Big Reds with Barbecue and More Simple Wine Pairing Advice

Categories: Unscrewed

Sherry and Tapas.jpg
Lauren Mowery

Last week, I opened a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to drink with takeout from Fletcher's BBQ. I wasn't really thinking about the pairing, although perhaps "big red and big food" subliminally guided me to pair the Southern Rhône with charred hunks of meat. I'll leave the review of Fletcher's to our food experts, but I can say authoritatively that a bite into a burnt end after sipping that wine resulted in a heavenly smoke-and-spice combo reminiscent of a campfire crackling with fat drippings.

This got me thinking about food pairings, which don't have to be complicated and shouldn't evoke sitting for the New York Bar Exam. Ignore all those articles offering recipes with esoteric ingredients and overly precise pairings with wines you can't find. Instead, arm yourself with a few easy concepts to elevate your daily dining from mundane to divine -- because eating BBQ should always be a transcendent experience.

Here are the basics:

Match Weight and Body
Heavy foods like a lamb stew or rib roast call for a full-bodied wine, so reds are the usual choice. But the key here is body, so a big white like an oaked California Chardonnay, might be a better match than a daintier red such as Zweigelt from Austria. The same rule applies to lighter foods. Generally, fish is complemented by more delicate wines, so many whites fit the profile, but so can light-bodied, low-tannin reds, thereby debunking the myth "white with fish, red with meat." Also consider your sauce: fish smothered in lobster and cream is no longer delicate (nor low-fat.) Example: Dolcetto and Cioppino (fish stew with tomatoes)


Marry Flavor to Flavor
Flavor intensity is not the same as weight. A potato is heavy but low on flavor, whereas asparagus is pungent but not hefty. Chardonnay can be full-bodied but low in flavor; Riesling is a lightweight wine with intense flavor. Intensity in both the wine and food should be equivalent, or else one will overpower the other. The cooking method also plays a role in flavor intensity; for instance, steaming versus roasting versus smoking. Example: Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Burnt Ends/BBQ


Pair Acid with Acid
Try a tannic red wine followed with a salad dressed in vinaigrette to experience the ultimate food-and-wine clash. Sadly, this combo often leads people to think they don't like the wine, when in fact the pairing was the problem. Sour flavors in food dull the wine, so you need a lot of acid in your vino to keep things refreshing. When dining, be mindful of acidic ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, limes, apples and vinegar. Example: Sauvignon Blanc and Ceviche


Try Sweet with Sweet
Dry wines can become mouth-puckering and tart when paired with food that possesses even a smidgen of sweetness. Sweet food is best with wines of similar sweetness, whether it be a honey-baked ham with sweet-potato mash or pears poached in red wine. Example: Moscato d'Asti and French Toast with Fruit


Fat and Protein Like Tannin
Most of us non-vegetarians are familiar with the mouthful of magic that occurs when combining a meaty, marbled steak and a powerful, highly tannic red wine. The tannic effect is softened when it reacts with the protein and cuts the fat. However, leaner cuts with high protein content, like a tri-tip, don't need as aggressive a wine; try a Malbec instead. Example: California Cabernet Sauvignon and Grilled Ribeye


Oily and Salty Dislike Tannin
Tannic red wine and an oily fish like mackerel can result in a metallic taste, while tannins turn bitter with really salty foods. Acid cuts through oil (think of an oil and vinegar salad dressing), and salt benefits from the refreshing zip of acidic wines. Salty foods also work well with sweet wines; consider how well pretzels dipped in chocolate or prosciutto and melon go together. Example: Champagne and Potato Chips or Truffle Salt Popcorn


Heat and Sweet
Spicy food is a category ripe for disaster when paired with a high-alcohol or dry, tannic red wine. You'll start a five-alarm fire in your mouth as alcohol fuels the effect of spice. Instead, lower-alcohol wines with a touch of sweetness keep the heat in check. Example: Off-Dry German Riesling and Sichuan Cuisine


Regional Wine with Regional Food
Try pairing wine and food from the same countries/regions. The locals probably spent centuries perfecting their cuisine, so follow their lead. Example: Manzanilla Sherry and Spanish Tapas


Lauren Mowery is a wine and travel writer. She writes the Unscrewed column for Fork in the Road and blogs at Chasing the Vine.

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