BBQ in Style

Synonymous with summer is charred meat off the grill, preferably your own grill. I am a fan of the old punk adage D.I.Y. or DO-IT-YOURSELF and hosting a BBQ is about your marinades, your cuts of meat and your expertise in working the grill.

The more people you invite, the more tempting it is to serve beer to quench everyone’s thirst. But if you are like me, having a few bottles of red wine to go with your sizzling proteins can be handy. I am biased towards wine of course; I feel nothing makes for a better pairing with grilled meat. However, there are a few misconceptions about the type of wine grilled red meat calls for, so let’s do two things: address what those misconceptions are and talk about some wines that do wonders for grilled meat.

Red meat and full-bodied wines

The notion that meat, especially grilled red meat, requires a full-bodied wine is one the most prevalent stereotypes when it comes to wine pairings.

Winemakers do follow market trends and fifteen to twenty years ago when oak was in vogue, it was used generously and the grapes were picked later for riper fruit and fuller tannins. Although wine is a commercial product, I think good winemakers don’t follow trends like this but rather seek to understand what their terroir gives them in order to achieve optimal results each growing season. As the world consumes more wine, some beliefs have become ingrained, such as: red meat requires a hearty wine to stand up to it. But why exactly?

I think we should rethink this!

As a simple rule, remember that the less you cook your meat (and please bring it to room temperature before you put it on the gril), the fewer tannins are required in the wine. Tannins bind themselves to the proteins of the meat, creating a bridge so that new flavours can come forth on the tongue. An overabundance of tannins will flatten the meat; that is they will run roughshod over the textures and the buttery fat.

If you prefer to cook the meat more than medium rare, the meat fibres seize up and become firmer, less juicy and more compact. Think of the wine’s tannins in this way. Firmer tannins translate into a more tightly-wound body. I argue that if you swear by medium rare in terms of cuission for your red meat, then velvety tannins are required to go with it.

Freshness is acidity and acidity is good

A wine with fresh fruit and a hint of acidity can really work wonders with your grilled meat. Again, I am referring to wines where the grapes are not picked when overly ripe, have not had prolonged contact with skin in the pressed juice and have not been aged in new oak barrels. We are talking wines that exude a certain freshness.

I also like wines with acidity or zip. This can come in many forms –  think of  the touch of bitter sweet of a blueberry  – to create a perfect balance in your mouth. I think that this element is key with your charcoal-grilled meat, creating a happy medium in the mouth.

My ultimate summer wine for the BBQ is from Lisboa in Portugal.

And I am about to go on another rant below…

Misconceptions about “full-bodied” countries

We also take for granted that entire country produces a certain style of wine because a particular region of the country is known for that. Case in point, Spain. We think of the wines of Rioja as the quintessential style for Spanish reds. This is does not do justice to the plurality of terroirs, grapes, styles and winemakers of Spain, so the next time you hear someone say they don’t like Spanish wines, know that they are saying they don’t know Spanish wines.

We tend to use the same logic with Portuguese wines. Case in point, the Douro. The Douro region, long the region where Porto was king, has been making tannic, oaky and full-bodied wines for a quarter-century. Having been to a few tastings of Douro winemakers, I can say that at the end of the day, I really wanted a cold beer; my mouth was saturated by the tannins. Douro wines call out for protein and the local cuisine is full of it.

But I am not here to talk about the Douro, I am here to talk about the coastal wines coming from Lisbon. Lisboa reds are made with a variety of grapes; my pick for summer is Quinta da Serrandinha. Made with a blend of Touriga, Castelao, Baga and Alfolischero, this has everything that I look for in a wine for the summer grill!

My good pick at the SAQ