My granddaddy “Snake” birthed my family’s barbecue recipe. Affectionate nickname aside – his real name was Homer, so which would you choose? – the man could cook. Snake lived outside Augusta, Ga., where “barbecue” meant oven-roasted pork basted with a puckery sauce of piquant black pepper and sharp white vinegar. (In those parts, people consider tomato-based barbecue an affront to Southernness.) Snake’s recipe makes amazing, mouth-watering pork, but it’s not exactly wine-friendly. To wash down this spicy-sour meat, this Southern girl normally opts for the “house wine of the south” – sweetened iced tea.
Grilled meat, on the other hand, loves wine. Men, for some reason the ordained grillmasters, might consider it too girly-man to drink wine instead of beer with barbecue, but it’s the better choice. The natural fruit acids and tannins help meld together and tame strong seasonings, especially on protein-laden grill goodies.
When matching wine with grilled meat or seafood, consider the sauce. It will be the dominant flavor, so pair the wine with that. For instance, if you’ve marinated a shrimp skewer or white fish filet in a citrus-based sauce, choose a wine that will complement the dominant flavor. Sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio both have lemon, lime and grapefruit flavor components in them, so they’d make fantastic choices. On the other hand, if you’re trying to calm a super-spicy sauce on a slab of pork ribs, open a sweeter riesling or gewurztraminer, which will combat the spice on your tongue. And for those not scared of sweet pink, white zinfandel is fantastic with grilled burgers loaded with cheddar cheese, onions and ketchup.
Bold flavors call for bold wine. For spicy, tomato-ey barbecue, grab something that sings with fruit, filled with pepper and spice, to couple with brawny food. Zinfandel and syrah/shiraz are considered classic BBQ wines because they have lots going on, without too much tannin that might overwhelm the sauce. But if you’re feeling exotic, pop open a smoky Spanish Rioja or an earthy French Côtes du Rhône, both wines that pair extraordinarily well with grilled brats or Italian sausage. For those wanting to stay in their comfort zone, medium to full-bodied merlots are also good matches for BBQ fare – especially grilled tuna or swordfish with minimal seasoning.
Here are a few outdoor wine tips: 1. Avoid Styrofoam cups – all you’ll smell and, by extension, taste, is wine-scented styrofoam; 2. refrigerated white wines stay chilled for about an hour in the shade, so you don’t necessarily need an ice bucket; and 3. dry rosé wines make great walking-around wine. And there’s always the house wine of the south.