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?

It’s affordable: An affordable wine 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.

It’s low-to-medium in tannin and bitterness: It’s a good idea for a barbeque red to be low to medium in the tannin department.  The char (bark) on some barbeque (yum) can contain a hint of bitterness, so it’s best to avoid an overtly tannic or bitter wine.

It’s fruit-forward: Fruit flavors tend to 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.

Whatever you do, 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—these have all worked for me!

Merlot: Merlot 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 Sonoma County in California, or one of the many ultra-affordable Merlots from Chile.

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.

Zinfandel: 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: Made from 100% Gamay grapes, this wine typically holds the true cherry-berry-red plum fruit flavors front and center, keeps the tannins in check, and is always affordable.

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 of off-dry Rosé: 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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