Although some of the best barbecue and wine pairings involve white, rosé, sparkling and even sweet, something magical happens when red wines meet char.
However, a host of factors come into play when choosing the ‘right’ barbecue wine, as often an array of side dishes, condiments and various grilled items are featured at one time.
Whether it’s chicken, trout, burgers or beef, in most cases it is likely the accompanying sauces and salads that require careful consideration.
Lovers of the sweet ‘n salty should opt for reds with a touch of residual sugar (maybe 8 to 12 grams per litre) such as often found with Primitivo (aka Zinfandel), for example, or at least a dry red that’s bursting with fruit. BBQ sauce and ketchup contain a significant amount of sugar, which can make a very dry wine seem thin and austere.
Strong flavours require a robust wine in order to avoid one overpowering the other. Garlic laden sauces is one such case that should be cautioned, but a successful match here would be chimichurri sauce over flank steak and a bold Malbec from Argentina.
Heat on the palate from high alcohol only intensifies when consumed with peppery steak spices and rubs, so again, opting for a red with some sweetness and fruitiness with moderate alcohol levels will help to tone it down.
Syrahs, on the other hand, often display a peppery nip and, together with their bacon-y nuance, can be complemented when matched with similar flavours in food. Those which experience cooling influences tend to offer good acidity, too, which can help to cut through the grease of grilled sausages, for instance, providing a refreshing contrast whilst creating that tasty interplay. With ample tannins to stand up to fattier meats, similar wines such as this Aglianico lends an opportunity for enhancing flavours with like flavours with its slight smouldering coal note. Mastroberardino Irpinia Aglianico 2019, $23.95 LCBO # 93112
When it comes to red meat, the extent to which the cut is marbled and the degree to which it is cooked infers a specific wine pairing. Fat will gloss over any harsh or high tannins. Tannat, Nebbiolo or Bordeaux blends, especially the young or heavily-oaked, would appear softer, fruitier and more rounded out in such cases.
Fattier steaks, such as ribeye, can also counteract the vinegary bite of some condiments, or salads such as coleslaw. However, with intermittent bites of a sharp, firm cheese one can create a more seamless pairing when the sauces have hijacked the dish and the wine.
Reliably competent Cabernet Sauvignon also qualifies as a higher tannin grape and this one from Australia’s cooler Margaret River region has a refreshing elegance to it that will elevate the meal. Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon, $21.95 LCBO 606624
“Greasy smoke in an inky cloak” – a line from a well-known poem – is what comes to mind every time I sip on Pinotage, and when well made, its subtle mocha charm often extends into a plush pool of lovely deep, dark fruit. It is a classic pairing with game and is South Africa’s flagship red grape. The selection below is by the esteemed, sustainability-focused producer Kanonkop, but many of the country’s other reds, likewise, offer some of the best quality to price ratios out there. Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2019, $19.95 LCBO # 630756
Leaner cuts being ideally more gently grilled suggest lighter, less tannic wines with the idea that less fat, flavour and char imparts less competition of flavour intensity. Indeed, the rarer the meat, the lighter or older you can go with your red wine choice.
As tannins soften and develop elusive, complex flavours with age, older wines should be the reserve of tender filet mignons or pork tenderloin. I recently enjoyed an impressively aged Xinomavro. The tannins had evolved into a wonderful, almost crumbly, buttery biscuit-like state that melted in your mouth – the like a tough steak would have massacred.
Rare to medium-rare steaks and umami flavours are best with lower tannins and less oomph. Pinot Noir, especially older vintages, can bring complementary notes of mushroom to grilled portobellos along with an alluring red berry lift. Chicken skewers and salmon would also be nice and could also pair with other delicate options such as Frappato or Gamay: Malivoire Gamay Niagara Peninsula 2020, $19.95 SAQ # 11140498 and $21.95, LCBO # 591313
Juicy burgers along with their various toppings – especially the raw onion – enjoy fun and voluptuous reds like Italy’s botticelli angel, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or those from Spain’s Jumilla region: El Gorú Jumilla Monastrell, $13.95 LCBO # 443945
South African Cinsault or those of California’s Central Coast are versatile and sure-to-please with many dishes and people. There’s a generosity to them that remains reined in with sumptuous, mouth-coating, floral and red berry notes – with just a touch of grip. Van Loveren Cinsault Robertson 2021, $19.80 SAQ # 14893170
One last tip, if it’s a scorcher, don’t be afraid to chill these reds before taking them outdoors – and you’ll be assured of a refreshing long week-end!