Image by Robin Goldsmith
Beer is often the drink of choice with a BBQ and why wouldn't it be? What could be better than standing outside with friends, an ice-cold bottle of your favourite beer in hand, waiting for your chargrill-flavoured treats to arrive? Well, wine is an alternative and there are many options. Both sparkling and high-acid white wines are great for cleansing your palate and lightly tannic reds can be a refreshing choice too, especially if lightly chilled. However, with a barbecued steak, you could opt for a wine with more tannin as this natural tenderiser will bind with protein and break down fat, which in turn softens the tannins, as well as softening the texture of the meat, enhancing the juicy flavours in both.
As with all food and drink pairings, the key here is to match the weight of the wine with the power of the strongest ingredient in the food, which could be the spice rub, marinade or sauce used to flavour the barbecued food. So wines with ripe, juicy fruit characteristics which aren't overly alcoholic work well with sweet BBQ glazes for example, balancing smoky flavours, as well as any chilli heat in spicier food. Also, BBQs are party-like, fun, light-hearted and casual, so your choice of wine should reflect that.
With National BBQ Week approaching fast in the UK (May 30th - June 5th), I held a private tasting of wines to accompany summer BBQs. All the wines are available nationwide from various retailers or online and cost less than £15 RRP. They were enjoyed by the participants who commented how different the wines were in style and therefore would suit a variety of BBQ dishes. With no forewarning on price, country of origin or grape variety and thus no preconceptions on quality, the average price people expected the wines to be was £11.40, which turned out to be remarkably accurate. The average bottle price for the UK wine market as a whole has already broken through the £5 barrier at supermarkets and £8 elsewhere, so perhaps these findings reflect a growing realisation that good wine is worth paying that little bit extra for!
Stellenbosch Mountain & Vineyards
Located in the heart of Stellenbosch, South Africa, grapes have been produced at this estate since 1695. Over the past 15 years, continuous investment by the new owners, who took over in 1996, has resulted in Kleine Zalze becoming one of Stellenbosch’s most awarded wineries. The Cellar Selection range comprises good-value, fruit-driven wines made to be more accessible.
This is a young wine that will develop well over the next three to five years. On the nose, it shows notes of tropical fruit and lime with a vegetal hint plus a touch of smoke and spice. These characteristics continue on the palate with a lemon/lime freshness and a mineral backbone. Enjoy this wine with fish, light white meat and salads.
Collines de Laure Vineyard
Domaine Jean-Luc Colombo is a French wine producer and négociant in the Rhône Valley. The “Les Collines de Laure” (The Hills of Laure) range was created in honour of Jean-Luc and Anne Colombo's daughter, Laure. This white wine is a blend of Rolle (Vermentino), Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat grapes picked from the best terroirs in Rhône and Provence.
On the nose, notes of melon, candied lemon, peach and pear and a touch of honey were noted, while the palate showed good acidity, similarly fruity notes with a slight vegetal and herbal hint. Refreshing and well-rounded, this wine would go well with fish, grilled chicken and summer salads.
Villa Maria Marlborough Winery
Since its beginnings in the early 1960s, Villa Maria has become New Zealand's most awarded winery with vineyards in both the North and South Island. The fruit for this Pinot Grigio was grown in the Marlborough, Gisborne and Waipara winegrowing regions.
Fresh and aromatic with notes of apple, pear, melon and citrus plus hints of tropical fruit and a little spice lead to an off-dry finish with good acidity balancing the sweet ripe fruit. This would be a good accompaniment for burgers, spicy tuna steaks and sweet chilli chicken kebabs.
CVNE Vineyard Boundary Stone
CVNE, Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), was founded in 1879 in Rioja by two brothers and is still controlled today by direct descendants of the founding family. The business now comprises four wineries - CVNE, Imperial, Viña Real and Contino. The original name for Cune was supposed to have been CVNE, like the company, but an early misspelling meant that the new name stuck for good!
This young Rioja exhibits aromas of red berries, plum, cherry, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon which continue on the palate with an added savoury touch and soft silky tannins. This would be a perfect pairing for a traditional BBQ steak.
The Caliterra Estate comprises 1000 hectares in central Chile's Colchagua Valley. The name comes from the Spanish words for quality 'Calidad' and land 'Tierra'. Their wine making philosophy is centred on producing environmentally friendly, quality wines using sustainable vineyard management. The Tributo range was created as a tribute to the land, its people and winemaking.
Caliterra’s Tributo Malbec has aromas of blackberries, violet, plum, cinnamon and white pepper with a hint of cocoa. The palate is similar with sweet, juicy fruit notes prominent, backed up by dark chocolate, spice, hints of herbs and almonds plus soft tannins. Try this wine with grilled BBQ meat or strong cheese.
Hancock & Hancock Vineyard
Robert Oatley Vineyards are located across Australia's wine regions with sustainable viticulture and minimal intervention key to the company's ethos. Hancock and Hancock is a new venture, which winemaker Chris Hancock founded with his brother John in 2015. Based at their La Colline vineyard in McLaren Vale, South Australia, many of the vines are old, with some dating back 80 years.
This rich, luscious, aromatic red wine shows notes of ripe dark plum, red cherry, raspberry, pepper and sweet spice with a hint of cherry stone and an elegant finish. A lovely match for tomato-based pasta salads and BBQ red meat.
In the U.S., official BBQ season begins on Memorial Day weekend, the last Monday in May that is set aside to salute American veterans for their service. Check out a previous article on The Alcohol Professor for some childhood memories of the weekend plus some strictly adult cocktail suggestions! Both National BBQ Week in the UK and Memorial Day in the US offer good reasons to enjoy a variety of libations, so before reaching for that cooling beer, spare a thought for the alternatives that can enhance your food enjoyment. Enjoy your burgers and give peace and wine a chance!
All images provided by UK specialists in premium wine, Hatch Mansfield, unless otherwise stated.
This article is also available on The Alcohol Professor website.