With the holiday this weekend, we are right in the middle of grilling season, which means finding the right wine to pair with your backyard barbecue. Of course selecting a wine that you love is always the best option, but if you’re interested in trying something new, here are some of my favorites for pairing with grilled everything.
I love a sweet and spicy barbecue, with plenty of natural wood smoke, therefore I want a wine that incorporates those flavors. Since I’m thinking about barbecue, with plenty of sauce, I’m thinking meat, chicken, pork and beef. Though one can always grill some fish, I’m planning a classic BBQ this weekend, so I’m going to look for red wines, which have both sweet and spicy components. I don’t want a truly sweet red wine, but one that has ripe and jammy flavors, yet still has some spicy notes and even a little bit of char from the toasted oak barrels. I love a big, red Zinfandel, which has become our American grape, even though it originated in Croatia. To keep the peppery spice forefront I’m going to recommend some Zinfandel blends, which will maximize the pairing potential (there are so many great ones to mention.)
Let’s start with a new one for ABC, The Cleaver. A playful wine with a subtitle “A must for meat, just ask you butcher,” this 2012 blend of 40% Zinfandel, 40% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah and 10% Marsanne is made by Renwood Winery, out of Amador County. I feel like they made this wine for real Southern-style barbecue. Up front there is plenty of ripe fruit, almost overripe fruit, and a few of my guests thought it was bordering on sweet, but then the Syrah hits you on the palate with that zing of black pepper spice! At first whiff, blackberry cobbler and crushed black pepper jump out of my glass with just a hint of anise and allspice on the finish. The tannins are soft on the palate, meaning this wine could also work for BBQ chicken as well as meaty ribs. The Zin brings the ripe fruit, the Syrah brings pepper and the other two grapes flesh the wine out with more juicy, pepperiness from the Petite Sirah and then the white grape Marsanne softens the tannic edges and brings complexity to the nose.
Blending white with red? Doesn’t that make a pink wine? Not necessarily, here there is not enough white to make a difference in the color, which is inky dark purple, but it does soften the tannins. This is commonly done in Northern Rhone Syrah-based wines like Cote Rotie, where 5 – 10% Viognier is blended in to soften the austerity of those big Syrahs. Here the blending just makes sure you have a balanced flavor profile. The aging in toasted oak barrels brings out that hint of smoke to harmonize with the smoky barbecue. The Cleaver can also work with grilled Portobello mushrooms or grilled tempeh, so you can enjoy this wine with your vegetarian friends. At $20 per bottle it’s well worth it.
If you are looking for some other Zin blends that are even more reasonably priced, think of The Dalliance Red and The Wrangler Red from Lake County, California. Both of these are under $15 and have similar flavor profiles to The Cleaver, though the Wrangler has a little Cabernet Sauvignon to give it more structure, while the Dalliance has more Barbera and Grenache to highlight the soft richness. Any of these three wines would be perfect for your weekend of massive grilling and fireworks! Have a Happy Fourth of July, grilling!
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Wine Pairing Examiner for Examiner.com
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineDanE