Want barbecue flavors to really explode? Pair your saucy dish with one of these fruit forward wines for turbocharged taste.
A few years ago in Saluté, I wrote about how a spicy zinfandel was THE wine to pair with barbecue dishes. Zinfandel — with its deep fruit and bold spice flavors — is a complex wine that is not overpowered by rich, flavorful barbecue sauces and actually brings out the flavors of the food even more.
However, it’s time for red zins (as devotees of the varietal call it) to move over. Today’s newer wines have become much more fruit forward, and there are many more choices for wines that can stand up next to a plate full of barbecue pork, chicken or ribs.
Two local wine purveyors recommended Argentinean malbecs when I shopped for wines to pair with rich barbecue dishes. Malbecs are increasing in popularity as good ones can be inexpensive and have many of the same characteristics as cabernet sauvignons and merlots.
“Malbec has a richness that pairs any type of beef,” explains Heather Hitson, wine consultant for ABC Liquors in Lady Lake. “The jammy flavors play very well with the sweet style in barbecue sauces.”
Echoing that sentiment is Jerome Brouhard, sommelier and manager for Maggie’s Attic in Mount Dora.
“Argentina is known for its beef,” he says, “so it’s not a surprise that malbec pairs well with beef dishes any time of year.”
Malbec is a black-skinned grape variety that has become Argentina’s iconic wine grape. Although the grape is native to the vineyards around Cahors, France, it was relatively obscure until growers had great success with malbec grapes in Argentinean vineyards.
For rich barbecue dishes, Brouhard is also a fan of shiraz (Australian) or syrah (American). This varietal has both savory and sweet spices that come through and often echo the spices found in barbecue sauces.
“Barbecue sauce can be a hard one to match because there are so many styles,” he says. “Some are sweet, but others are vinegar-based, which is popular here. “You can’t go wrong when pairing barbecue with shiraz or malbec.”
He says shiraz ranks as one of the best sellers during barbecue and grilling season. There is a good reason for that because the peppery, smoky flavors in a shiraz make the varietal the best choice to go with burgers. Brouhard’s new favorite is 19 Crimes Shiraz from southeastern Australia
“Not only is it really good, but it has the coolest label,” he says. “When Australia was a penal colony, the British could send prisoners there for one of 19 crimes. Each cork lists a different crime.”
Today, it would be a crime to get too fussy. Barbecue dishes are usually served in casual, outdoor settings so the key is simplicity. The setting calls for a wine that doesn’t call for too much thought. While wines should pair with the food, they should also fit the casual mood of the meal.
Young, dynamic red wines are a natural with grilled meats, and for good reason: the fruit, oak, and tannins can stand up to more pronounced barbecue sauces and marinades. Other choices for barbecue can include petite sirahs and rugged grenaches. A fruity red zinfandel and barbecue chicken are a seamless pairing, because zinfandel brings out the flavors of rich, thick barbecue sauces. Affectionately considered “America’s grape,” zinfandels began their journey as California jug wines shortly after Prohibition ended in 1933. They were used mostly in generic red blends but today have almost achieved cult status among oenophiles.
While most people prefer red wines with meat and rich barbecue sauces, a few will still want white wine. Choose full-bodied, complex whites like an Italian pinot gris or a French viognier. For a sweeter taste, look for a gewürtztraminer or chenin blanc, both of which contract beautifully with a spicy sauce or fruit salsa. Don’t ignore rosé, a go-to wine that pairs with just about anything or is just fine solo before the main course.
Master sommelier and author Andrea Immer Robinson said wine is “a love letter to food” in her book, “Great Wines Made Simple.” She described the acidity in wine as a turbocharger for flavor. Find the right wine to make those barbecue flavors really explode.