Always a bit of a challenge matching barbecued food with wine in the UK.
If we were in Australia, South Africa or even the US, it wouldn’t be quite so bad. Most barbecued food in these countries has been lovingly tended and will have all those deliciously smoky, charcoal tinted flavours that make a classic barbecue so delectable and devourable.
In the UK, 90 per cent of the food that comes off our summer barbecues is simply burnt to buggery. And being honest, matching any wine with that unique flavour of “burnt” is a bit of a challenge.
For the purposes of this blog however, we are going to assume that your mate from Australia/South Africa or the US has actually taught you how to barbecue properly. How to coax the best from the combination of raw flesh versus naked flame. In other words, we’re going to play make believe.
So, for starters, you need to remember that in most cases we are barbecuing in glorious sunshine (yes, we are extending that bit of make believe to the weather in the UK too). As tempted as you may be with that 2kg rib of beef or tomahawk steak you are cremating to big and bold and balls deep in rich, weighty Malbec territory you might want to rein it in a little. Think a bit lighter and a bit more subtle. Likewise, don’t go breaking the bank and spending vast fortunes on highly rated top flight wines. Barbecue food is simple and delicious. Keep your wines that way and you won’t be wondering why you don’t seem to get the same nuance from your 1945 Chateau Lafite with some finger licking chicken in hot sauce as you did when you had it with veal ravioli at the Waterside Inn.
So here’s our simple, quick guide to what works best wine wise:
Keep it fresh light, and with plenty of racy acidity. Whilst normally too much acidity can be heartburn central, with barbecued food you have fat, you have grease, and very often you have spice. Acid cuts through that and allows you to taste the flavour of the wine as well as the food. So think put the vintage Champagne back in the fridge, and crack open Prosecco or Cava.
Again, go for wines with bite. So think Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Chenin Blanc. Try to avoid heavily oaked wines – too much going on – and if Chardonnay is your kind of thing, go for crisp clean versions such as Macon or Chablis, or unoaked Aussie Chard, rather than Californian or serious heavyweight Burgundy. If you have a lot of spice going on, Riesling from down under, or Pinot Blanc from Alsace with their rich fruit, but crisp clean bite, are great alternatives.
Rosé is classic Barbecue fair – partly because it is the ideal halfway house. Rose does of course run the gamut of delicate pale pink (think Provence and Languedoc) to full on bright cerise rose (think Navarran rosé). Provence style is best with BBQ fish, prawns, seafood generally, whilst the deeper, richer Navarran style is more suited to spicy chicken, pork ribs and even, at a touch, a little bit of sirloin steak.
Like Rose, reds can be pretty versatile. A light Pinot Noir for example will be as brilliant with BBQ salmon as it will be with a good old banger, hamburger or sticky ribs. But if you want to go up a level, choose mid-weight Malbecs, juicy South American Cabernets or Merlots, or, ideally hit the lovely Spanish. Their juicy Ribera del Duero reds are absolutely perfect for the lovely crisp char that most meat has off the barbecue and despite good tannins their juicy ripe rich fruit character takes over and is usually a great foil to a classic T-Bone or a juicy rare burger! If you fancy your red a little chilled, then go for low tannin reds (being cold makes the dryness of very tannic wines excessive and destroys the fruit). So juicy Pinot Noirs are perfect, Gamays, Grenache likewise, and even some softer new world Merlots. Don’t chill for more than 10 minutes and not too cold, otherwise you destroy the fruit richness.
So there you go. A quick guide to what to drink with your burnt offerings. And here’s our top ten recommendations from the website if you’re feeling in a fire-starting mood this weekend:
1. El Abasto Malbec Bonarda - perfect red for chilling
2. Vina del Jaro "Sembro" - genius piece of Spanish lusciousness
3. Trastullo Primitivo - big enough for full on rib of beef but silky smooth
4. Gassac Pinot Noir - awesome bundle of fresh summer strawberries
5. Reveleste Albarino - crisp, clean, perfect BBQ white. Perfect with seared tuna
6. Amextoi Txacoli Getaria - little bit fizzy, lot a bit fun for any BBQ fish
7. Samurai Chardonnay - made by Australians, made for BBQ
8. Grange de Rocs Picpoul de Pinet - crisp, clean, razor like. Loves BBQ prawns
9. Reserve de Gassac Rose - lush, simple as.
10. Capdevielle Elegance Provence - perfect in pink