Wines to pair with barbecues
Author: Elisa De Luca
Many will be firing up their barbecues over the coming months. However, the question of which wines to enjoy alongside them can be a tricky one. Here, we delve into which wines work best with barbecued foods, and why.
Nothing captures the spirit of summer quite like a barbecue. Barbecues bring together a cacophony of flavours like no other: charred vegetables, smoked meats, coal-roasted fish and chargrilled cheese, and often a hoard of salads, sauces, marinades and dips to add to the fun.
This kaleidoscope of flavours and textures – a complex blend of smoke, spice, sweetness and umami notes – means that barbecued foods can be a challenging proposition to pair wines with.
Fat, oil and changing flavours
Barbecues often centre around foods with a higher fat content. This fat makes food easier to barbecue, helping them retain moisture despite the high temperatures of a grill.
It also provides extra layers of flavour and juice. Fat absorbs seasoning like smoke, salt and pepper far more easily than leaner cuts. Even vegetarian options often call for extra oil or marinade to be applied before grilling, providing that all-important fat.
When it comes to wine pairings, anything you choose needs to have both the structure, flavour and acidity to cut through fatty, greasy or oily notes.
The grilling process itself also affects ingredients, adding layers of char, smoke and bitter flavours – as well as caramelisation. Each of these increase the weight and depth of the original food. So, while a certain wine may work with a roasted or baked food, its barbecued counterpart may require something a little stronger, richer in flavour, and more structured to hold its own.
Red wines for barbecues
When it comes to choosing a red wine for your barbecue, looking to warmer climates can be a good rule of thumb. Rioja, Shiraz, Malbec or Zinfandel are all good options. These wines often have a little more residual sugar in them, thanks to the grapes in hot temperatures ripening more fully. This extra level of sweetness pairs well with rich, caramelised flavours in chargrilled meats and vegetables.
A fantastic option is the Viña Arana Gran Reserva Rioja. With a brilliant array of ripe red fruits and grippy tannins, this provides a weighty punch of cherry and plum that would balance well with strong smoke and char flavours, as well as with fat and oil.
For those who prefer something a little more reserved, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend like the smooth, silky Ségla from Margaux makes a wonderful choice. Its notes of tobacco and leather will balance well with any peppered or heavily seasoned meat, while a sprinkling of spice will pull the wine back into focus, when drunk with heavier dishes.
Choosing rosé wines
Any rosé you choose should have enough body and intensity to hold its own against the flavours of barbecued foods. Slightly richer, dry rosé wines like the Ripa Rioja Rosado have a depth of fruit flavours that won’t be overwhelmed by other flavours on a plate. The fruit in this provides a fantastic balance to bitter or umami notes in food, while its refreshing acidity will cut through both spice and pepper.
Sparkling wines for barbecues
Sparkling wines can provide the freshness needed to refresh your palate after some of the more fatty, oily offerings at a barbecue – think any type of grilled fish, smoked salmon, or richer cheeses like halloumi. The acidity in sparkling wines will provide an invigorating counterpart to these textures. A fantastic option for summer is the Rosé Brut from Champagne Bollinger; the fruit flavours in this will work similarly to those in other rosé wines.
White wines for barbecues
As with sparkling, a good level of acidity is needed in white wines, if they are to be able to balance well with many barbecued foods. It’s important to choose a wine with enough body; delicate flavour profiles are likely to be drowned out. Anything too acidic may also clash with vinegars and spices used in marinades or salads. A good choice is this Chardonnay from Frog’s Leap: its beautiful golden apple and lemon zest flavours will keep things fresh, while its pleasantly oily mouthfeel will sit wonderfully alongside grilled fish or cheese.