Spark It Up with a Global Cast of BBQ Wines!

Late spring marks Outdoor BBQ Season even though some parts of the country are waiting for the thaw! Serious BBQ deserves well thought-out wine pairings to meld with bold flavors from spicy shrimp on the barbee, to dry-rubbed pulled pork. BBQ preparations are not just about the US, though. Let’s face it, the grill is a cook’s tool of choice worldwide! The popularity of Korean BBQ or Jamaican Jerk Chicken can’t be denied. Why not think outside of the box and travel the globe when making savvy wine pairings? Be creative, but follow proven pairing tips.  

• Stick with whites and reds that display forward fruit on the palate but not cloying sweetness. Spice and a touch of sweetness go a long way in the pairing equation!

• Choose table and sparkling wines that are naturally higher in acid. Assertive flavors need cleansing acidity to provide a natural balancing act.

• Avoid high alcohol wines. Extra spice and high octane can be cumbersome! There are some exceptions, such as Californian Zinfandel, which sometimes teeters on 17% alcohol. Just make sure you’re sipping the old-vine with gobs of berry fruit!

• Toasty oak should be in the chip form for your smoker, not in the bottle. Zesty foods will only make your wine taste like a 2x4! Oak should be minimal; wines fermented in stainless steel are favored.

• Tannic reds should be left in your cellar to mellow! Think light to medium-bodied reds, which translate into lower alcohol wines that are more versatile for food pairing.

When it comes to pairing wines with BBQ, I have trouble sitting still in my home state of California, especially with the diversity of flavor possibilities out there! So let’s take a ride through some ideal matches!

(Menu items paired with two ideal wine recommendations)


Papaya-Jalapeno Glazed Mahi Mahi
- A crisp white with ample fruit and zest are critical here. I love to turn to Italy for an array of native cultivar, from Prosecco to Falanghina. Italian whites maybe the most under-appreciated white category in the world.

NV Sorelle Bronca - Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy ($15) - Prosecco makes for a wonderful budget-beater, usually coming below $15 per bottle. The Sorrelle makes for the perfect palate cleanser.

2006 Ca Dei Frati - Lugana I Frati, Veneto, Italy ($20) - Lugana is a noble clone of Trebbiano and has more length and body than many others, with all the mouth-watering acidity expected from this high acid varietal.

Slow & Low Cooked Pulled Pork - BBQ enthusiasts always have a good recipe for slow-cooked Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt in their arsenal. I find Spanish Tintos versatile and ideal companions where savory spice meets tender melt in your mouth shredded meat.

2005 Maurodos – Prima Tinto, Toro, Spain ($18) - Many Tintos from Toro can be too hard edged, but the Prima goes to the head of the class for accessibility, steering away from heavy oak. The sweet and spicy core of Tempranillo and Grenache fruit ranks high for personality and flavor.

2004 Pago Alto Landon – Manchuela, Castilla y Leon, Spain ($29)
- The Manchuela D.O. is coming on strong for its blends. Bold, dark black fruit flavors coat the palate to finish with silky and supple notes.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce - “Barons of the Grill” always get inspired by this Argentine classic! Chimichurri Sauce brings on that piquant element that makes you want a few more slices. I find that Montepulciano from the Marche in S.E. Italy and Argentine Malbec are perfect steak wines, as they can handle the fresh herbal and vinegar notes of the Chimichurri.

2005 Nicodemi – ‘Notari’ Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($15) - You want hearty flavors from your Italian varietals? Well, move over Sangiovese! Montepulciano from Abruzzo has made strides in the last twenty years. The Nicodemi Notari delivers the goods with a brooding meatiness that matches a meat lover’s appetite.

2005 Mendel – Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($23) - This 100% Malbec typifies the category! A lot of boldness for the price, and its dark saturated hue means all business without the clumsy new oak! Elements of smoke and supple blackberry in the core are a winning formula to handle the grill marks.

Hawaiian Hoisin-Glazed Baby Back Pork Ribs - I worked in restaurants in Hawaii for several years and these ribs top any pupu menu list. A super-spicy BBQ rib will be too hot for most reds, but the Hosin glaze has some restraints without losing the flavor. Big, jammy fruit notes are needed for this pairing!

2006 Broc - Vine Starr Red, California ($25) - A Zinfandel blend (67% Zin, 30% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah & 1% Mourvedre) that packs it in with oodles of boysenberry and cranberry notes. A no brainer for Pork Ribs!

2006 Teusner – Joshua, Barossa Valley, Australia ($24) - The land of Oz has a treasure trove of perfect pairing BBQ wines, but be careful with renditions that have new oak. The Teusner Joshua doesn’t see an ounce and we like it that way! Close your eyes and you might think you’re drinking a Cotes du Rhone on steroids! The cuvee is comprised of 65% Grenache, 25% Mataro and 10% Shiraz. The dark and expressive black and blue fruit laced with pepper makes for an afternoon BBQ delight!