The Grape & The Grain: BBQ wines


Those Australians have a lot to answer for. Strike a match to light the ‘barbie’ and it’s become almost second nature to reach for an ‘ice-cold tinny’ to go with the burgers and sausages.

There’s nothing wrong with a cool lager to wash down barbecued fare – a light beer on a summer’s day can really hit the spot, and the acidity in the lager can do a good job of cutting through the smoky notes of the food.

Yet a wee bit of food and wine matching can produce some delicious results to enhance a BBQ, whether it’s a deep red to go with steaks, sausages and burgers or a crisp white to pair with chicken or fish.

Marks & Spencer’s 2012 Barbera D’Asti (£8.49) has it all – it’s full bodied, has high acidity and gripping tannins to handle red meat. The nose on this classic Italian red from Piedmonte is dominated by black cherries, with leafy and chocolate notes. On the palate, the cherries last all the way through to the finish, with some spicy white pepper before breaking into a touch of chocolate at the end.

In a similar vein, the 2012 Vina Zorzal Graciano (£6.95) from Navarra in Spain by The Wine Society is also a rich black cherry colour, with cherries and sweet cinnamon spices on the nose. In the mouth, the cherries are joined by sweet chocolate and mint notes on the finish, with chewy softer tannins making it a good match for red meats.

Graciano is one of the grapes used in the neighbouring Rioja region for blending, so it’s interesting to see it here on its own. The wine has only spent four months in oak casks, so the fruity flavours are still to the fore.

Red wines from Bordeaux are a classic match for beef and lamb, and Majestic’s 2008 Cheateau Le Vivier (£8.99) didn’t disappointed when paired with barbecue flavours. Made from a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, the wine showed plenty of acidity and tannins to stand up to the food, with a lovely mixed of blackberries and redcurrants on the nose following through onto the palate.

This chateau in the Medoc, on the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, was owned by the famous Lafite Rothschild winery until 1990, when it was sold to the Charloux family. Le Vivier has the largest underground cellars in the Medoc, nicknamed ‘The Cathedral’ by the locals.

Further south, the dark reds of Minervois in Languedoc-Roussillon are also good go-to wines for the deep, charred flavours of a BBQ. This 2012 Chateau Moureau Minervois (£9.25) from wine merchant Corney & Barrow is an excellent example. On the nose, there are notes of strawberries and black cherries, with a touch of oak and the slightest whiff of a bonfire. The black cherries and vanilla are joined by damsons, mint and hot white pepper spices in the mouth, with a smooth velvety finish.

Those Australians may have given us the ‘tinny’ to go with the ‘barbie’ but they’ve also been kind enough to supply us with the 2012 Yalumba Old Bush Vine Grenache from the Barossa Valley, best known for its powerful shiraz. This wine from the Co-operative has complex aromas of strawberry, redcurrant, raspberries and damsons with smoke and leafy notes. It’s full-bodied, with warming alcohol, a rounded body and ripe tannins with the complex fruit flavours joined by black pepper and a bitter, dark chocolate finish. Delicious.

One wine that also caught my eye was Sainsbury’s 2012 Taste the Difference Chilean Merlot (£8). There’s a lot of cheap Merlot flowing in from Chile, but this red wine packed a punchy mix of black cherry and damsons on the palate, with earthier notes and some touches of vanilla. Surprisingly good for the price.

The Merlot’s sister wine, a 2013 Winemaker’s Selection Chilean Chardonnay (£6), also hit the spot, with the oak ageing adding a rounded mouthfeel, while still retaining enough acidity to work with barbecued chicken. There were touches of vanilla and cream from the oak on the nose, coupled with lemon and peach aromas. Those fruits were still there on the palate, along with notes of hay or straw.

Also showing off its fruity flavours was the 2013 Janare Falanghina del Sannio (£7.25) from The Wine Society. Lots of ripe peach notes on the nose, joined by lemon, melon, grapefruit and even some floral aroma, giving way to ripe peaches, apricots and floral touches on the palate. All the ripe peach flavours were nicely balanced against the fresh and bright acidity, helping the wine to stand up to the food.

I wasn’t a fan of South African Chenin Blanc until I tried the Finest wine that Ken Forrester made for Tesco a few years ago. Forrester is a highly-respected winemaker and is now working with Marks & Spencer on its 2013 Workhorse Chenin Blanc (£8.49), which hits a beautiful balance between acidity and fruit. The wine is bursting with flavours of ripe peaches, a touch of honey and a sharp, refreshing flinty edge.

Staying with South Africa and the 2012 Rustenberg Chardonnay selected from the Stellenbosch region by Edinburgh-based wine merchant Great Grog had enough body to stand up to food but still had a refreshing zing thanks to its high acidity. Lemon, butter and vanilla notes on the nose gave way to more complex almond and even marzipan flavours on the tongue.

Two Sauvignon Blancs also fell into that same refreshing vein – the 2012 Cimarosa Sauvignon Blanc (£5.69) from Lidl and Corney & Barrow’s 2013 Ana Sauvignon Blanc (£11.25). The Cimarosa had powerful aromas of asparagus, gooseberry, fresh cut grass and cat pee, as you would expect from a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with crisp and bright acidity. The Ana is more rounded, giving asparagus, gooseberry and some stonefruit notes like peach and apricot on the nose, joined by a slight hint of honey on the palate. Both wines nicely cut through the BBQ flavours, with the Ana proving to be my favourite out of the two thanks to its finer balance between the acidity and the fruit.

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