In our Ask the Sommelier series, we speak to the world’s top sommeliers on your behalf. In this instalment, sommelier, founder of Bottles N Jars and co-author of Which Wine When, Bert Blaize offers recommendations on barbecue wines and the best bottles to pair with classic outdoor-dining dishes.
“I’m looking forward to a summer of barbecues (weather permitting), and while I always put a lot of thought into what’s on the grill, I’m never sure what is the best wine to pair with barbecue food. I’d love to get some suggestions for styles to look out for and what works best with specific barbecue dishes – like burgers, sausages, vegetables and fish. I know rosé often seems like the go-to for a barbecue, but I’m keen to explore some different options this summer.”
Joe from Dorset
Sommelier Bert Blaize responds:
“There are a few different approaches when it comes to barbecue wine. You can bring along some rosé or something sparkling, because they’re refreshing on a hot day and quite versatile when you’re consuming a lot of meat. That’s the obvious way to approach it, but the other way is to pair wines with specific foods.
“My first tip would be to choose wines from areas where barbecuing food is in their history and culture. For steaks and big meaty dishes, I’d choose a Chianti or Sangiovese, because those classic Italian trattorias always have a little fire in the corner where they barbecue cuts of meat. Those wines pair so well because they’ve got acidity and tart flavours, which are really good at cutting through any fat from the meat, complementing it nicely.
“Isole e Olena is a great producer. Their Chianti Classicos are beautiful, and they use three grape varieties to make them: Canaiolo – a traditional Tuscan grape variety used in Chianti, although not many people use it – Sangiovese, which is the classic, and then a little bit of Syrah. The resulting wine is super-elegant and well-blended.
“South African wines are another option, especially a Shiraz or the new wave of Syrahs coming out of Swartland. Again, you’ve got that delicate bit of spice, acidity, freshness and lovely red-fruit flavours. I love the wines from Savage Wines, and Jasper Wickens from Swerwer Wines is making some really cool wines as well – he makes a really good Chenin.
“I spent some time in South Africa and I really like how they treat fish there. A South African old-vine Chenin Blanc served with fish cooked over the fire would work really well. The classic idea would be to go for Chardonnay, but I think that Chenin has the edge with fish – it’s got some wonderful, well-rounded flavours. Alternatively, something from the Loire Valley would also be good with fish. There’s a pair of producers called Lise et Bertrand Jousset [Domaine Jousset] whose wines I’m drinking at the moment. They make a great Chenin Blanc – it’s really raw, full of personality and refreshing.
“With veggie dishes, I’d go for Viognier-based white wines from the Rhône Valley. From here, they’re typically based on Viognier, but they can have a blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and maybe some Grenache Blanc in there, too – they’re aromatic, fruit-forward wines with loads of structure. They work well with vegetables, even tricky ones to match wine with, like asparagus, or artichoke and aubergine.
Sausages – or any cut of pork – pair really well with Riesling
“When it’s hot, I crave a dry glass of Riesling – it’s so tasty, it resets your palate and it works with so many different types of food, especially barbecue food. Sausages pair really well with Riesling. Any cut of pork and Riesling is mega, when you get the fresh green apple or juicy pear flavours coming through. They’re really full-bodied wines and you’ve got a little bit of ripeness and sweetness, which balances well with things like sausages, pork chops and spicy chicken skewers.
“For burgers, I’d go for Bordeaux. It might be a bit old-fashioned, but Bordeaux reds go well with meaty dishes, especially aged beef and burgers, because you get these earthy, tertiary, mushroom-like flavours coming through that complement the meat nicely.
“One final thing to bear in mind is that people have a tendency to chill wines too much, especially in summer. When you chill rosé and white wine down too much, you can’t taste the flavours so well – but don’t be afraid to chill red wine. I think everyone drinks reds too warm, and whites too cold. In the summer, I like chilling down reds for half an hour in the fridge and then with white wines, take them out of the fridge an hour before you serve them, so you can bring them up to temperature in time for that food coming hot off the grill.”
Interview by Isabelle Aron