Question: What should you drink with a big slab of ribs, dry rub upon dry rub and thick, sweet BBQ sauce?
Question: What should you drink with some hickory smoked spicy sausage?
Question: What should you drink with an overflowing pulled pork sandwich?
Question: What should you drink with the biggest, juiciest, 10 hours on the smoker, brisket?
Answer x 4: Whatever you like, whatever makes you happy, of course.
Most of us would tend towards a frosty brew. Right? Nothing wrong with that, absolutely not! But what if... What if we took all that experience we have of matching up our wines with a Thai dish, or a pasta, or a cheese board, or a rack of lamb, or... and applied the same logic, the same theories, the same experimentation to all those tasty treats that come off the smoker? Just what if?
Fortunately we found someone, Don over at Que Syrah Fine Wines on Southport, who does this all the time. We just got back from his annual sit down BBQ pairings evening and once again he found some amazing match-ups and gave us many thoughts to take away with us. I'm not sure what goes on inside his head when he sits down to write his 'menu' for the evening, but the result is good. Always good! Even without the wine we eat really well, with all the treats coming in from Smoque over on Pulaski.
If I said "we're doing BBQ tonight, go grab up a bottle of Gewürztraminer" you might think I was nuts. With Don's guidance, I know I am not nuts. We started with a Spicy Smoked Sausage and he brought out a Gewürz and a Chianti. Throughout the group the Chianti was scored as a good wine, a good match, but the Gewürz was better. To make this even more fun, it was from Ohio - Firelands Winery, with the grapes coming off of the small and limestone cave packed, Isle St. George. It's a sweet wine, so in this case opposites clearly attract.
Next up, Pulled Pork. A Tempranillo and a Pinot Noir (although they opted not to call it a Pinot because of the blending with Syrah) joined in. Both had some tannins front and center, both were balanced and full bodied - big but not too big. We scored the Pinot Noir (Penner-Ash "Rubeo" out of Orgeon) a slightly better match with the dry moistness (is that a fair description) of the Pulled Pork, but if you have a thing for Tempranillo's (Triton - Castilla Y Leon out of Spain) you won't be disappointed.
There's no getting around it, this is the messy group - the ribs. Less sauce equals less mess, generally, and that's how I do them, but most of the group went heavy on the sauce and therefore heavy on the finger licking. Out came a Zinfandel (a red, not a refrigerated one - not that there's anything wrong with that...) and a Rose. The Zin (Joseph Swan Vineyards) had a goot bit of spice up front which played nicely with the rub on the ribs, and a nice long finish. The Rose (Charles & Charles) started life as a Syrah, but ended up as a surprisingly great match for these ribs. The acid up front also works with the rub, the long even finish perhaps a little better with the sauce. Hard to split the two in terms of pairing them with the ribs, but if you're craving a bigger oomphier wine the Zin should get the nod.
And finally, the Brisket. Perhaps the easiest to make a guess at what should match. A big piece of meat certainly suggests a big meaty wine. A big smokey piece of meat certainly doesn't suggest anything different. A Malbec (Altos, out of Mendoza) and a Petite Sirah (Ridge out of Sonoma) came out to join in the fun. Both great wines, both ran out too quick, both were built for this Brisket! The Malbec was a bit spicier on the the pallet than the Syrah which was more peppery. Both long(ish) finishes that hang around with your bite of brisket, but neither is really just grab a bottle and go watch TV - they both really need some big things going on around them. If I had to pick a favorite it's the Malbec by a whisker.
Bottom Line? Wine works with BBQ!
Which ones? Well, as we saw this evening, there's lots of room to experiment and succeed. But it's hard. Fun, but hard. The Tasting evening we did was a great jumping off point for us to explore (we're kind of sad we didn't have this refresher course before heading for a weekend in Kansas City...), but if you can't get to a tasting like this I'm quite sure your favorite wine store will be able to help you find a wonderful match. If you want to go it on your own it seems there are two places to start your search - either try match up your big smokey meaty flavors with a big smokey / earthy / spicy wine or look for opposites and match up a spicy / zingy / tangy sausage and / or sauce with a sweeter or crisper wine, even a white. Good luck!
I think BBQ is the perfect example of how wine should be fun, never causing stress... Worst case, you make a mistake, tuck away your experience in the memory banks and try again next weekend...