What Wine Goes Best with BBQ?
Jordan Mackay is the co-author, with the Austin-based BBQ star pitmaster Aaron Franklin, of Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. The book is a crazy success—a rare cookbook that bounded onto both the New York Times and Amazon best-seller lists—but one thing it leaves out is an answer to that vital question: What wine goes best with BBQ?
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All the more strange, since Mackay has primarily made his career by writing about wine. But as he said when I spoke to him, “Aaron’s not really a wine drinker. He loves beer.” Fair enough. (He also mentioned that Franklin really loves sushi, too; that one threw me—the guy who makes the most obsessed-over brisket in all of Texas eats sushi when he’s not at work? It’s a weird world over there in Austin.)
Regardless. Since Mackay is by self-definition a wine drinker, here’s what he’s got to say about wine and barbecue (specifically Texas BBQ, i.e. beef, which is what the book is about):
Rule #1 – Skip the Zin
“Everyone talks about Zinfandel and barbecue, but I’ve never had much success with it, especially brisket. Brisket is so rich, so heavy, and it has this dense meatiness. What I like best with it is northern Rhône-style Syrah, whether an Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie, or something like Wind Gap from Northern California.
Rule #2 – Try Contrast, Too
“Then there’s Pinot. With brisket, you’d think you’d need something big and heavy. But the right Pinot Noir—particularly ones from Oregon—can be great with both brisket and ribs. It’s like a boxing match. The brisket is the big heavyweight, but the wiry, quick guy can really stand up to the heavyweight.”
Rule #3 – Avoid Oak
“A lot of people will say an oaky wine goes well with barbecue, that the smoke and the oak barrel toastiness match up. I don’t agree. With smoke, the best pairing is a wine with rich fruit.”
Rule #4 – Don’t Worry About Tannins…
“When it comes to pairing wine and barbecue, the tannins don’t make as much of a difference as you’d think. Really good barbecue is fall-off-the-bone tender; you don’t need the tannic grip in the wine that you would with a steak, for instance.”
Rule #5 – …And Don’t Forget the Dang Pig
“Everything I’ve just said also applies to pork ribs.”
Though he lives in San Francisco, Mackay has his Texas bonafides down; his family moved to Texas when he was 8, and he spent the majority of his life in Austin. But even that—and even co-authoring the book with Aaron Franklin—doesn’t allow him to skip the famous 4-hour line at Franklin’s.
“Aaron’s literally one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met,” Mackay says, “but he has so much respect for his customers and the lengths they go to eat his food that I’d never ask that of him. The thing is, though, you turn waiting in line into a really fun activity. You set up some lawn chairs, bring a cooler full of beer and just have a good time.”
Or wine, Mr. Mackay. A cooler full of wine.