For more wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more, sign up to receive our Good Taste newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday.
Though there may be fewer people gathered around the barbecue, COVID-19 restrictions won’t interrupt the return of prime grilling season. Whether you’re flipping burgers, searing salmon or smoking ribs, there’s a style of wine that can add more flavour to the experience.
The connection between red wine and red meat is deeply rooted, with ripe and juicy styles of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and zinfandel playing leading roles as classic matches for steak. The guiding principle for any successful grilled, smoked or barbecued pairing has long been to find a wine that can stand up to the smoky and intense flavours and richness of the meat.
The main ingredient is important. But the preparation and the flavours of the sauce have as much, if not more to do with finding a wine to complement your flame-grilled feast. A major point of consideration: What’s on the menu? Are we looking at something with a sticky sauce or seasoned with a rub, simply seared or deeply flavoured with smoke and spice, prepared slow and low over indirect heat or with a quick cooking method?
The most successful food and wine matches balance the flavours in the wine and the meal. Typically, more intensity of flavour from preparation and cooking methods calls for a wine with more intensity.
But a decision can be made whether you wish to meet force with force or look to add some refreshment as a contrast. Do you appreciate the robust, in-your-face appeal of an SUV-sized red or white, or would you enjoy something crisp and cool to cleanse your palate? High-octane malbec or a vibrant riesling?
My own taste and the hot and humid weather conditions of prime summer grilling season often leads me to select the crisp and refreshing alternative. When I opt to up the flavour intensity, I take a cue from places that see grilling prowess as a source of national pride – notably asados in Argentina or braais in South Africa – and settle on a bold red from those countries as a good bet for flame-grilled fare. The safest and most enjoyable option, of course, is to have a wine from both categories on hand and see which style you prefer.
If you’re Team Intensity, look to barrel-fermented chardonnay, malbec, pinotage, syrah/shiraz or zinfandel.
Team Refreshment should opt for gamay noir, pinot noir, rosé, riesling, sauvignon blanc or sparkling wine.