Barbecue Britain

Published by Sally on May 16, 2009

A version of this article appeared first in Hampshire View, October 2008.

In the trust that Indian relief comes to summer this year, what is it exactly that makes good barbecue wine?

Barbecue and meat could almost be one word, they’re so synonymous. Sausages, chicken drumsticks and spicy wings, beef steak and pork chops, burgers.  Everything meaty imaginable.  However, even on the meat front, it’s the sauces and marinades that will influence your choice of wines. These often have a tomato or soy sauce base, so there are herbier or spicier flavours;  sweet and sour, sweet and spicy, smoky and sweet. Curried, Cajun and Caribbean rubs. The bottom line is big flavours. And there’s no getting away from the fact that big chunks of red meat beg for big chunky red wines with plenty of sweet fruit to complement those sauces and rubs.

But it’s not that simple. Delicate fish partly-steamed, partly-barbecued in foil, with a little basil, lemon, lemongrass, or white wine demand something without overt tannins and not so weighty. The tradition of white wine with fishy things is no bad one, but here something weightier rather than zestier works well, so more full-bodied and a little less acidity than sauvignon blanc for example.

Red with fish can work well too, and the thing to avoid is tannin, which makes fish taste metallic.  Pinot noir is the classic grape variety for fish, and it suits a brief chill-zone in the fridge. Cooling down reds a little accentuates the fruit and the acidity and makes any excesses of alcohol a little less noticeable, which is a good thing for the wine, but maybe not for anyone keeping tabs on their alcohol intake. Chilling down any red too much can exaggerate the tannins, and make the acidity edgy, rather than fresh, so just take the temperature down to 15/16°C from 18°/19°C.

Regardless of what goes on the barbie, an attractive element of smokiness is part of the game. Indeed aromatic wood chips can be added to hot coals specifically to impart gentle smokiness to the food. That’s a whole another world though – matching your wood chips with your barbecue foods – oak wood for beef, apple wood for chicken and fish, maybe.  Smokiness is fine for red wines, a touch of oak during winemaking usually adds an aromatic smoky note to the wine anyway. For whites though, the idea to bulk up the body of the wine is still the one to follow.

Barbecue – reds
M&S:  Domino de Plata cabernet sauvignon 2006, £7.49, Argentina. Smooth, succulent, sweet fruit.
Majestic:  Tinto da Anfora 2006, Portugal, Save 20% on Portuguese wines – £4,99  Juicy red berries; great quaffing, but watch the alcohol.
Majestic: Pirie Estate Pinot noir 2005, Tasmania. £14.99 each when you buy two bottles (chilled a little)

Barbecue – whites
Stone, Vine and Sun: Domaine du Grand Arc, Corbières Blanc, Veillée d’Equinoxe, 2007 France, £7.50. good weight with fresh-baked apples and dried honey notes.
Waitrose: La Monacesa Verdicchio di Matelica 2006, Italy. £8.39. Proper verdicchio with real character and weight, rich and smooth.

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