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Kids in Texas drink a lot of Big Red with their barbecue. But when it comes to pairings for adults, master sommelier June Rodil looks for wines that have good fruit, weight and richness—from premier cru Champagne to barrel-aged Chardonnay to Chilean Carmenère. Here are 12 bottles that will make this weekend's backyard barbecue endeavors taste even better.
This time of year, all eyes are trained on the grill. It’s basically barbecue-palooza. And if there’s anyone who knows how to pair barbecue with wine, it’s a Texan.
Enter the exuberant, dedicated, barbecue-pairing guru, master sommelier June Rodil, the beverage director for Austin’s McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group. She oversees wines lists for six distinctly different restaurants, one of which is Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue where brisket and ribs are on every table.
“You’re looking for wines with a really great, fleshy mid-palate," Rodil said. "Texas barbecue has a touch of sweetness to it. And it’s moist. It’s wet barbeque, for those who hate the word 'moist.' But it has a richness to it and a sweet-based fat. So your wine has to have weight and a rich mid-palate. And you’ve got to have fruit to your wine. I’m not looking for wines from the Jura or Austrian Rieslings when it comes to barbecue, as much as I love those wines. You’ve got to make sure there’s that kind of round, textural component to the wine. I think that things that give weight to wine are alcohol and sugar, so both of those are a consideration with these pairings.”
Here, Rodil’s recommendations for 12 wines that will make your backyard barbecue even happier:
1. 2015 Domaine Renardat-Fâche Bugey Cerdon
“This wine is low in alcohol, but you get your weight from the higher sugar content—it’s a sparkling wine that’s little bit sweet. Barbecue is a great high-low, you know? It's kind of a low-end food when you talk about Texas culture –something that you used to do in your backyard, but that's now flourished into restaurants and into the national spotlight because it just happens to be very, very delicious. Renardat-Fâche is in Bugey Cerdon, a super small region, with not many producers making something that’s only done there. It’s not supposed to be superexpensive. It’s just really, really delicious with a juicy mid-palate and beautiful fruit and bubbles! It’s easy.”
2. NV Krug Grand Cuvée Brut Champagne
“Why not? I love Champagne. It’s probably my favorite thing in the world. I will make it okay to drink Champagne with everything. If you’re celebrating and you love barbecue, Krug is a masterful, bold, gigantic Champagne that’s meant to go with anything. It’s not airy; it’s definitely rich. It’s got barrel fermentation to it. It’s made to go the distance and it’s got that roundness that I was talking about. Krug is bullet-proof. It’s big enough to go with something as bold as barbecue. And the toast from the barrels goes with the smoke from the meat.”
3. 2008 Weingut Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett Riesling
“First of all, Riesling goes with everything. Absolutely. And it’s the hint of sugar in this that goes with barbecue, for sure. A lot of times, I think people want a red wine with barbecue and often there’s not enough sugar in it. In Texas, a lot of people will put rubs on their meat that have a sugar or honey or brown sugar base, so it’s going to be inherently sweet. I wouldn’t suggest something going with a Spätlese or Auslese Riesling, because those are going to be too sweet to go with the savory components of the meat, but a Kabinett has just enough sugar. It’s like the perfect amount of sugar in your lemonade to balance it out. And Willi Schaefer is so elegant. It’s providing this lean, elegance, but it’s still a powerful wine.”
4. 2010 A.A. Badenhorst Family White Blend
"This is from Swartland in South Africa and it’s Chenin Blanc–based, but there’s a million other grapes blended in, too. There’s Grenache Blanc in there and some Viognier and some Roussanne—it’s basically like the whole kitchen sink. I love this wine because it has a little bit of age to it, which adds some complexity. And then there’s this great weight to the wine, without being sweet. With the Willi Schaefer, we’re pairing something with a little bit of sweetness, whereas with the Badenhorst, we’re pairing old vines and that complexity of fruit with something as simple as a slab of meat. It’s got really rounded, rich pear notes. Here, the sweetness comes from just the ripeness of the fruit, but there’s still this great acid balance to this wine that cuts through the fat so well. I would use it more with pork, pork ribs, for sure, rather than your heftier brisket. And it goes great with barbecued poultry, like chicken."
5. 2012 Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
"For me, Ramey is the Montrachet of California Chardonnay. It’s a colossus, but it’s so balanced. The acidity is amazing. It’s the last thing that hits your palate. So, even though you’ve got huge barrel aging here, you also have great, mouthwatering texture that just coats your palate and gets you ready for that smoke. The smoke from the barrel comes out. You also have acidity that cuts through marbelization of meat, especially if you’re eating something like brisket. I especially love big Chardonnays with dry-aged meat."
