THE DRUNKEN CYCLIST | By Jeffrey M. Kralik, Ph.D. –
When I moved to Southeast Texas several years ago, I needed to adapt quickly to many aspects of living in the area, but there were three at the forefront: the traffic, the humidity and the barbecue. While the first two involve mere acceptance, there is a bit of wiggle room with the third, particularly when it comes to accompanying beverages.
While I understood that the “traditional” pairings with Texas barbecue range from sweet tea to beer, I was rather surprised to see limited effort to pair wine with the region’s version of smoked and grilled meat. Unlike other regional preparations, which often involve slathering the selected meat in a variety of rich, tangy, and often sweet sauces that can make wine pairing difficult, the Texas version is far less complicated. A simple salt and pepper rub is the mainstay of barbecue in the Lone Star state, focusing on the flavors and texture of the smoky meat.
Surprisingly, perhaps, this simple approach to grilling and smoking meat is practiced in many other countries around the world where barbecue is more frequently paired with, you guessed it, wine. Here are a few wines from around the world, all available here in Texas, that pair fantastically with what I consider the best style of the American staple.
Barbecue in Italy includes the vast variety of fresh fish available from the Mediterranean, but the meats involved come pretty close to those used in Texas: beef, sausage, chicken.
2019 Giacomo Borgogno and Figli Barbera d’Alba Piedmont, Italy
Retail $24. 100% Barbera. From a famed producer of Barolo, this beauty has oodles of dark fruit, laced with herbs, spice and earth. The fruit here will work equally well with a smoky brisket or a garlic-laden sausage.
2019 Il Poggione (Proprietá Franceschi) Rosso Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy
Retail $20. 100% Sangiovese. Another well-known producer, this one a bit further south, in Tuscany. Fairly light (in color, but not flavor) with black cherry, black raspberry and well, black earth. Particularly tart, this would be a great counter-balance to a juicy brisket.
As in Italy, Spanish barbecue involves plenty of seafood, beef and chicken. There is more pork, though, and of course, paella.
2017 Juan Gil Jumilla Red Blend Murcia, Spain
Retail $20. Closer to a New World style with tons of fruit, a bit of spice, fruit and well, more fruit. Did I mention the fruit? There is also mocha and a bit of pine needle. Another fantastic wine for brisket and sausage, plus pork ribs.
2016 Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Reserva Spain
Retail $20. 90% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha Tinta and Graciano. One of the larger producers in perhaps Spain’s most renowned wine region. Dark fruit, a touch of anise, black pepper and clove in a quintessential Old World way. Much more subtle than the Juan Gil, but also more sophisticated. A killer brisket pairing.
Barbecue from the Golden State can be all over the map as can the wines. But when it comes to pairing wine with Texas barbecue, there might be no better choice than Zinfandel.
2018 Michael-David Vineyards Zinfandel Freakshow, Lodi, CA
Retail $20. Quite dark in the glass with cassis a-go-go, black cherry and raspberry, vanilla, clove and sage. Really, really fruity on the palate as well, this might classify as a “quintessential Zin” with all that fruit at the fore, mid and finish. When looking for a bold wine, look no further than the Freakshow.
2019 Pedroncelli Zinfandel Mother Clone Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County, CA
Retail $24. Dark fruit (plum, blackberry) paired with a host of spices and herbs (clove and sage for starters). One of the more versatile wines on this list, it will work with just about anything your grill master wants to throw your way.
Both Argentina and Chile do barbecue big, usually involving an enormous fire, with plenty of beef and sausage.
2019 Trivento Malbec Golden Reserve, Lujan de Cuyo, Argentina
Retail $20. On the fruity side with black pepper, cassis, plum. All that fruit is paired with what seems like just the right amount of acidity, resulting in a nicely balanced wine. Quite versatile, handling the fattiest of briskets and the leanest pork with aplomb.
2019 Lapostolle Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyard Colchagua Valley, Chile
Retail $25. Wonderful blackberry, cassis, black pepper, black cherry along with an intense acidity, drying but subtle and integrated tannins and an impressive finish. Widely available and fits Texas BBQ to a “t” with all that fruit and spice.
It makes perfect sense that Texas wines might offer some of the best pairings for Texas barbecue.
2019 Reddy Vineyards The Superior Texan, Texas High Plains
Retail $45. Mostly Sangiovese and Tannat, this wine is quite dark and on the big side, but there is more than enough acidity to slice through the beefiest brisket and spiciest sausage.
2016 Spicewood Vineyards The Good Guy, Texas High Plains
Retail $42. While the fruit is more tame than other wines on this list (due, at least in part, to the additional aging), this wine still has a zingy tartness that will stand up to just about anything you can pull out of the smoker.