Wine Wednesday: BBQ and Barolo? Pork and Pinot? Your Summer Grilling Wine Guide

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Well, it's summertime, and you know that means many of us would rather grill outside than heat up the whole house by cooking in the kitchen. At least that's my excuse. However, just because it's hotter than blue blazes, that's no reason to give up on the vino. But pairing wine with barbecue and grilled meats? That's sometimes a puzzler. For some solutions, I turned to two sources for advice.

The first was from a timely e-newsletter from Maria Pia De Pasquale and her husband Andrea Danti from 100% Italiano. Their suggestions were spot-on, especially if you're willing to limit yourself to wines from "The Boot," which I usually am fine with.

To complement the spice and sweetness of tomato-based barbecue sauces, they suggest a wine that is heavy in Sangiovese. As with a great red pasta sauce, Sangio is the perfect match, and they recommend Morellino di Scansano Poggio TreValle DOC. I drink this wine frequently and love the bold cherry and spicy notes that have made it one of our house "pizza wines." I'm ready to try it with some good barbecue now.

If you're grilling fish or shrimp, naturally you'd want a lighter-bodied white. 100% Italiano suggests a bottle of Bianco di Custoza Falasco-Valpantena DOC made from the Garganega, Chardonnay and Cortese grapes. This very affordable wine from the Veneto region of northeast Italy is surprisingly complex for such an inexpensive bottle. At around $10, you can afford to keep a few on ice.

Even though crawfish boiling season is just about over, you may still be hankering for some Cajun spice in your life. But it's difficult to find a wine to stand up to that delicious assault on your taste buds. Traditionally Rieslings are the go-to wine for really spicy food, but Maria and Andrea have a different suggestion for you: Benavides Vigna di Cecilia IGT. This 50/50 blend of Moscato and Garganega has the sweetness to compete with the salt and spice of Cajun food, but also the minerality and body to stand up on its own.

Since few people agree on what sort of sauce they want on their barbecue, it's extra difficult to pick an accompanying wine for your grill guests. When I attended the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival last month, I got some great tips from two experts in the fields of barbecue and wine.

Chris Lilly is a championship pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, Ala. Heath Porter is the director of wine at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Together, these two mad geniuses put on a seminar titled "BBQ & Wine." You knew I wasn't gonna miss that one.

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Lilly shared his method for smoking a pork shoulder and provided plates of barbecue for all the attendees at his seminar. He also presented four distinctly different sauces to challenge the pairing abilities of Porter. Lucky us, all we had to do was eat the delicious pork, drink the wines and take notes.

First up was a North Carolina style vinegar-based sauce with some sweet chili flakes to spice it up. As I said, Riesling is the easy match for spicy foods, particularly Asian-inspired sweet chili sauces. But Porter threw us a curve ball by recommending a rosé Champagne. The minerality of the Champagne plus the tart grapefruit notes set my tongue to watering and triggered the acidity sensors on the side of my tongue. This made a very nice environment to enjoy the vinegar-based sauce and the smoky pork. Try it some time!

Second in the tasting was a South Carolina mustard sauce. Now, mustard is always tough to match with wine, but the sauce also had some honey and nutty notes that at least gave Porter something to aim for. He chose a medium-bodied Pinot Noir from Patz and Hall. The essences of black cherry and earthy mushrooms were at least a match for the sauce, and the tannins in the Pinot cut through the fattiness of the pork nicely. In the end, I think I'd prefer to enjoy the sauce and the wine at two different meals, but it was a game effort.

Lilly's third sauce pairing was his Championship Red Sauce, which tasted exactly like 90 percent of Americans probably prefer their barbecue sauce, sweet and spicy. Porter responded with a selection that would be near and dear to the hearts of the folks at 100% Italiano: an Italian wine made from the little-known Aglianico grape. This varietal produces wines known for high acidity and firm tannins, not too different from the Sangiovese. But the additional notes of chocolate and plum complemented the sweeter red sauce quite nicely. You might have to ask your favorite wine monger personally to locate a good example of this wine, as they're not that popular on the store shelves.

Finally, Lilly served up some of his sweet rib glaze, which included exotic ingredients like cherries and jalapenos. Lilly gave the audience a nice tip for his favorite way to serve ribs at home if you don't already have a pre-prepared rib glaze. Take your go-to barbecue sauce and cut it 50/50 with a fruit or pepper jelly to add the sweetness necessary for a good glaze. To match a wine with this complex melange of flavors, Porter had to dig deep into his bag of tricks for an obscure Austrian wine made from the Zweigelt grape. I say it's obscure, but only because we don't import much of the is type of wine, made from a cross between two other Austrian grapes. In Germany and Austria, Zweigelt is quite popular. But don't let them hog it all, because this extremely complex wine demostrated a healthy acidity and dryness to work very well with the sweetness of the sauce and the fattiness of the pork. The nutty black pepper finish also went great with the shoulder and encouraged you to have another bite, then another sip, then another bite. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So that should get you well on the way to trying out some new wine pairings with the meats that come off of your grill this summer. Do you have any particular favorites you'd like to share?

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