pairing wine and barbeque

So you’re wondering about pairing wine with barbeque? You’ll be surprised at the answer, it’s probably not what you think!

We’re Pairing Wine With Barbeque!

A friend of mine at The Smokin’ BBQ Pit, pulled me aside the other day to ask “I’m pairing wine with barbeque, what is the best?

What on the surface would seem simple really isn’t. As I started to answer I realized that there is “one wine fits all”!

First, you need to look at the different regional styles of barbecue. There’s Kansas City, Memphis, and Texas, but let’s not ignore the flare of Brazilian Churrasco, Argentine, Spanish, Asian, and the other international choices. 

NEXT – Some More General Food and Wine Pairings

All regions have their own special aspects of rub, sauce, preparation, presentation, as well as certain unique factors in common.

Then there is the base protein to consider. Are we eating beef? Pork? Poultry? The genre also needs to be unpacked to include the wonderful seafoods of the world as well as the hunter’s venison, wild fowl, and game.

Finally, when deciding on a good wine to drink you need to consider the most complex factor, the “Ambiance“, or the subjective nature of this question that takes into consideration the time, place, and people in the equation.

My original approach to understanding wines was to learn the many different wine-producing regions, so taking a similar tack with the regional styles should lead to the inclusion of the other pertinent factors.

It is difficult to spend a couple of decades as a fine wine consultant without developing an affinity for fine food as well, and my girth is a testament to that!

Let’s Start in Texas!

pairing wine and bbq
Pairing Texas BBQ and Wine!

Our travels in this pairing wine with barbeque series will take us south, to Texas, where we find some differences from the classic Kansas City style of BBQ that so many folks are familiar with.

We’ll begin pairing wine with barbeque in Texas. The meats in Texas are usually smoked over mesquite wood rather than hickory. This is due to the local availability of each wood, however, the mesquite adds a bit of spice to the meat not found in hickory.

Secondly, the meat is smoked ‘naked’. This means that compared to the BBQ style further north, no sauce is applied during the cooking process. The sauce is either served alongside the meat or ladled on just before serving.

Another note of interest, is the sauce itself is tomato-based, similar to a Kansas City sauce, but it tends to be less sweet and much spicier.    

One thing I have learned is that hot spicy food preparations and oak-aged wines are not very compatible. So my first recommendation is to avoid oak-aged wines when choosing a more spicy dish!

Traditionally, beef is the main protein featured in the best Texas barbecue, and since we all know that everything is bigger in Texas, I recommend the big red wines that are made to accentuate their fruit character. 

Some nice Italian red wines would fit this profile such as a Barbera D’Asti, but I would lean more toward the ‘fruit-forward’ styles of red wines predominantly made in the western and southern hemispheres of Italy. 

My choice for a brisket wine pairing would be a nice Zinfandel or a California Central Coast blend, many of which can be a blend of four to five different wines.

My first choice: Pair your Beef Brisket with Zinfandel!

Now, for the pairing of wine with barbeque ribs, I’d go with a Petite Sirah or a hearty Shiraz from Australia. Also, a Chilean Carmenere in an unoaked style would be really, really nice. (you need the substantial body to pair with the big flavors of the beef ribs)

The other mainstay of Texas BBQ is a large smoked sausage, the character of which can vary greatly but it’s safe to say it’s going to be spicy!

Just how spicy only a taste will tell, so for this category I recommend a wine with a hint of sweetness. The residual sugar will cool the heat of the sausage and the sauce itself, but the challenge is to find a red wine with that profile. 

If you have a well-rounded wine shop in your area, you could ask for a late-harvest style of Cabernet. This is a highly sought after choice, but a special treat and the perfect pairing for a spicy BBQ dish!

I get some of these from South Africa, Australia, and Chile, but the true masters of these full-body reds with a fruity finish are the Eastern Europeans. The Romanians and Hungarians seem to produce the best.

My pick for a spicy smoked sausage: A Full-Bodied Hungarian Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon!

The Hungarian Merlot is full of body and while on the sweet side, not widely distributed. They will cool the fire, but still have the body and character to pair with the meat.

Of course, if you know a specialty broker such as myself (wink wink) getting your hands on this wine is just a phone call away!

A special nod also has to go to an out of the box recommendation… a German Late Harvest Spatlese. (shpate lay-sa) Since one of the components in most Texas sausage is pork and the heat is ever-present, this wine would be a great pairing, particularly on a deck in the middle of summer.

Most importantly, trust your own palate, it will never lead you astray. For hints and tips on how to make Texas-style barbecue visit my buddy, Bubba Q, over at  The Smokin’ BBQ Pit.

The next stop on my virtual tour of barbecue and wine will be in Memphis! If Elvis likes it you know it has to be good!

Please post any questions and comments about pairing wine with bbq or anything else. Operators are standing by, so don’t be shy!  We can help pairing wine with barbeque or any other feast!

Pat The Wine Guy.

Contact me at – [email protected]

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