Summer is here, the kids are done with school, and we’re released into the great outdoors to soak up as much sunshine as possible. Most excitingly, it’s time for summer-y barbecue wines.
Whether you’re doing some simple grilling of brats and burgers, or channeling your inner southerner and smoking a giant chunk of meat, there are a ton of great wines to enjoy.
Fat and protein are the driving structures of the meats we barbecue and grill. This is where tannin comes in most handy. It’s a fair generalization that red wines as a category are the way to go. Tannin binds with the fat and protein and scrubs the palate clean, making the following bite just as explosive as the first. Fortunately these are the wines we all love.
Generally speaking, bigger reds for beef like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Brunello, or Barolo are excellent for rich and well marbled meats. These wines are driven by a tannic backbone, and similar acid, with flavors that match the intensity of typical grilled or barbecued cuts like brisket, beef ribs, or ribeyes.
When it comes to pork or barbecued chicken there usually less fat, so too much tannin can be overwhelming. Lean towards reds with moderate to slightly elevated tannin for these dishes with wines like Grenache blends, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Tempranillo.
If you’re grilling seafood or keeping your white fleshed meats simple, white or rose works too. It’s all about acid here. Acid contrasts the flavor of char and makes the flavor of the dish pop.
Sauce, brine, and smoke are the flavor drivers for all grilled and barbecued meats. Whether it’s the sweet and tangy style of vinegar based North Carolina style sauce, deep spice of tomato based Kansas City sauce, or the simple salt and pepper rub of a classic slow smoked Texas brisket, the flavor from any rub, sauce, smoke, or brine where all the flavor comes from. Matching the flavor from the wine to that of the dish is where the specific wine comes into play.
More savory seasonings like what you typically see on Texas style brisket, or even just a tasty burger, are usually playing with lots of marbling and intense beefy flavor. These dishes are best with moderate to full structured wines like Chianti, Tempranillo, or South American reds. When you add smoke, intensify your wines. Lean into wines that can carry notes of smoke themselves like classic Northern Rhone Syrah or Cotes to Rhone, or even aged Brunello or Barolo.
When it comes to sweeter barbecue, think Kansas City style or pork with glazes, wines that carry riper, jucier fruit acts to enhance the sauce. Think Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, or California-style Red Blends. These have the tannin to slice through the fat, but the ripe flavor from warm climates to worth with those sweet and tangy sauces that we love to slather on our meats.
Finally, when it comes to spicy style barbecue, change it up to lower tannin reds like Pinot Noir or Montepulciano. Tannin tends to clash with capsaicin, making everything taste unpleasant. Rose is always fun too.
No matter what you’re cooking up over those coals, there’s a delicious wine for you. I personally love to crush a bottle of white or rose while I’m tending the pit, and switch to the appropriate red when it comes time to eat. And let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hot as hell these days so, a little chill on those reds helps, too.