite wines. They are bold and can stand up to strong flavors like pork ribs. The coolness of the area also ameliorates the alcohol content which is one of my biggest objections to modern California wines. My thought is that if you can smell the alcohol, it’s too high. If you can taste the alcohol, it’s too high.

The geography of the valley was shaped millions of years ago by collisions of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates and eruptions of volcanic vents that deposited ash over layers of eroded bedrock. This process created what is known as “Goldridge soil.” Some of the Russian River Valley’s most respected Pinot Noir is planted along deposits of Goldridge soil.

The first wine is the Picket Fence Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2011, 13.8 percent alcohol, and costs $15. This particular winery hand harvests its grapes at night, sorts the grapes for quality, destems and ferments the grapes in stainless steel tanks. After pressing the wine, it is aged in 40 percent, new French oak and 60 percent neutral oak. The price of this wine does not reflect the amount of care taken in producing this wine. The wine has the much sought after velvety texture and density that Miles was searching for in the movie “Sideways.” The Bing cherry, blackberry and spice flavors stand up to the spiciness of the adobo sauce. This was our pick for the best value for the money. This wine will age well too, so put away half a case and try it over the next five years.

The second wine is the Fritz Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010, 14.4 percent alcohol, and costs $27. The grapes for this wine came from a 25 acre plot located west of Highway 116 in Sebastopol. Pommard 115 and 113 clones were planted in the rich sandstone loam known as Goldridge soil. This wine is whole berry fermented in open top vats which concentrates flavors and aromas. After five days of cold soaking, the tanks were warmed up allowing the juice to ferment naturally, while the grape skins were allowed contact for another 10 days. This is a powerful wine and it stood up perfectly to the ribs. When we first opened the bottle, aromas of black stone fruits filled the air with hints of sage and bramble. It hits your palate with hints of Bing cherry, rhubarb and savory spices like clove and cardamom. This was the best wine of the tasting and worth the extra dollars. This wine will age as well and is well worth the investment for a half case.

The third wine is the Mac Murray Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2010, 13.8 percent alcohol, and costs $22. Fred Mac Murray of the Walt Disney production, “Flubber,” purchased the ranch in 1941 and raised cattle on the 1,500 acre parcel until grapes were planted in the 1990s. Mr. Mac Murray’s daughter Kate manages the property now owned by the Gallo Family. The 2010 growing season was a challenging one for this property with record breaking low temperatures in the spring leading to late bud break. The summer season started cool with ample fog and cloud cover until late august. Cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir fared particularly well showing exceptional brightness and acidity. This wine’s character stood up to the fattiness of the ribs while flavors of cherry, raspberry, red currant and boysenberries echoed the Cherry Coke sauce. This was another silky smooth Pinot that will age as well.

The concentrated flavors of all of these wines were the perfect match to the intensity of the braising liquid and ribs. I hope you enjoy them.

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