The BBQ Wines
by Bill Zacharkiw
I just love those classic summery activities. Gardening, golf, beach time and of course, having friends over and cranking up the BBQ. The question is what to drink? From brochettes to burgers, T-bones to filet mignon, there is a lot to choose from out there. If you are just grilling a simple steak, pretty well any red with some torque can do the job. But if I want to get picky, there are a number of variables that will make certain wine choices better than others.
There are three things to consider when choosing your wine: the cut of beef, the type of marinade or sauce, and how the meat will be cooked. Understanding how these three variables will play off your wine will lead you to wines with different tannin structures and flavours.
The reason that barbecues are such a fantastic way to cook is because of what it imparts to your meat. First is the smoke. If you are a charcoal user, then bravo! Most newer propane barbecues do not use lava rocks or other heat sources that will impart an aroma to the smoke, as opposed to charcoal grills that can bring maple, mesquite or other aromas, but smoke is smoke and whether it has a particular aroma or not, it will add a unique flavour to what you are cooking. And where do you find smokiness in your wines? Well, wines that were aged in oak barrels.
The other thing that grilling does is to caramelize the surface of your meat. The intense heat will oxidize and turn the proteins in the fat of the meat into complex sugars, forming a sweet crust on it’s surface.
Then there are the marinades and the accompaniments. Finding complimentary flavours will take a good pairing and make it great. For example, mushrooms pair well with dark berry flavours, a sauce with thyme goes well with a wine that has different herbal notes. If you have something hot like chile or black pepper, then it’s compliment is sweetness. So a spicy marinade will marry nicely with a new world wine that has lots of sweet fruit.
With respect to the fat, everything depends on which cut of beef you are using and the amount of time that it is cooked. The more fat you have, the more tannin you will need in your wine. But the longer you cook it, the more it goes from rare to well done, the drier it will get, the more the fat will drip out of the meat, and the less you want these stronger tannins.
So let’s get down to recommending a few wines. Let’s start with burgers. Hamburger tends to be cooked well done. This means that they tend to be drier, with less fat and thus less flavourful. Most of the flavour will come from sweet and fruity condiments like ketchup and relish, or those which are vinegar based like mustards and pickles. In effect you are matching with the condiments.
I love Chilean carmenere with burgers and there is no need to spend a lot. Try the 2014 Luis Felipe Edwards Reserve or the 2014 Carmen Reserve for quality under $15 options. If you want to spend a little more, then my last burger adventure was accompanied by the 2011 Rioja, Reserva, from Beronia.
The fattier cuts
Whether its a T-Bone or Rib steak, these cuts should properly be cooked ‘medium’ at most, as not to dry them out. This is a great opportunity to bring out more tannic reds that will cut through some of that richness that the fat brings. After that, look at the sauce or what you used to flavour your meats. If you rub your meat with spice, look for wines that have a peppery spice on the finish.
Syrah is a great option here. From the Rhone, try the 2013 Pierelles from Domaine Belle, if you want a more refined option. If you want a European wine with new world accessibility, the 2014 Chateau Paul Mas Clos des Mures from the Coteaux du Languedoc will do the trick. Lots of fruit and the 15% grenache adds some extra smoothness. And if you spent your money on the meat and want a good under $12 wine, try the 2015 grenache/syrah from Coto de Hayas.
Cabernet fans will can drink their favourite wine as well, but I love cab with lamb. I drank the 2012 Petales D’Osoyoos with lamb chops recently and this Bordeaux blend from British Columbia simply rocked it. If you want a real treat, then the 2014 Tenuta Argentiera Poggio al Ginepri is one of the better Italian cabs I have tasted in a long time. And if you want to spend $34, then their 2012 Villa Donoratico is one of my rare four-star wines.
Finally, I am a huge fan of BBQ sauce and make my own-bourbon and ketchup based version which bathes my baby back ribs and chicken pieces. I like to smoke them for hours first and then sizzle them with sauce. Here is where I allow my zinfandel fetish to come forth.
Try the 2011 Sledgehammer which melds perfectly with the sauce, from the spice to the vanilla influence from the Bourbon. With more power, the 2014 Lodi from Ravenswood is a great option. If you want a more European option, I was recently in Puglia in southern Italy and their two main grapes, primitivo and negroamaro also rock the BBQ sauce. Try the 2013 Torcicoda or the 2013 Sangue Blu for a great taste of Puglia.
Happy grilling folks!
“There’s enjoyment to be had of a glass of wine without making it a fetish.” – Frank Prial
You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to Chacun son vin see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!