There’s a default setting for food and wine pairing that proclaims red wine and red meat are a perfect match. Simply, grilled meat dishes will pair nicely with heartier red wines, but barbecue in the classic sense involves marinades, sauces or rubs that might be accentuated by smoke and char flavours from the grill.
You’re no longer matching wine and a piece of meat. The sauce, seasonings, cooking method and accompaniments are more important considerations. You might need to give thought to the spice, acidity, fruit flavours and heat from chili peppers or hot sauces, which can turn a favourite red wine into something bitter and unpleasant.
Popular marinades and sauces tend to be sweet and sour or sweet and spicy mixtures that sometimes have a real kick to them. These become the dominant flavour of the dish. A dish with spicy heat, as in the case of chili peppers or extreme hot sauces, accentuates the alcohol and tannins in a wine. Your wine selection must work with the sauce and its tangy/spicy kick for the match to be successful. Good barbecue wines must stand up to the smoke and spice – and usually please a wide variety of palates.
Entertaining around the grill isn’t usually the time to break out your best bottles. It’s a time for fresh, fruity and enjoyable wines with crowd-pleasing appeal.
Red wines with lower tannins like full-bodied and fruity reds made in southern Italy with the nero d’avola grape match nicely with meats dressed with tangy sauces or spicy rubs. Popular styles of malbec, merlots and syrah/shiraz could also fit the bill. Zuccardi Q Malbec and Doña Paula Estate Malbec are solid options.
In the case of whites, it’s best to look at wines with a ripe, fruity character, such as riesling, chenin blanc, or sauvignon blanc. That fruity sweetness will help tame the spice and tangy aspects of the dish, while the wine’s refreshing character will help cleanse the palate. Following this logic, barbecued chicken served with mango chutney or another fruit-based side would work with aromatic white wines that echo the fruity nature of the accompanying sauce. Ken Forrester Old Vines Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Cave Spring Cellars Riesling from Niagara would be good bets.
The same could be said about a well-made rosé, which along with a good quality sparkling wine are my go-to bottles to bring to a barbecue. They are refreshing and enjoyable to enjoy with family and friends no matter what’s on the menu. Good examples include Gérard Bertrand Côte des Roses Rosé and Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Organic Brut Sparkling Riesling.