Barbeque Red Wines

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Barbeque Reds…Smokin’ Hot Tips for Backyard Sippin’

By Jane A. Nickles

You have to admit, one of the absolute joys of living in Texas in the summertime is Texas Barbeque. Our national dish has a lot going for it…the richest of meats, made even juicier and more complex through contact with a hot grill and rising smoke; plus the added flavor of whatever rub, marinade or sauce the griller fancies. It sounds like a foodie’s dream…but it also sounds like an awful lot for a wine to handle. Even a dedicated wine enthusiast such as myself can sometimes be tempted to just make it a “barbeque and beer” night!

But never fear…there are lots of wines that can rise to the challenge of buckets of brisket, racks of ribs, and the spice and smoke imbued by searing heat. We even invented a name for them…Barbeque Reds. We wine lovers use the term to describe the affordable, fruit-forward, full-bodied, smooth-as-silk red wines that complement food off the grill. An understanding of what is meant by “Barbeque Red” is all it takes to makes pairing suggestions for anything, from a juicy chunk of smoked brisket to a T-bone steak right off the pit, pretty much a snap.

So…what makes a wine a Barbeque Red?

Rule Number One: Be Affordable!

The first duty of any barbeque red is to be affordable. This complements the casual nature of barbequing. Save your vintage Cabernet and fine, oak-aged Chardonnay for a more formal dinner, or, at the very least, an occasion where most people are wearing shirts and shoes.

Rule Number Two: Be Full Bodied and Rich in Flavor!

The second rule for a barbeque red is to be full bodied and rich in flavor. The intense flavor and texture of barbequed meats calls for bold, flavorful, out-going wines if the wine is to have any chance to stand up to all those rich flavors in the food.

Rule Number Three: Be Low to Medium in Tannins!

The third rule – and this one is important – is for a barbeque red to be low to medium in the tannin department. Tannins can clash with the spicy, salty, and even “grilled” flavors we love in barbeque. The unfortunate result can be a metallic, watery taste in the wine, so be sure and abide by this rule.

Rule Number Four: Be Full of Fruit Flavors!

The fourth barbeque red rule is that the wine should have lots of fruit forward flavors. Fruit flavors will blend well with spicy or smoky flavors. Look for flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, or red plum.

Extra Credit: Have Spicy or Smoky Flavors!

Spicy flavors or smoky flavors give a wine extra credit in the barbeque red department. Matching flavor for flavor in food and wine is a technique called a “flavor bridge” and these can be some of the finest pairings around.

In your quest for the perfect wine, don’t look for barbeque red on the label, or stroll around your wine store looking for the barbeque section. Look for one of the following wines:

Zinfandel – Zinfandel may be the quintessential barbeque red. Choose a Zin – and we’re talking deep, dark, red here – from Lodi, Amador County, or Paso Robles in California and you have a winner. Big, bold, and incredibly fruity, the blackberry flavors will just jump out of the glass, followed by black pepper, clove, cinnamon, and sweet spices. Perfect! Some of my favorites are “7 Deadly Zins” Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, “Director’s Cut” Zinfandel from Sonoma, and Peachy Canyon “Incredible Red” Zinfandel from Paso Robles.

Australian Shiraz – Always affordable, rich, round, fruity…throw in some of the spicy flavors Shiraz is known for, and you’ve got a great wine to set beside your grill. Australian Shiraz is unique in that it is generally big, bold, spicy, and dare I say it, saucy…yet it is able to keep the tannins in check. My favorites include “Tempus Two” Shiraz from the Barossa Region, Bloodstone Shiraz, Shingleback Shiraz, and a Shiraz Blend known as “The Pretty Miss”.

Malbec from Argentina - Argentine Malbec is a fruity, spicy, full-bodied, high-extract wine with low to medium tannins. This big, bold, juicy fruit bomb, of a wine is ideally suited to spicy, grilled, and barbequed foods of all kinds. Always ultra affordable, these are great barbeque reds. Look for Budini Malbec, Crios Malbec, or Fantelli Malbec.

Merlot – Merlot has all the qualifications of a barbeque red…low tannins, lush textures, plenty of personality, and those ripe, fruity cherry-blackberry-plum-flavors. A good bet is a Merlot from Sonoma County in California, or one of the many ultra-affordable Merlots from Chile. Wonderful Merlots for Barbeque include Clos de Val and Gallo of Sonoma, both from California, and Marques de Casa Concha from Chile.

Other wines that qualify as “Barbeque Reds” include those made from Grenache, Pinotage, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Barbera grapes. Beaujolais is another good bet, as is a serious, dry Rose. Whatever you choose, enjoy your barbeque, and remember to make it even better with a Barbeque Red.

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