There are a few dishes out there that beer hands-down wins the war over wine when it comes to pairings.
Barbecue is DEFINITELY one of those dishes
Let’s start off by clarifying that we’re not talking about throwing some steaks on a grill and calling that barbecue. The debate of what barbecue is is a topic for another day, but what we are referring to here is meat slow-cooked over indirect heat (or smoked) over several hours and then served with barbecue sauce, coleslaw, potato salad, beans, cornbread, or whatever other sides you feel worthy.
Smoked meat and wine? Amazing. My real problem with pairing wine with barbecue is not the barbecued meat on its own, its with barbecue sauce.
Most barbecue sauces have sweet and spicy flavors which generally do not pair well with wine. Sweet flavors in food need sweet wines to match, otherwise the wine will taste bitter and flabby. Spicy flavors also need a sweet wine to cool it down: a dry wine will seem hot and more alcoholic if paired with spicy food, and a wine high in alcohol will elevate all those spicy flavors. It isn’t very pleasant.
So really, we are very limited to wines that could theoretically pair well with barbecue. They must be sweet and low in alcohol.
I got so sick of the arguments with bbq and wine that I decided yesterday to make a bunch of traditional bbq fare, open up a couple of wines, and test it all out. I realize that there are many styles of barbecue, so I made sure to cover (most) of the bases.
Carolina Pulled Pork, Memphis-style ribs and smoked beef brisket and served them up with cole slaw, potato salad, beans, pickles and potato chips. Then we made authentic Carolina, Kansas City, Texas and Memphis barbecue sauce.
Here was the general concensus:
We all loved each of the wines on their own (obviously).
The Carmenere didn’t really pair with anything because it was a dry wine with no residual sugar. Any “smoky”, charred flavors in it got cancelled out when paired with food, so it didn’t taste like much.
The shiraz was also bad. This was a fun one that was aged in whiskey barrels so on its own it had really rich black fruit characteristic and a nice dilly vanilla note from the oak. But the spices from the barbecue just overwhelmed the wine, made it taste super hot and took away all the fruity flavors.
This was the best of the red wine selection. On its own, the wine definitely had a little bit of residual sugar (sweetness) and was a total fruit bomb (like most zinfandels). The barbecue made it seem less sweet and took away most of the fruit and made it seem SUPER oaky, which is crazy since it didn’t smell or taste like oak at all on its own!
Of all the wines, the Riesling was by far the best with barbecue. It was the most sweet out of the bunch so it cooled down the sweet and spicy flavors in the food. When eating it with food, it actually didn’t taste sweet at all...it just worked because the food was equally as sweet.
The Final Verdict
None of these wines actually went well with barbecue. The Riesling just worked the best and the Zinfandel was decent. The good news about this experiment is that I went from being totally anti-wine at barbecues to kind of not minding it. Because let’s be honest...before we sat down to eat I had backup beers waiting because I thought wine and barbecue was going to be absolutely awful. But it was tolerable...it just wasn’t amazing.
Bottom Line, this is all subjective so don’t get mad at me if you really think wine and barbecue go together. If you tell yourself it does, chances are you won’t mind it. But here’s my advice if you’re going to a traditional barbecue and HAVE to bring wine: bring a wine with residual sugar in it, like the following:
Wines to bring to a barbecue
Break out the beer if that’s your style, because for every wine that is tolerable with barbecue, there are 5 beers that will gladly step in to accomodate those sweet and spicy flavors.
Check out the video for footage of the wine and barbecue party! Cheers!