Chillin and Grillin (BBQ Pairings)

#133 – July 5, 2010

For some reason that I have not yet figured out, celebrating a nation’s independence seems to be synonymous with grilling meat. As with Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Israel, Independence Day (otherwise known as July 4th) here in the United States has always been the start of the long and glorious grilling season, providing us with an excuse (as if we actually needed one) to break out the grill and barbeque some 2-inch juicy rib eye steaks.

Unfortunately for most of us oenophiles, the majority of liquid consumed together with all those glorious chops, burgers, hot dogs, spicy wings and steaks is beer not wine. Now while I won’t argue that beer is a refreshing and well-matched liquid accompaniment to the various meats and sauces that we tend to enjoy over this traditional long weekend and a refreshing way to cool off, there are many appropriate wines that can enhance your summertime meals without resorting to beer (I did recently enjoy a well-written article providing recommendations of different beers suited for the palate of a wine-lover but wasn’t too convinced).

However since wine is less a beverage and more of a drinkable delicacy it behooves us to find the best vino matches to all that barbequed fare that we are enjoying this weekend. Part of the problem is most barbeques are enjoyed outdoors where the heat tends to cause many wines to feel heavy, tannic and flabby which are clearly not the characteristics we are looking for to refresh ourselves during the hot summerish weather.

Rose wines are probably the best matches for BBQs for a number of reasons. Most grilling is done outdoors where the 95-degree weather means your wines are going to be piping hot as well. Rose wines are meant to be enjoyed and served chilled making them absolutely refreshing and crisp but with more depth and complexity that can stand up to grilled meats and their traditional marinades’ and sauces. Just check out my Rose newsletter for more about Rose and a slew of specific recommendations.

That said, there are other wines, both red and white, that will suit up and play nice with your 4th and post 4th of July barbeque feast – there are just a few general principals to follow. In general, unoaked and acidic wines match well with BBQed food. They should be inexpensive, and have loads of red and black fruit. Any wine for this type of fare should be big bold and drinkable (much as I hate this as a characteristic for wine and think that Bud’s commercial promoting “drinkability” as a value is horrendous, in this limited circumstance it makes sense). Wines for barbecue should be able to support the succulence of the meat brought out by the slow cooking and not be overwhelmed by or compete with the piquancy and sweetness of the sauce.

For great red wine pairings you should be thinking about young, bold, fruity, spicy red wines like Zinfandel, spicy Merlot and Shiraz/Syrah. Just remember that the intense heat will kill a wine so either eat indoors, in the shade or drop an ice-cube or two into your wine (folks – it’s a BBQ not a wine tasting – loosen up and have some fun). Another BBQ favorite is Barbera, which is a varietal that a number of Israeli wineries are producing with great success, and is a great match to any tomato based sauce cutting through it bright and clean – Dalton’s estate series Barbera is a great match for BBQ. Zinfandel will be able to handle a wide variety of red meats. This bold red wine, loaded with fruit, matches the tough (to match) meaty, smoky flavors with its typical black pepper spice, cutting acidity and its ripe tannins successfully taking the meaty flavors to a whole new level. Zinfandel will also work well with barbecue sauce, steak sauce and mild salsas. Herzog makes a good Zinfandel, Hagafen’s Prix (while expensive) is a good match as well. However, if your salsas run on the spicy side, a more appropriate match might be a spicy Merlot, which will support the spiciness of the food and accompanying sauce as opposed to aggravating it. Most Shiraz/Syrah wines are delicious with just about any red meat and the BBQ is a meal at which this varietal is right at home. The somewhat more aggressive flavors and aromas of fruit coupled with more mellow tannins than are present in Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon lead to a perfect match with your typical BBQ fare.

While white wines are not the ones that first come to mind when thinking about smoky red meats, given the predominately outdoor settings of BBQ and the somewhat stifling heat, the best option for an outdoor BBQ might be nice chilled white wine. Not only because an icy cold beverage is most appropriate on a sunny day but also because white wines tend to match well with a wide variety of dishes. There are a host of white wines that will stand up to nicely a grilled BBQ meal (especially chicken, fish or (g-d forbid) veggies). These include unoaked Chardonnay (for grilled fish and grilled corn on the cob), very dry Riesling (for barbecued chicken and most grilled veggies), unoaked Sauvignon Blanc (the herbaceous quality of the wine supports marinades and sauces as well as matching to grilled fish and my go-to spicy white wine- Gewürztraminer (a great choice with spicy grilled chicken or fish).

No specific recommendations; just follow the guidelines above and you will be off to a great start for a fun filled day of the two best culinary items on the planet – meat and wine!