A Grill's Best Friend

Skewering the "beer's-best-with-barbecue" notion



My granddaddy "Snake" birthed my family's barbecue recipe. Affectionate nickname aside — his real name was Homer, so which would you choose? — the man could cook. Snake lived outside Augusta, Georgia, where "barbecue" meant oven-roasted pork basted with a puckery sauce of piquant black pepper and sharp white vinegar. (In those parts, people consider tomato-based barbecue an affront to Southernness but we won't hold that against them.) Snake's recipe makes amazing pork, but it's not exactly wine-friendly. To wash down this spicy-sour meat, this Southern girl normally opts for the "house wine of the South" — sweetened iced tea. >>>

Grilled meat, on the other hand, loves wine. Men, for some reason the ordained grillmasters, might consider it too girly-man to drink wine instead of beer with barbecue, but it's the better choice. The natural fruit acids and tannins help meld together and tame strong seasonings, especially on protein-laden goodies.

And here's a shocker: During a recent taste test with barbecue, dry rosé won. Yes, drinking pink — now considered the iconic metrosexual drink in chic New York City — is perfect with anything grilled, naked, or sauced. All grapes, no matter the color of their skins, have clear juice. The tint depends on the amount of time the red grape skins stew with the liquid — days or weeks for red wines; a few hours for rosés. You'll notice that some rosés are darker than others. This indicates the winemaker kept the juice sitting longer with the skins, coaxing more tannins into the wine to give it a more flavorful punch. Rosés come from most countries and from any red grape: Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. (Wineries that wish to avoid the "white zin" moniker call their pink wines "Zinfandel Rosé.") Some of the best come from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, where thirsty citizens guzzle them by the gallons. Even at lunch.

But for those grillers who simply can't drink pink, that's okay. The pairing will be a bit more challenging, but consider the dominant flavor of the meal: the sauce. For instance, if you've marinated a shrimp skewer or white fish filet in a citrus-based sauce, choose a wine that will complement the dominant flavor. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio generally both have lemon, lime, and grapefruit flavor components in them, so they're natural choices. On the other hand, if you're trying to calm a super-spicy sauce on a slab of pork ribs, open a sweeter Riesling or musky Gewürztraminer (geh.VERTS tram.ee.ner), which will combat the fire on your tongue. And just to slather it on thick, for those open to sweet blush wines, a well-made White Zinfandel tastes fantastic with grilled burgers loaded with cheddar cheese, onions, and ketchup. Really.

Bold flavors call for bold wine. For spicy, tomato-ey barbecue, sip something that sings with fruit, filled with pepper and spice, to couple with brawny food. Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz are considered classic barbecue wines because they have lots going on, without too many astringent tannins that might overwhelm the sauce. But if you're feeling exotic, pop open a smoky Spanish Rioja or an earthy French Côtes du Rhône, both wines that pair extraordinarily well with grilled brats or Italian sausage. For those wanting to stay in their comfort zone, medium- to full-bodied Merlots are also good matches for barbecue fare — especially grilled tuna or swordfish with minimal seasoning.

Regardless which wine you choose, re-member these three tips for a successful outdoor bash:

1. Avoid Styrofoam cups. All you'll smell and — by extension, taste — is wine-scented Styrofoam.

2. Refrigerated white wines stay chilled for about an hour in the shade, so you don't necessarily need an ice bucket.

3. If all else fails, there's always the house wine of the South. M

Recommended Wines

Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Rosé

Vineyard 10 $8. e e e e

Monkey Bay 2007 Rosé New Zealand $10.

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