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Wine & Barbecue Pairings: Therein Lies The Rub

A Qwine Primer by Jeff Davidson

Collection of wine bottles

There are some very basic rules in pairing wine and food that should make barbecue and wine pairing easy. The complexity arises when we start to add rub, marinade and sauce to the meat. These ingredients have the ability to completely change the flavor profile of the meat, making wine pairing more challenging. This article talks about different categories of meat, some of the regional differences in barbecue and makes some suggestions for barbecue and wine pairing.

Brisket is actually one of the easier pairings, as there’s not the great variation in style that we see in some of the other meat preparations. Brisket calls for big, bold, spicy wines like an Australian Shiraz or a red Zinfandel.

Pork ribs get a little more interesting. Memphis-style ribs with no sauce but a spicy rub work well with a lighter red like a California Pinot Noir or a Spanish Rioja. Move on over to Kansas City tomato-based sauce and I’d want a more fruit-forward wine like Shiraz or Zinfandel. Moving east to South Carolina and the land of mustard-based sauces marches me over the line into the white wine territory of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Chicken presents similar challenges. A lightly herbed and smoked chicken is delicious with a Cru Beaujolais…I prefer to stay away from the ubiquitous George Duboef in favor of the smaller, artisanal producers. A good wine merchant will know what I’m talking about. Add a tomato-based sauce and we’re back to red Zinfandel. If the sauce is a little on the spicy side, a nice Italian Dolcetto fits the bill. Parts of Alabama are famous for its white, mayonnaise and lemon sauce, which pairs well with a dry white like Sauvignon Blanc.

Pulled pork with a tomato-based sauce will do well with a Zin, but for the lighter, yet slightly spicy style of North Carolina, I love a Spanish Rioja.

A different approach to barbecue that is gaining traction with wine lovers is to match just about any barbecue with a modern, red Rose´. These wines work well due to their sweet, red fruit component but also have the ability to cleanse and refresh the palate. In that vein, I like to pair spicy, barbecued chicken with Vin de Bugey Cerdon, which is a fizzy Rose´.

A couple of other thoughts before I go: Make sure your red wine is cool. Most American’s serve red wine far too warm. Sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit is a pretty good place to aim for red wine, so don’t be afraid to put a red on ice if you’re sitting outside (or in a restaurant). Warmer wine loses shape and focus.

Finally, if you’re not sure what wine to have with barbecue (or any meal)…relax. Don’t worry about the perfect pairing and simply choose one of your favorite wines. You’ll be guaranteed great barbecue and great wine, a win-win proposition.

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