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Pairing Southern staples: Which wines pair with Southern barbecue?

Shreveport and Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau/Flickr

Slicing brisket at Real BBQ and More in Shreveport

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Pairing Southern staples: Which wines pair with Southern barbecue?

What could be more refreshing than a cold beer at an outdoor barbecue? While it’s hard to beat this simple, tried and true brew, we're here to make a case for a different pairing — wine. 

Yep, from cava and shriaz to even riesling, wine can be a suprisingly fantastic drink alongside smoked meats and a great way to raise your barbecue game to the next level.

There are a couple of rules of thumb, but they're easy to follow: 

First, avoid Old World reds. Typically, most barbecued meats come coated with a hardy spice rub or a sweet and acidic barbecue sauce. A nuanced Bordeaux or Nebbiolo can be obliterated under a wave of paprika and ketchup. Second, it’s hard to go wrong with bubbles. Whether dry or off-dry, the crispness of cava or prosecco can be a welcome respite to a sticky rack of ribs. 

If you want to go deeper beyond these basic rules, we've got plenty of suggestions for you. Consult this list before you plan your menu: 

Pulled pork with a ketchup, vinegar or mustard sauce: Bubbles and spritz

The complexity of a barbecue sauce — often made with a combination of ketchup, vinegar, sugar and mustard — can throw a monkey wrench into pairing plans. A wine with too much subtlety, such as a young Oregon pinot noir, may get lost. On the other hand, a monster wine, like an aged Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, runs the risk of butting heads with the sauce to create momentary palate fatigue. What’s the solution? Reach for the bubbly. 

While you may want to keep your best Champagne for a fancier affair, more budget-friendly sparkling wines like Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, or even some blanc de blancs can pair nicely with just about any barbecue sauce. Even the zing of an East Carolina vinegar sauce is held in check with the dry bite of bubbles — think sparkling wine with mignonette-soaked oysters. 

Moreover, a spritz cocktail can make for an even better pairing with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce. Bitter aperitifs like Aperol or Campari mixed with sparkling wine — use a ratio of two parts sparkling to one part bitter — bring astringency that shines through against any barbecue sauce. Tip: these drinks are most refreshing over ice.

Suggested Selections: 
2013 Raventós i Blanc L’hereu Cava
2014 Benvolio Prosecco

Memphis-style ribs: Bold and fruity shiraz

When you’re getting ready to cook spice-heavy, dry-rubbed Memphis-style ribs, look to a fruit-forward New World shiraz. Australia produces some excellent options at a reasonable price, and the balance of brix (a.k.a. sugars), tannins and acidity make shiraz one of the most food-friendly grape varietals on the planet.

Suggested Selections:
2014 Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz
2014 Yangarra “PF” Shiraz

Salt- and pepper-rubbed brisket: Peppery malbec and zinfandel

Perhaps the centerpiece of your BBQ dinner is a fatty, Texas-style beef brisket coated with salt and black pepper. Look for a wine with similar spicy, peppery notes, such as a South American malbec or a California zinfandel. The tannins in the wine will match up nicely against the fattiness of the meat, while the salt will bring out the fruitiness in the wine. 

Suggested Selections:
2014 Federalist Zinfandel
2015 Achaval Ferrer Malbec

Smoked poultry with Alabama white: Versatile riesling and un-oaked chardonnay

Leaner poultry such as chicken and turkey takes to the smoking process very well, and both are especially delicious with a mayonnaise-based white barbecue sauce. You have the option of pairing your wine with either the meat or the sauce; however, riesling can cover both bases. The spectrum of poultry-friendly rieslings can range from bone-dry trocken to sweeter spätlese styles, but the vibrant acidity and slight residual sugar of a kabinett riesling is truly the perfect pairing for your smoked bird. If chardonnay is more your speed, consider a New World chardonnay that’s been aged in stainless steel. The crispness brought on by the absence of oak is perfect for drinking outdoors in warm weather.

Suggested Selections:
2011 Strub Niersteiner Brückchen Kabinett Riesling
2013 A to Z Chardonnay

Photo Credit (Brisket): Shreveport and Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau/Flickr
Photo Credit (Pulled Pork): Anthony Quintano/Flickr
Photo Credit (Ribs): Fuzzy Gerdes/Flickr

Photo Credit (Chicken): Lauren Booker


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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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