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Tailgating 101: What to Drink with Barbecue

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© © James Baigrie
Barbecued Brisket with Burnt Ends

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 themerits (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?

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 2008 Cameron Hughes Lot 249 Alexander Valley Meritage ($12) is a fine choice.

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 ofwine to go with these juicy, sublimely spiced links, I think a Zinfandel—itself a spicy number—would be the answer. The 2009 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($12) is an in-your-face example, in a good way.

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 2010 Frog’s Leap La Grenouille Rougante ($14).

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 2008 Cambria Tepusquet Syrah ($19).

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