Wine & Barbecue: A tasty pairing in Texas

May 13, 2020

Wine & Barbecue: A tasty pairing in Texas

By: Nan McCreary

Everyone knows serving up barbecue is not just for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, it’s a year-round tradition in Texas. 
For those of us who like a little vino with our ‘cue, the options are many. To share in some ideas on how to pair the two, we asked some local aficionados for their opinions:

Joel Cowley, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: 
I always love a big, bold Cabernet with my brisket. 

Dale Robertson, wine columnist for the Houston Chronicle: 
If it’s going to be a New World wine, I’ll definitely go for a Lodi Zinfandel, because the explosive fruits and tannins handle barbeque very nicely. For Old World wines, I’d say Barbera because it kind of sounds like bar-be-que. Bar-be-que and Barbara…I just like the way it sounds. The Barbera grape is very compatible with barbeque sauces. As a corollary, I’d recommend Dolcetto, but it has to be fruity and can’t be on the lean side. 

David Heck, of Goodnight Hospitality and Master Sommelier: 
I think you should always go with a Syrah.  It’s smokey and peppery and has of lot of weight when it’s grown in a warm place like Washington or California.  I think it’s delicious with Texas barbeque.  We also grow some decent Syrah here in Texas.  If it grows there, it goes there.

Stephanie Earthman Baird, owner of owner of luxury wine consulting business, Journey Into Wine, and former chairman of the Wine Sales and Events Committee:
I like Barbeque paired with Syrah and Syrah-based blends because I often find that Syrah carries aromas of “bbq” smoke and pepper crusted meat.  They’re similarly attracted.  Yet opposites can attract too. Zinfandel is a similarly-flavored pairing, with the peppery and spicy nature of the wine. Or jump off the pit and try a rich rosé or even a White Zinfandel for an “opposites attract” wine to cool off the palate with spicy sauce on the BBQ.

Greg Morago, food editor for the Houston Chronicle and co-host of the BBQ State of Mind Podcast: 
I would go with wines that are crisper and not full bodied, something that will cut through fat.  Good barbeque, especially brisket, has a lot of fats in it, and you don’t want more richness in your mouth. 
I think you want something like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Gewürztraminer, or a Zinfandel if you’re going for a red wine.  A Gewürztraminer or an Albarino are good with Asian food because they’re spicy, so they pair well with brisket, because the meat is covered with pepper and you get the same sensation of peppercorns.

Guy Stout, corporate director of beverage education at Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirit and Master Sommelier: 
Something big, bold and juicy.  It can be a Zinfandel, or a Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon. I love Freakshow, it’s real juicy.  Also try a Devil’s Backbone Red Blend out of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County.  It’s big, bold and juicy.  If the barbeque is really spicy and hot, run the other direction. Get a nice, fruity Riesling. You want to put the fire out.

Phaedra Cook, Houston restaurant critic, food writer and founder of Houston Food Finder blog and newsletter:  
When people think about beef, the immediate thought often tends to be to pick up a Cab.  The more interesting choice is Syrah, either from the northern Rhone or one of the traditional Syrah blends, which include Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and/or Cinsaut from the southern Rhone. The typical, balanced dark berry and black pepper notes go with a dry rubbed beef or pulled pork beautifully.  That said, some of my favorite wines come from Italy.  Take a look at Aglianico, which many wine drinkers have never tried.  In addition to dark berry flavors similar to Syrah, Aglianico often has smoky undertones, making it perfect for not only Texas-style barbeque but grilled wine game as well.

Karin Singley, chairman of the Wine Events Committee: 
To me, it’s not about the meat, it’s about the sauce. If you use a vinegar-based sauce on your barbeque, serve an off-dry or semi-sweet wine, as it will cut through the vinegar.  Be sure to serve it slightly chilled.  With a tomato-based sauce try a Chianti because of the acidity.  If your barbeque is smoky and spicy, pair with Syrah.  This is a classic pairing. For just a basic barbeque, a GSM or Tempranillo is good.  My overall go-to barbeque, especially in the summer, is a Ramon Roqueta Cataluyna Tina 3 from Spain. It’s relatively inexpensive, and I serve it slightly chilled.

These recommendations are by no means exclusive.  Some suggest Malbecs from Argentina as barbeque-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 barbeque, as do the characteristics of a deep Rosé.  

Or go way outside the box and take Dale Robertson’s suggestion: Madeira. “In a brisket you get a lot of caramelized notes, just as you do in Madeira,” he explained.  “I thought this was a splendid pairing.  It kicked ass and took names.”