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Seven best wines to quaff at a Barbecue

May 28, 2013

With summer heat at our doorstep, it's a good time to take a look at one specific aspect of food and wine pairings, the American institution that is the barbecue.  OK, I know barbecue actually has its roots in the Caribbean, and many people would prefer a beer or margarita with their barbecue, but humor me here.  First let's be clear – barbecue does not connote one uniform type and style of food.  Much like “Chinese food”, barbecue really defines a method of cooking (grill, pit, outdoor fireplace) more than what is being cooked.  Barbecue can be beef, pork, chicken, or even pizza, and includes sauces with dozens of variations.  With this clarification under our belt, let's look at several options for wine pairing based on what's on the barbecue and the 7 Basic Food and Wine Pairing Guidelines.

Anything coated in barbecue sauce, whether it's the Kansas City dry rub or Texan Mesquite-grilled, presents a challenge for wine pairing.  Barbecue flavors are not subtle.  Ingredients can include soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder, creole seasoning, lime juice, mustard, and even a healthy dose of Tabasco just to name a few.  Top the ingredients off with aromas imparted from the charcoal or Mesquite, and what results is a big mouthful of flavors.  The two elements to work when selecting a wine are spiciness and fat.  If your barbecue is truly a five alarm special, then those spices will magnify the tannins in virtually any red wine to undesirable levels and the wine can taste hot.  In this case you would be better off to run in the other direction to a slightly sweet white wine such as a Chenin Blanc or Riesling.  A more likely scenario however, is that the spiciness is manageable and the key element of the barbecue to work with in pairing a wine is the fat in the meat.  Fats on the palate coat the tongue, making it harder to discern flavors. Red wines high in tannins and complex in aromas will combine with the fats reducing the pucker factor (astringency) while preserving the flavor profile of the wine.

So without further analysis, here's one person's recommendation for the seven best wines to quaff with barbecue.

#1 Zinfandel - An American institution to go with an American institution.  Big, bold, with intense flavors, you can seldom go wrong with a California Zinfandel.

#2 Grenache/Carignan blends from the Southern Rhone.  Make sure to find the Carignan blend so the wine has enough body and structure to stand up to the barbecue.  Grenache by itself, although delightful, lacks the punch to work with barbecue.

#3 Syrah – The aroma profile of Syrah often has a smoky character rich with spice and black pepper.  What better than to match with barbecue.

#4 Rose – If you are looking at a forecast of 90 degrees plus, red wines can lose some of their aromas and become a little flat.  One simple solution, try a Rose served chilled.  The best are from the Southern Rhone, Languedoc and Provence, made from Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah.  Try a Rose from Tavel if you can find it.

#5 Malbec – Argentine beef – do I need to say any more?

#6 Cabernet Sauvignon – favorite with hamburgers.  OK, so not exactly “barbecue” but what could possibly garner more real estate on the average grill than burgers?  Don't dig into your private vintage collection since much of the cornucopia of aromas will be lost.  A good basic, young Cabernet works just fine.

#7 Riesling – A good and unexpected choice for a very spicy Barbecue.  The residual sugar will help put out the fire while contributing its own aromas.

As with all food and wine pairings what is most important is what you like.  Feel free to experiment, share your findings with fellow oenophiles, and ignore all the guidelines.

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·  Wines and Seafood
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