Just because the San Diego Chargers are not living up to pre-season expectations doesn't mean your tailgate should follow suit. A well-chosen wine with your pre-game barbecue might just make you a parking lot MVP.
Modern styles of wine offer a delicious alternative to beer with traditional low and slow barbecue, and one that might make your cooler a little bit lighter, too. Now more than ever, wine has a place next to a steaming hot plate of slow-cooked smoked meat slathered in sauce.
When pairing wine with food, the first and overriding issue is matching the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Modern wine style has higher alcohol content and more pronounced oak influences than past styles. Higher alcohol and more oak (American oak in particular), equate to heavier wines that can stand up to the massive flavors produced during the meat-smoking process.
Most wine professionals suggest zinfandel as the classic choice to pair with barbecue, and quite frankly, it is a great option. Zinfandel's jamlike fruit character and predisposition to working well with American oak make it a natural partner.
That being said, zinfandel does have its drawbacks. First of all, it comes in a wide variety of styles so finding the right bottle is sometimes a challenge. Also, zinfandel can be extremely high in alcohol and that will exacerbate the sometimes-spicy flavors of barbecue sauce throwing the dish, and your palate, out of whack.
For my money, Argentinean malbec is the new leading wine to pair with smoked barbecue. Generally speaking, these wines are relatively inexpensive, easy to find, and consistently similar in style. They offer generous American oak, dense fruitiness, and a full body. Most retailers will have a number of these modern wines to choose from, with excellent versions costing around $15.
A properly paired wine enhances and lengthens the flavors you experience. In this instance, creamy American oak plays with the sweet smokiness of the meat while concentrated plum and blackberry flavors, inherent in malbec, intermingle with the rich barbecue sauce all combining in a way that will make your tongue twist.
If you want to try pairing wine with low and slow barbecue, but don't want to invest the 12 hours it takes to smoke a brisket, head out to The Viejas Outlet Center in Alpine on Oct. 17 for the fifth annual Smokin' in the Park barbecue competition and let the pros do the cooking for you.
The award-winning San Diego-based Smoke-A-Licious barbecue team will again be participating in the festivities.
"Barbecue is just another form of good food ... so people who have a passion for good wine, will find the complex flavors of both items work well together," said Smoke-A-Licious Pit Master Dave Vindiola.
So grab a bottle of malbec from Argentina and see for yourself how wonderful wine can be with barbecue. Your food, and the Charger struggles, will both be a little easier to swallow.
Mark Stuart is a certified wine professional, educator, judge and columnist. Send him your story ideas or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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