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Best Wines for Barbecue

Beer may be the first thing that comes to mind, but the right wines can be amazing with smoky barbecued meats. F&W’s Ray Isle names the best bottles to pair with ribs, brisket, pulled pork and sausage.

Some time ago, I had the odd honor of being a judge at the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue, one of the bigger meat-fests in the barbecue circuit. I can’t recall who won what, but I vividly recall walking up the stairs to my second-floor motel room, listening to two portly fellows loudly discuss the merits (and drawbacks) of possum and raccoon barbecue. In that context, pairing wine instead of beer with barbecue seems a bit twee, sort of like playing Chopin nocturnes at a Nascar race, but what the heck. What are cliffs for but to fling oneself off of?

Wines for Barbecued Ribs
Photo © Hector Sanchez.

Wines for Barbecue: Brisket

Being a Texan, my heart believes that real barbecue is made from cow, not pig, despite a lot of Southern evidence to the contrary. Anyway, that’s a battle to be fought by diehards. Ignore them. Drive to Louie Mueller’s in Taylor, TX, order yourself some of their sublimely excellent brisket, and then figure out some way to drink a good Cabernet blend with it. The 2009 Cameron Hughes Lot 249 Alexander Valley Meritage ($12) is a fine choice.

Wines for Sausage
Photo © Con Poulos.

Wines for Barbecue: Sausage

On the day that New York’s Hill Country BBQ decided it was a good thing to import sausages up from Kreuz Market in Lockhart, TX, the clouds parted, the sun shone, and all was good upon the land. Seriously. And if one were going to pour a glass of wine to go with these juicy, sublimely spiced links, I think a Zinfandel—itself a spicy number—would be the answer. The 2010 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($11) is an in-your-face example, in a good way.

Wines for Pulled Pork
Photo © Antonis Achilleos.

Wines for Barbecue: Pulled Pork

An excellent counter-argument from the South to this whole Texan beef-business. Good pulled pork (Sweatman’s, in Holly Hill, SC, about 50 minutes outside Charleston, is hard to beat) has a sublime balance of porkiness, juiciness, and smoke thatought to make Pierre Gagnaire wonder if perhaps he picked the wrong cuisine to specialize in. In South Carolina the sauce is mustardy and a bit sweet; in North Carolina, it’s more vinegary. I’d eat both with a dry rosé, though honestly if I did that I’d probably get my butt kicked. Try (if you’re willing to risk it) the fruity 2011 Frog’s Leap La Grenouille Rougante ($16).

Wines for Barbecued Ribs
Photo © Quentin Bacon.

Wines for Barbecue: Ribs

Frank Zappa, in his little-known but much-loved (ok: by a few freaks) anthem “Muffin Man,” intones this immortal line: “There is not, nor ought there be, anything so exalted on the face of God’s gray earth as that prince of foods...the muffin.” Hm. Let’s change that to ribs, ok? I can think of almost no instance when I wouldn’t trade whatever is on my plate for some truly great bbq ribs, like the ones from Mike Mills’ 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL. Lots of flavor, lots of juice, and, admit it, lots of fat—if wine is on the table, make it a big, brawny Syrah, like the robust 2009 Cambria Tepusquet Syrah ($22).

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