6. 2014 Broc Cellars White Zinfandel
“This pairing is just about being happy. The color of the wine is beautiful and vibrant. I love rosés. I think that rosés are just perfect for barbecue because oftentimes, you’re eating it in the summer, on a beautiful day, outdoors. And rosé is perfect for that. I wouldn’t steer anybody towards a leaner Provence-style rosé or something that’s very astringent in style, as much as I love them. You definitely want something fleshy like this Sonoma White Zin for barbecue—something with a little extra tannin and weight so you have a more balanced pairing. It’s so good.”
7. 2013 Domaine Charvin Côtes du Rhône
“This pairing is just juicy with juicy. We’re talking about big, red, bold fruit, juicy raspberry notes to go with this very simple meat. And I think that if you love the weight of barbecue on the palate, but you’re not a high-acid wine drinker, Côtes-du-Rhône is the way to go. It balances weight with fruit. Côtes-du-Rhône has that really rounded, glycerol feeling to it. Charvin is an amazing producer. I think they balance their alcohol well and it’s Grenache-based, so you’re going to get more red, juicy fruit to it, which for me, always has this great Twizzler flavor to it. Something in Texas that you drink a lot of as a kid is Big Red with barbecue. So, this is a Big Red soda and barbecue pairing right here.”
8. 2011 Clos Ouvert Carmenère
“Sometimes you’ll have barbecue that has a great peppery note and this Chilean red kind of punches up that savory component. There are a lot of pepper-based barbecue sauces and rubs and I think that Carmenère is really, really fun, because it punches up that spice. Rather than increasing the richness and sugar components of the barbecue, it punches up the smoke and the black pepper quality. I love this producer because, as much as I love Burgundy, it’s not the first thing that I think about drinking with barbecue. This producer is a Burgundian who moved to the Maule Valley in Chile, so…close enough. His technique is definitely more restrained than what a lot of people consider Chilean wines to be, but it’s still, for sure, Carmenère. I recommend drinking this chilled and it’s great with warm weather.”
9. 2005 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Grand Reserva Especial Rioja
“This is about a wine with age. It’s about bringing out that kind of aged, kind of tobacco component. There’s a lot of barrel here, but if you don’t like aggressive vanilla tones or coconut, they’re more subdued. There’s a lot of complexity to hold it together and the tannins aren’t too big, but they’re still there to give weight and texture to the wine. It’s just classic with sandalwood and smoke and tobacco and rich earth. You’re getting savory and sweet in the wine. And Ygay is such a go-to in Rioja.”
10. 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs
“When I think about barbecue wines, the first thing that pops up in my head, aside from rosé, is Zinfandel. And there are many, many Zinfandels out there, but Ridge is iconic and still at a wonderful price. And you’re talking about old vines, and more complexity. Zinfandel is great because you have juicy fruit and you have higher alcohol, so the balance is great. For me, Zinfandel always has this kind of weird stone fruit, canned peach quality—in a very good way—to it. And there’s nothing like Texas peaches and barbecue together. Ridge makes their wines totally natural. They don’t add anything to it. If you look at the label, everything is already there, on the label; kind of like an ingredient list—which is fantastic—they’re the pioneers of Zinfandel, and field blend Zinfandels, in California, for sure. 2012 is an awesome year, too.”
11. 2013 Jamsheed Syrah Beechworth
“This wine is fabulous. I have tasted it many times and every time I taste it, I’m so amazed by the quality. It’s from Australia, but it’s cool-weather Syrah. It’s from Beechworth, a little north of Yarra Valley, so it’s got a little bit of restraint to it. If you wanted to pair a northern Rhône wine with barbecue, you’d have to go Cornas. And there aren’t a lot of Cornas producers, right? There’s, like, two or three that make it into the United States, and then they’re all pretty expensive and allocated. And so here, you have that kind of feeling of rich depth of fruit, that meatiness of Syrah, that rich protein note, that black pepper, just a little bit of sweetness, but still balanced. This producer is rad. The wines are like no other Australian Syrah I’ve ever tasted. It clocks in at about 13 percent alcohol, and I would almost think, looking at the bottle and looking at the alcohol, that it wouldn’t have enough weight to it. But the fruit is so ripe, I was amazed by it.”
12. 2008 Tommaso Bussola Amarone
“This is the perfect synthesis of sugar and meat. It’s definitely higher in alcohol and you’re definitely talking about sugar. But I think Tommaso Bussola is also talking about drinkability. So you have all that wonderful earthy, meaty, complex flavors of Amarone. Amarone has that 100-year-old balsamic vinegar quality, so here, I would say you don’t even have to put any sauce on your barbecue. The Amarone is the sauce. I think the age gives it a little more ease, so it’s not too, too powerful."