Ask a thousand backyard grill-jockeys what the ultimate way to barbecue is, and chances are you’ll get a thousand different answers. Just as there are no hard-and-fast rules regarding the single best way to barbecue food, there are no absolutes when it comes to the best wine to pair with barbecue.
When it comes to pairing wine with grilled foods (or any food for that matter), ultimately it is your palate that should dictate what to choose. That being said, New Hope Winery can offer some basic guidelines to help you when selecting the wine that best enhances the flavor and enjoyment of your barbecued foods.
Barbecuing food brings out a plethora of different flavors – sweet, spicy, smoky, acidic, savory –requiring an equally diverse selection of wines. The basic theory of wine and food pairing is to match the intensity of flavor of the wine and the intensity of the flavor of the food.
In the most general of terms: If your food has subtler flavors (chicken, fish, shellfish) consider pairing it with a more delicate wine. “Heavier” grilled foods (burgers, steaks, ribs) typically require the bolder, earthier red wines that can stand up to hearty flavors.
For example, a light Pinot Grigio may wilt when up against a heavily smoked rack of ribs with a spicy sauce, but it would be excellent with grilled fish or vegetables. On the other end of the scale, a Cabernet Sauvignon complements a nice thick grilled steak or smoked brisket, but would surely overpower a lightly seasoned chicken breast.
Now let’s “dig-in” and consider these ten tips for pairing wine with grilled foods:
1. When pairing wine with smoky foods, choose a wine with low alcohol and no oak. High alcohol provides too much “heat”, and oak flavor overpowers smoke flavor and deadens the full flavors of the food.
2. Save your “fine wines” for more refined foods. The heavy flavors of barbecue are well matched by less expensive wines.
3. Sweet wines are particularly good at taking the heat out of spicy foods. Think “sweet wine for spicy foods and tart wine for sweet foods.”
4. Choose “younger wines” – the fruitier the better. The “earthiness” of older wines will compete with savory and earthy flavors in the barbecue.
5. Avoid wine selections high in tannins. Tannins provide too much body (also known as “mouth feel”) to already full-bodied, highly textured food. For example, old vine Zinfandel may be highly spicy and too tannic for barbecue, but youthful Zinfandel, with cleaner mouthful and silky tannins and complement barbecue.
6. Cabernet Sauvignon is great for steaks and burgers with a higher fat. The tighter tannins are significantly mellowed by the meat’s fat. Top your burgers with bold cheeses, like blue or sharp cheddar and this varietal gets even better!
7. Riesling pairs well with grilled brats, shrimp, barbecue chicken, grilled pineapple, and a variety of grilled veggies.
8. Chardonnay will work wonderfully with grilled fish (including shellfish), chicken with creamy sauces, and grilled corn on the cob with butter.
9. Merlot, with its fruit-forward flavor, will support spicy food and not aggravate it. Grilled pork chops and garden-variety salads with lighter dressings are also enhanced with Merlot.
10. Keep notes on what wines paired well with your favorite foods (you’ll forget, I promise) and most of all − drink wines you enjoy and don’t get too hung-up on “the rules” of wine and food pairing.
Use this season of abundance as an excuse to experiment with wine and food pairings! Shake up your wine picks to enhance the easy-going styles and over-the-top delicious flavors that that come off the grill this time of year.
New Hope Winery is here to help you make the most of your wine and food pairing choices. Feel free to call us at 215-794-2331, or stop by, and our wine educators will gladly offer guidance on which wine will go best with your grilled fare.