Whenever it’s time to write the barbecue wine column, I figuratively scratch my head because the wine you should drink depends on what you throw in the grill. Growing up, there were only two things that made their way into our sad-looking barbecue pit: hot dogs and hamburgers. And I vividly remember drinking orange soda with much enjoyment.
These days, nearly everything that you can eat finds its way onto the grill. There are classic barbecue wines, like zinfandel, but when I think of wines to go with grilled food, I try to take into account the flavors that are imparted, like mesquite and hickory.
Seasoning and preparation are important factors in wine and food pairing, so you can make some seemingly unorthodox selections.
Zinfandel goes well with grilled food because it’s fruity but also has spices that can mirror the barbecue sauce. Its tannin makes it most suitable for red meats, but fowl can work as well. Pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, also is a good choice. Known for its natural smoky and vegetal quality, it complements some of the characteristics of grilled food. The same is true of carmenere. Syrahs are good with gamey meats and barbecued pork. Grilled corn and a buttery chardonnay can be sinfully delicious. Grilled seafood and white Riojas or the white wines from France’s Arbois region are a great match.
It’s really an open-ended topic, so I encourage you to experiment. Here are three to get you started:
Castello Monaci negroamaro Salento IGT, Maru, 2008 (Puglia, Italy): You might have heard of salice salentino, often relegated to the sidelines as a pizza wine. This is sort of its cousin, but like many a salice, it’s much more food-friendly than it’s credited for. Made entirely from negroamaro (“amaro” meaning bitter), this highly concentrated wine has a core of kirschlike black-cherry fruit with tobacco and tar. Suggested retail: $15
Bellevue Estate, Tumara pinotage, 2007 (Stellenbosch, South Africa): Many people are surprised to hear that South Africa has been making wine longer than the United States. Yes, folks, it’s true. The Morkel family, who owns the Bellevue Estate, has a wine tradition that goes back more than 300 years. Made from old bush vines, this is one of the better pinotages I’ve had of late. Pinotage can be very vegetal and while this wine has a bit of a roasted red pepper flavor, it also has violets and is abounding with fruit. Suggested retail: $22
Wind Gap syrah, Sonoma Coast, 2007 (Sonoma): Wind Gap is the new project from Pax Maine of Pax Cellars. All the fruit is carefully sourced and made in the most natural and sustainable way possible. A blend of grapes from four vineyard sites, this wine has chewy huckleberry fruit with spice and a hint of chocolate. And while it’s clearly a New World wine, it can be appreciated by those who prefer French syrah. Suggested retail: $35
Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.