At long last, the barbecue season has arrived—in most American locales, anyway.
Which brings up a very important question: What kind of wine should one serve with barbecued fare?
Well, there is no single answer, simply because there are so many styles of barbecue, based on regional traditions and preferences.
So, let’s take an armchair tour of some of America’s BBQ capitals to explore the unique cuisine and the vinous possibilities…
- Carolina—Here’s a perfect example of how complicated barbecue fare can be. Although there’s a single designation, there are plenty of regional differences from north to south. For example, it’s not unusual to find establishments that use tomato-based sauces. In South Carolina, some use mustard-based sauces. But, generally speaking, Carolina barbecue is based on sauces made with vinegar and pepper. For that style, the preferred wine would be a rosé, made from a grape such as Sangiovese—providing solid acidity to help tame the barbecue spice, and abundant fruitfulness to complement the pork flavor.
- Kansas City—Whereas Carolina barbecue revolves around pork, the K.C. style is more inclusive; almost any meat or poultry goes. Thus, the style is defined by the sauce: smoky, spicy and balanced with vinegar and brown sugar or molasses. The ideal wine? Fruit-forward, spicy California Zinfandel
- Memphis—Pork is the preferred meat, and most purveyors offer a choice of “wet” or “dry.” The wet style calls for the meat to be marinated beforehand, with additional sauce added after cooking. It’s all about the sauce, and lots of it. The dry style calls for no sauce whatsoever—just a dry rub of onion, paprika, garlic, cumin and other spices. Zinfandel works very nicely with the wet style, while an off-dry (slightly sweet) Riesling makes a wonderful pairing partner for the dry.
- Texas—It’s a big state, so there are a number of regional styles found within the borders of Texas. The most common, however, would be slow-cooked beef (especially brisket) with an eclectic spice rub or simply a sprinkling of salt and pepper. If sauce is used, it’s normally served on the side, so we’ll leave that out of the wine pairing equation. The wine to serve with seasoned brisket? A nice, smoky Syrah.