How to Pair Wine With Barbecue

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

How to Pair  Wine With Barbecue

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.

The food

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.

The wines

  • Zinfandel

  • Shiraz (Syrah)

  • Carmenere

  • Riesling

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 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 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

  • Riesling

  • Moscato

  • Gewurztraminer

  • Zinfandel

  • Brachetto

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!


What Wine to Pair with Grilled Ribs

Fire up the grill and pop that cork! Wine and grilled ribs will work beautifully together as long as you've picked the right wine. Accompany it with homemade coleslaw and potato salad, or any of your favorite sides that aren't too sweet.

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Do you retire your grill as soon as its not "grilling weather" anymore? Or in your world, is it always grilling weather? I feel like this time of year as fall creeps in quicker and quicker, we are trading barbecues and grilled dinners for pot roasts and soups...but I've decided to squeeze in one last recipe this season!

So let's get one thing I am not pairing wine and "barbecue". I am pairing wine with grilled ribs. What's the difference? True barbecue is when meat has been slow cooked for hours and is usually slathered in sweet, sticky sauce. Sweet foods and dry wines equal disaster, so please don't open a bottle of wine when you've made true barbecue. Its actually one of my greatest pet peeves when I see barbecue and wine paired together.  More info. 

Charred, Grilled Ribs and Wine? Yes. It works. Check out this wine pairing we did with grilled ribs and coleslaw |

The Pairing

Today we're talking about Grilled ribs, which are not slow-cooked all day like barbecued ribs, but cooked quickly over an open flame. Grilled meats all have delicious, toasty, charred, slightly burnt flavors in them which work perfectly with wine and beer.

What kind of wine? The biggest reds you've got! There are many wines here that will pair nicely, but in particular, I suggest opening a bottle of California Zinfandel with grilled ribs. Zinfandel is big on flavor and alcohol, which will stand up to the richness of grilled ribs. I like to call Zinfandel a "fruit bomb" because it can have flavors anywhere from raspberry and black cherry to black plum, blackberry, and raisin. Often the fruit character is jammy or stewed, which contrasts incredibly well with the grilled flavors of the ribs.

And although its a common misconception that Zinfandel is "spicy", it does go excellently with foods that have a little spice going on in them. Think about spices you encounter in dry rubs.. those go great with fruity zinfandel.

Other wines that will work great with grilled ribs include Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Syrah (especially those from the Rhone Valley in France) or red blends. I suggest these because they generally have higher alcohol, bigger bodies, or both that will stand up to the big flavors in grilled ribs. Grenache and Syrah often carry black pepper flavors which will also pair excellently.

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Some Wine Suggestions to Serve with Grilled Ribs:


  • Terra d'Oro Zinfandel, Amador County $
  • Ravenswood Zinfandel, any appellation $-$$ (found in most stores)
  • Francis Coppola Director's Cut Zinfandel, Dry Creek $$
  • Inglenook's Edezione Pennino Zinfandel, Napa Valley $$$


  • Torres Sangra de Toro Garnacha, Spain $
  • Chapoutier Belle Rouge Cotes du Rhone, France $$
  • Qupe Syrah, Central Coast $$

Cabernet Sauvignon/Red Blends

  • Spring Valley Vineyards "Frederick", Walla Walla, WA $$$
  • Cline Family Vineyards "Cashmere", California $$
  • Gamble Family Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $$

So fire up that grill one last time this season and enjoy with a big glass of red wine! Happy Pairing!

Lots of red wines pair perfectly with grilled ribs. Try Zinfandel, Syrah, or even Cabernet Sauvignon. Visit CaretoPair to find out more!

Looking for a Pairing for Sweet Barbecued Ribs? Click here.

Thirsty for More? Check out these Pairings:

What Wine to Pair with Chicken Wings

What Wine to Pair with Roast Leg of Lamb

What Wine to Pair with Chinese Takeout