When I was in my twenties, I wouldn’t have cared which wine I drank at a barbecue – indeed
Keep Your Head At The BBQ
Keep Your Head At The BBQ
as long as there was alcohol, I was happy. Elegance comes slowly to some of us, and yet as time passes even I find the determination to drink until I’m sick in the bushes is fading. There are wines which will add an extra touch of character to the efforts of the chef, here are a few tips for you to follow, or not.
Keep your head:
Make sure you don’t go for a wine that’s got a high alcohol content. Barbecues are synonymous with warm weather (unless you’re reading this in Scotland) and slightly salty food. Both create a thirst and slaking it with too much alcohol is not the answer. There are quite enough problems associated with barbecues – charcoal won’t burn; long delays in cooking; chicken burnt on the outside and pink in the middle – that creating another by knocking everyone out with highly alcoholic wine is another that you just don’t need. Go for something with an abv of 12.5% or lower, or be dammed.

Don’t go over the top:
Generally the food on the barbecue is very familiar, but made different by the use of marinades, charring and simply by having the dining room and kitchen outside. So be aware that some trusted matches won’t work, for example: steak and a gutsy Cabernet Sauvignon. This won’t work for two reasons, firstly the alcohol level is likely to be too high, especially if you chose a big New World wine. Secondly the tannins (the stuff that dries out your gums if you chew a grape pip, or drink stewed tea) in the wine will react with the tannins created by charring meat and will dry your mouth out.

Keep cool:
After choosing something refreshing with a lower degree of alcohol, make sure that it’s something fruity, low in tannin which can be served chilled. This doesn’t rule out red wines. There are plenty of reds that fit the bill. Beaujolais, although quite unfashionable due to the Nouveau overload we saw in the ‘80s, is made from the Gamay grape which is both light in tannin and very fruity. There are many types, the best being named after the villages they come from such as Morgon, Fleurie and St Amour.

Cushion your landing
If you’re still intent on bigger and more robust Red then a young Rioja can work well. Rioja is a good match not only for red meat, as you’d expect, but also for chicken and fish. Try it with sea bass or monk fish. Get something young and fun though. The older the wine, the longer it will have spent maturing in oak and so the tannin levels will be higher. So don’t go for a Crianza or Reserva as they’ll clash with sausages wearing leather jackets.

Whites are easy:
Dare I say it, German whites are ideal for afternoon drinking. A good German Riesling will be lower in alcohol and have a wonderfully refreshing, racy acidity. If you’re loath to buy German wines, look for a Riesling from down under – New Zealand produces some great examples. If you’re feeling adventurous, Albarino from Galicia in Spain offers delicate balance of citrus, sherbetty acidity and soft apricot fruit. It’s also a dream match for fish.
For a little more weight, add in a lively, fresh Chardonnay. Not one of the big oaky, alcoholic Aussies but a young, quaffing Southern French from the Pays d’Oc or the Languedoc region.

This might be the best match of all; as long as you avoid both the lolly-water saccharine sweet style and astringent paint-stripper rosé. Pick something from Provence for a delicious balance between soft tannins, a lovely dry acidity and yet a powerful weight of fruit.

Spare your wallet:
Spending a little more can often bring a huge increase in the quality of the wine you bring home. Bear this in mind, but don’t go mad. Don’t spend any more than £10 on a wine for a barbecue (or less than a fiver.)
Today’s experiment
Tell your friends. If your friends are accustomed to turning up at your parties with bottles of wine they bought for a fiver from the shop across the road, tell them to forget it. Or rather, ask them to bring food instead, maybe dessert. If they turn up with a frozen shop-bought gateaux then ask yourself, do I really like these people? Life really is too short.

Happy barbecuing!

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