Another great blog post brought to us by Taalib Hasan - Wine Director – The Oceanaire Seafood Room Atlanta
It is Independence Day weekend and all I can think about is the barbeque I am hosting at my house on Sunday. So for the last four days all I have been able to think about is indoor seating vs. outdoor seating or maybe a little of both. Do I keep it basic with hot dogs, burgers, sausages, and chicken? Do I kick it up a few notches and do something adventurous like sausage stuffed and grilled calamari and whole leg of lamb? And then of course there is the whole ordeal of choosing side dishes and deserts. And let’s not even consider allergies. Of course the most pressing issue is the beverage menu.
I will have some wine drinkers, some spirit drinkers, and of course my cousin who refuses to drink anything but beer. So, I will have to venture out of the wine section and into the beer coolers to buy some light pilsners and IPAs (incidentally the acidity and abundance of hops of IPAs are perfect for the summer). Okay, the beer choices final.
So let’s get to the heart of the matter, the grape juice. Barbeques are outdoor dining events filled with bold, smoky meats accompanied by sweet and often spicy sauces. The food is comfortable, memorable, and messy generally no place for a wine glass. That leaves us in a bit of a pickle we have to consider the environment which is often either a warm or hot day with smoke filled air.
First I want to review the don’ts. If you are dining outside, do not serve sparkling wine it warms too quickly in the sun and the delicate nose of sparkling wines will not stand up to the hickory smoke in the air. Not to mention, barbeques and champagne flutes generally equal broken glass. I would recommend stemless wine glasses if you have them. Big reds like cabernets and zinfandels fall into the “don’t” category because barbeques are all day events and generally outdoors on hot days. Furthermore big tannic reds and hot days generally equal sweating and palate fatigue; meaning after the second glass you will not taste anything else and will probably need a large glass of water. Also, any wines that are heavily reliant on their nose such as viognier and torrontes are not suited for smoke filled outdoor dining.
That is enough of the pessimism. There are many exceptional wines that are great beverages for barbeques. On the lighter end of the spectrum there are Alsatian whites. Alsace is a wine growing region on the eastern extreme of France that boarders Germany. The better known grapes of Alsace are riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, and pinot gris. Incidentally, pinot gris is genetically identical to pinot grigio. Often these wines are off-dry, meaning they have residual sugar and sweetness but are not overwhelmingly sweet. Of these grapes, one particularly stands out in my mind; gewürztraminer. This grape produces an off-dry wine, packed with flavors of lychee, citrus zest, and spicy notes such as green and pink peppercorns. This complexity of flavors, particularly the balance of sweet and spicy notes lends itself perfectly to a well balanced barbeque sauce and smoked meat. Gewürztraminer presents a refreshing experience on a hot summer day because of the counter balance of sweetness up front and the crisp acidity on the finish. I would recommend gewürztraminers from Trimbach and Hugel.
If you are looking for something with a little more body to it, then dry rosé is the next logical choice. Rosés are simply wines made from red wine grapes that are not left in contact with the grape skins as long as red wines. These wines are best young, do not age well, and are served cold. When describing these wines the pivotal adjective is dry; these are dry wines they are not sweet like white zinfandel although they do share the same appearance. The grapes of rosés vary. I recommend cabernet rosé for barbeques because of the rich, ripe fruit flavors it carries. There are a lot of red berry notes including strawberry, no real tannic structure to weigh down your palate, and yet it has the body to stand up to slow roasted meats. Isabel Mondavi and Hendry produce great cabernet rosés.
Then there is perhaps the most food versatile wine of them all, pinot noir. It seems everyone has a favorite pinot noir these days. So I would recommend grabbing that old faithful pinot noir you love so much and chilling it till it is cool to the touch. You will find it does very well in a barbeque setting as well.
I know more than likely most of you will still stick to beer and margaritas for your barbeques. I hope I have made a good case for at least one bottle of wine to include in the mix.