Most people think of beer when they think of barbecue, but Jacques Scott Group’s Senior Sales Representative (Wine) Sergio Serrano demonstrated that there are some good red wines for meats off the grill.
In years past, beer was the beverage of choice for barbecue, along, perhaps, with some ice-cold white wine or Red Zinfandel for the ladies.
However, as barbecuing has become increasingly popular, so has pairing it with red wine. Although pairing red wine with barbecue can be tricky, it’s a lot easier if you keep some important guidelines in mind. Jacques Scott’s Senior Wine Rep Sergio Serrano demonstrated some of the rules over lunch at the Lone Star Bar & Grill with four different red wines.
Dining in or out
Barbecue, by its nature, is cooked outside. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be eaten outside. In addition, some BBQ events take place during the heat of the day, while some occur at night. In all of these settings, the ambient temperature is likely to be different, so you have to plan your wines accordingly.
Most red wines are meant to be drunk at a temperature somewhere between 55 and 65 degrees; any warmer than that and the alcohol starts ‘burning’ the mouth and throat and overpowering the taste. The best red wines for a barbecue, where the dining takes place outside, are ones where the alcohol content is 13.5 per cent or lower. In addition, lower alcohol content red wines tend to be lighter in body and can take some chilling without losing too much taste. Especially during daytime, outdoor dining here in the Cayman Islands, a little chilling – like down to 45 to 50 degrees or so – on the red wine is going to be welcomed.
During evening outdoor dining, depending on the time of year, it’s still a good idea to choose lower alcohol wines, but the wine wouldn’t have to be chilled as much.
If the barbecue is being taken inside after cooking for dining in an air-conditioned environment, red wines with higher alcohol content can be chosen, looking foremost at other pairing considerations.
Sauced or not
For some people, barbecue isn’t barbecue without sauce. Most barbecue sauces tend to have an underlying sweetness, making them very difficult to pair with red wines with a lot of tannins. For this reason, wines like Cabernet Sauvignon don’t match well with barbecue, unless of course, the meal involves steak off the grill.
In addition to having underlying sweetness, a lot of barbecue sauces are tangy from vinegar and spicy from various kinds of pepper. The best red wine for barbecue with sauce is therefore usually something with a hint of both fruity sweetness and spice, a wine style that has become increasing popular through the affordable red blends now being produced in California.
The word barbecue, in terms of what is being served, means something different to just about everyone. In the United States, BBQ in the southeast means pulled pork to most people; in Texas, it means beef brisket; in other places it means ribs and chicken. For some it means ribs slathered in sauce, while for others it means dry-rubbed ribs. But for people in other parts of the world, barbecue can mean a variety of different proteins, from lamb to seafood and include a variety of spices, like jerk.
Ambient dining temperatures notwithstanding, the right red wine depends mostly on the flavours of the meat.
Lone Star BBQ and wine
The Lone Star Bar & Grill, with its impressive smoker grill, is all about classic American BBQ – pulled pork, ribs, beef brisket and chicken. We had them serve up a little of all of that to test out four different highly-rated barbecue wines available at Jacques Scott.
First sampled was the pulled pork. Lone Star sous chef Norman Stewart said that to create this dish, pork roasts are smoked on the hickory-wood fired grill for three to four hours, and then wrapped in foil and finished in the oven until the fat is rendered and the meat can be “pulled” apart in small pieces. The pulled pork is then mixed with barbecue sauce and served.
Because it had a tangy-sweet barbecue sauce already in it, the pulled pork paired very well with 2010 Apothic Red ($16.95 retail). Similar in style to the popular wines “The Prisoner” and “689”, Apothic Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot. Smooth and fruity, Apothic Red has only 13.1 per cent alcohol, making it enjoyable to drink outdoors during lunch. It was later put on ice for about 10 minutes and it still matched well with the pulled pork.
Next sampled was the beef brisket. Stewart explained that brisket takes a full 12 hours on the smoker to prepare. The Lone Star serves it in slices with part of it covered in barbecue sauce. The sauce is optional, but without it, the brisket can be – although still very tasty – a bit dry. However, without the sauce it paired best with 2009 Montgras 200 Bicentennial ($15.95), a red wine from Chile that is 70 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 per cent Carmenere.
As is often the style in South America, this wine is made with minimal tannins and to be consumed young. Serrano said the Montgras was used at a blind tasting at his home for some wine industry friends and it out preformed such American classics as Far Niente and Shafer 1.5, wines that sell for many times the price.
With 14.5 per cent alcohol content, the Montgras was a little ‘hot’ for outdoor lunch consumption, but showed amazing complexity for wine at its price point.
Steward said Lone Star’s ribs, like the pulled pork, are smoked for a while and then wrapped in foil and finished in the oven. They are brushed with barbecue sauce before they are served, and for the that reason, the Apothic Red was again the best pairing.
Easy to drink
Like dime-store novels, reality TV and summer-release comedy movies, barbecue red wines should be enjoyable without requiring much thought. They should be easy to drink to the point where one could drink too much without knowing it if not careful. Ideally, they should pair at least decently with just about anything.
The clear winner of the afternoon in this category was also the least expensive wine – 2009 Tapena Tempranillo ($13.95).
Tempranillo in Rioja can be quite austere, but this one was made for casual good times with friends. In fact, the producers say they think of the wine as Pinot Noir in blue jeans. With only 13.5 per cent alcohol, the Tempranillo was fine for even daytime drinking. It tasted good with everything we tried, and actually paired best with the dry-seasoned, smoked chicken wings. The producers say this incredibly food friendly wine would also pair well with grilled shrimp, salmon or lamb skewers. Spain offers plenty of Old World wine bargains and Tapena Tempranillo is definitely a great value and a good choice for a barbecue at which several different proteins are being served.
A rising star of California winemaking is Zinfandel, one of the earliest wines produced in Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
Zinfandel is known as one of the best barbecue wines because of its food friendliness, and is a key component to many of the newer red blends, like Apothic Red.
However, on its own, Zinfandel can have extremely high alcohol content, ranging in most cases from 14.5 to 16 per cent alcohol. We tried the Ravens Wood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, which is actually blended with 23 per cent Petite Sirah to bring it down to 14.5 per cent alcohol. Unfortunately, this was still too ‘hot’ for outdoor, daytime drinking in Cayman, especially when consumed a little warmer than the ideal temperature. The wine was more palatable after being iced, but this intense, juicy wine would be a much better choice if served indoors in air conditioning with steaks off the grill.