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Oct 11, 2011
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Wine With . . . Short Rib Tacos with Lime-Mayo Coleslaw

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

With autumn heading our way, we decided to make a hearty cool weather dish that would be particularly delicious with the sort of full-fleshed red wines that have particular appeal when seasonal chill sets in. And so we rallied together a few friends who love both wine and tacos to help us sample the two together.

Short ribs are always better made two or three days ahead. For one thing, letting the meat absorb all the cooking spices and seasonings overnight gives it greater depth of flavor. But even more importantly, it’s much easier to get rid of the excess, congealed fat after the cooked dish has been refrigerated overnight. (The fat, of course, is largely responsible for the rich flavors and textures of short ribs, but when the dish is literally awash in grease it is less appealing).

This is not a recipe that demands strict adherence to specific ingredients. Certain things such as oregano, cumin, garlic and onions are more or less essential. After that, we like the outdoorsy, campfire taste of smoked paprika, and Aleppo pepper adds a desirable degree of subtle heat and exotic flavor – but you certainly could substitute regular paprika plus a judicious amount of cayenne or chili sauce. In this instance, we weren’t looking for tacos that are searingly hot; what we wanted instead was a dish with complex beefy flavors and notes of spice that would lend itself to a range of wines. The creamy, crunchy, garlicky coleslaw adds an agreeable contrast of textures and flavors.

When wine isn’t the primary focus there’s no reason not to go ahead and be profligate with spicy-hot seasonings (cayenne, hot peppers) if that’s where the mood takes you. And of course a couple of different hot sauces passed at the table will enable everyone to adjust the dish to his or her desired level of spicy pleasure and/or pain. Feel free, too, to include the usual taco garnishes such as sour cream and salsa.

Short Rib Tacos with Lime-Mayo Coleslaw

Serves 6

For the Short Ribs:

About 3 ½ pounds boneless short ribs

2 teaspoons oregano

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 medium onion, sliced

2 carrots, peeled and cut in chunks

5-8 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 dried pepper such as pasilla or guajillo

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

1 750ml bottle dry red wine

2 cups beef stock

1/3 cup Bourbon (optional)

For the Coleslaw:

1 large head green cabbage

2 cups mayonnaise (commercial or homemade)

½ cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic, very finely minced (or put through a press)

juice of 2-3 fresh limes (about ¼-1/3 cup)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne


soft corn tortillas, preferably 6-8 inches

Arrange the ribs in a single layer in a shallow-sided baking dish. Combine the oregano, cumin, paprika, pepper and salt, and rub the mixture all over the ribs. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for up at least three hours.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the ribs on a middle rack and roast until they have browned, about 20 minutes (turn them once or twice during cooking for even browning). Transfer the meat to a deep oven-proof pot such as a Dutch oven. (If a generous amount of cooking juices have accumulated—a cup or so—pour them into a shallow bowl and refrigerate). Lower the oven to 325°. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the tortillas, to the pot and bake for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

Remove the meat to a separate container and refrigerate, preferably overnight. Strain the solids from the cooking liquid and discard them. Refrigerate the sauce as well.

To make the coleslaw: Using a box grater or food processor attachment, shred the cabbage. Whisk together the mayonnaise, olive oil, garlic, lime juice, cayenne, and salt, and into the cabbage. Adjust the amount of lime juice to taste—the mixture should be refreshingly citrusy.

To finish and assemble the tacos: Lift the hardened fat from the sauce (including the liquid from the initial browning of the meat if you have kept it) and discard. Combine the sauce and any refrigerated cooking juices, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat or in a hot oven. Simmer, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced to about two cups. Set the oven temperature to 325°. Cook the meat until it is warmed through and very tender. Remove the meat to a platter and shred it (the easiest way to do this is with two forks). Taste the sauce, adding more seasonings if necessary. Return the meat to the pan with the sauce and reheat. The short ribs may be served hot or room temperature.

To assemble the tacos, warm the tortillas, and then fill each one with some of the meat and the sauce. Top with a good dollop of coleslaw. Fold and eat, or use a knife and fork (these can be messy!)

* * *

These tacos are simultaneously down-home meaty and fresh and lively (due to the coleslaw). As a result, the wines that work best with them need to show bright fruit flavors, and be somewhat vivacious. We tried twelve different reds with them. Not all paired successfully. A dusty Chianti seemed flat, while a dry, earthy Madiran seemed dull, and a youthful Pinot Noir was simply too light-bodied. This is a substantial dish, and whatever wine you serve with it has to be equally full-bodied.


Approx. Price


Cono Sur, Maipo Valley (Chile) Cabernet Sauvignon “Vision” 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


A substantial Cabernet, with the tell-tale earthiness in the finish that distinguishes so many first-rate reds from Chile, this wine at the same time exhibits a core of sumptuous because ripe blackberry flavor. That combination of primary fruit and dry, even dusty secondary notes is what made it such a good partner for these tacos.

Mapema, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2009

(Imported by Vine Connections)


Smooth and supple in texture, with a violet-tinged perfume and lush plum and berry fruit flavors, this is a very seductive Malbec. Its voluptuous character accented the creamy, juicy, but also very meaty filling in the tacos.

Parducci, Mendocino County (California) Petite Sirah 2008


A superior value, this wine exhibits classic Petite character, being marked by bright blueberry fruit and a spicy finish, with firm tannins so a well-defined structure. At the same time, it’s not so big and powerful as to prove domineering at the super table. With this full-flavored dish, it seemed just right.

Robert Oatley, Mudgee (Australia) Shiraz 2009

(Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards)


A lot of Australian Shiraz seems overly sweet, even candied, but this wine is legitimately dry and satisfying. It does have a core of ripe, sexy fruit flavor, but it never turns sappy, instead finishing on a long, almost lean note.

Boekenhoutskloof, Western Cape (South Africa) “The Wolftrap Red” 2010

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


A blend of Syrah (65%) and Mourvèdre (32%), with a dollop of Viognier (3%) thrown in for good measure, this is an earthy, spicy, but at the same time fruit-filled red. Full of warmth and sunshine, it tastes juicy and lush—just the right qualities for pairing successfully with these meaty tacos.