Daring Pairing: Barbeque Reds!

Fire up the grill and pour me a glass…

You have to admit, the food phenom known as Barbeque has a lot going for it…the richest of meats, made even juicier and more complex through contact with a hot grill and rising smoke; plus the added flavor of whatever rub, marinade or sauce the griller fancies.  That’s a lot for a wine to handle! So the question of the day is….what wine should we choose to stand up to all that flavor, those spices, that smoke?  Have no fear…there are lots of Wines that can rise to the challenge.  We even invented a name for them…Barbeque Reds. 

So…what makes a wine a Barbeque Red?

Rule Number One:  Be AffordableThe first duty of any barbeque red is to be affordable.  This complements the casual nature of barbequing.  Save your vintage Cabernet and fine, oak-aged Chardonnays for a more formal dinner, or, at the very least, an occasion where most people are wearing shirts and shoes.

Rule Number Two:  Be Full Bodied and Rich in Flavor – The second rule for a barbeque red is to be full bodied and rich in flavor.  The intense flavor and texture of barbequed meats calls for bold, flavorful, outgoing wines if the wine is to have any chance to stand up to all those rich food flavors

Rule Number Three:  Be Low to Medium in TanninsThe third rule – and this one is important – is for a barbeque red to be low to medium in the tannin department.  Tannins can clash with the spicy, salty, and even “grilled” flavors we love in barbeque…the result can be a metallic, watery taste in the wine.  This rule is important…in order to qualify as a barbeque red, a wine needs to have low to medium tannin.

Rule Number Four:  Be Full of Fruit FlavorsThe fourth barbeque red rule is that the wine should have lots of fruit forward flavors.  Fruit flavors will blend well with spicy or smoky flavors.  The fruitiness of the wine will also help avoid a “sweet food – dry wine” clash that might occur due to any brown sugar, honey, molasses or other sweet ingredients in your bbq sauce or rub. Look for flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, or red plum. Another note:  If you like slightly sweet red wines like sparkling shiraz or brachetto d’acqui, these wines will be able to withstand even the sweetest of bbq rubs beautifully – you might be surprised by how well they work.

Extra Credit:  Have Spicy or Smoky FlavorsSpicy flavors or smoky flavors give a wine extra credit in the barbeque red department.  Matching flavor for flavor in food and wine is a technique called a “flavor bridge” and these can be some of the finest pairings around.

What Wines Qualify as Barbeque Reds? – In your quest for the perfect wine, don’t look for barbeque red on the label, or stroll around your wine store looking for the barbeque section.  Instead, use the following guide to find a tried and true Barbeque Red. 

MerlotMerlot has all the qualifications of a barbeque red…low tannins, lush textures, plenty of personality, and those ripe, fruity cherry-blackberry-plum-flavors. A good bet is a Merlot from SonomaCounty in California, or one of the many ultra-affordable Merlots from Chile.  Stay away from Napa Merlot…while delicious, they tend to be a bit more serious and higher in tannins, so save them for a prime rib night.

Australian Shiraz – Look for the widely distributed, affordable, rich, round, and fruity style. Australian Shiraz is also known for big, spicy flavors, which makes this a great wine to set beside your grill.  Australian Shiraz is unique in that it is generally big, bold, and spicy, and yet it is able to keep the tannins in check.  It’s all due to a specific wine making technique they’ve perfected down under.  (It’s way too technical to go into here…shoot me an e-mail if you really want to know.)  Take my word for it…this is a great pairing.   

ZinfandelZinfandel may be the quintessential barbeque red.  Choose a Zin – and we’re talking deep, dark, red here – from Lodi, AmadorCounty, or Paso Robles in California and you have a winner.  Big, bold, and incredibly fruity, the blackberry flavors will just jump out of the glass, followed by black pepper, clove, cinnamon, and sweet spices.  Breathe deeply and you may even notice an aroma of chocolate….an added bonus for Zin lovers!

Beaujolais – Beaujolais is everything a barbeque red needs to be.  Made from 100% Gamay grapes, this wine always holds the true cherry-berry-red plum fruit flavors front and center, keeps the tannins in check, and is always affordable.  Beaujolais is on the lighter side of the flavor scale, so its ideal match might be your barbequed chicken or gilled fish, but it could also hold its own with your brisket or sausage. 

Malbec from Argentina – It makes sense that the wine from the land of the asado would be perfect for BBQ. Must be something about the country’s extreme love for grilled meats of all kinds!  Argentine Malbec is a fruity, spicy, full-bodied, high-extract wine with low to medium tannins.  This big, bold, juicy fruit bomb, of a wine is ideally suited to spicy, grilled, and barbequed foods of all kinds.

Barbera – Barbera is an ancient grape variety with its roots in Italy, where today it remains the second most widely planted red variety, after Sangiovese.  The majority of the Barbera wines you find will be from Piedmont, Italy, but you may find a version or two from California as well.  Barbera wines have the unusual, but interesting, combination of being deep and dark in color while light in tannins!  Great for a Barbeque Red!  The main flavor in this wine is fruit…think cherry, blackberry, plum, and cassis, followed by spice, vanilla, and a hint of cola.  Try this wine with anything your grill puts out!

Dry Rosé – Dry Rosé just might be your best choice for barbeque.  It’s served cold, it’s very refreshing, and that’s a welcome thing between gulps of spicy, smoky barbeque.  The fruity flavors of the wine will balance out the spiciness and heat of the meat, and there’s no tannin to speak of.  This this wine won’t compete with, or maybe even stand up to, the flavors of ‘que, but it will be a refreshing, cooling break between bites.  It’s also the perfect wine for the times when you may find yourself with fish, chicken, or veggies on the grill. My personal favorite is Mulderbosch Rosé of Caberent Sauvignon from Stellenbosch, South Africa. Try it, you’ll see what I mean!

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

One Response to Daring Pairing: Barbeque Reds!

  1. Shields t. says:

    I can’t believe you put Rose’ last…oh well, at least you mentioned it! Dry rose’ will always be my first choice for a bbq wine!

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