Wines to Serve with Barbecue

March 05, 2019

Wines to Serve with Barbecue

With the flavor of barbecue lingering on our palates after the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, it’s a good time to talk about pairing this “National Cuisine of Texas” with wine, not beer, as is tradition. Generally, the beverage of choice among oenophiles is a dry, fruit-forward red wine, especially if the meat has a spicy rub or a tangy sauce. If, on the other hand, the meat is simply grilled, with few added ingredients, a Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a Nebbiolo might fill the bill. Here are some wines to try the next time you pile a serving of big, rich brisket or a rack of smoky ribs onto your plate.


This grape comes from the Italian Northwest in the Piedmonte and produces wines low in tannins and high in acidity. It’s especially good with barbecue because it has good intensity and lots of fruit. This is a favorite pairing of Dale Robertson, wine writer for the Houston Chronicle. “Barbera and barbecue go great together,” he said. “Plus, I like saying them at the same time.”


Chianti, with its rich fruit and high acidity is a traditional pairing for tomato-based pasta sauces. These same characteristics make it a perfect accompaniment to barbecue. By the way, Chianti has improved in quality from the wine that was served long ago in those ubiquitous bottles wrapped in a straw basket.


For many, Syrah is the go-to wine to serve with barbecue. It’s smoky, fruity and savory, and will bring out the best in the meat. Look for a Syrah from the Rhone Valley (its ancestral home), Washington State or Paso Robles, California. If you want to go farther afield, try a Syrah from Australia, where it’s called Shiraz.


J.C. Reid, barbecue columnist for the Houston Chronicle, favors Zinfandel because of its sweet fruitiness and high acidity. Fruits balance the sweetness of a barbecue sauce, he said, and the acidity cuts the fat. Generally, a Zinfandel will stand up to the richest of sauces or the spicy aromas of dry-rub prepared meats.

This list is by no means inclusive. Malbecs from Argentina are barbecue-friendly wines because of their bold, ripe fruits. Sparkling wines too, can make good pairings, as their fresh acidity helps counter the fatty richness of barbecue, as do the characteristics of a dark Rosé. If you want to stay “local,” try a Texas High Plains Tempranillo or an Aglianico. Obviously, the wonderful world of wine offers many choices for barbecue. But then, to quote Dale Robertson, “What wine doesn’t go with Texas barbecue?” While it may be tempting to find that perfect pairing, selecting a wine to go with barbecue can be like choosing a Thanksgiving wine, Roberson said. His advice: “Try not to overthink it.”