As much as I love Q4U’s fresh-squeezed lemonade, I do wish it had a beer and wine license. Ideally, that will be remedied soon. On the other hand, the absence of beer or wine at a restaurant specializing in slow-smoked barbecue eliminates a tricky problem: What to drink with foods like smoked brisket, baby-back ribs with sauce, barbecued chicken, spicy sausage, pulled pork and the like.
It’s true that beer is always a good choice to go with ’cue. And the lighter the better for me at least, since beer tends to be a filler-upper; I don’t want to have to give up stomach space best filled with barbecue! So there’s nothing wrong with a bottle of Corona or can of American light beer from Coors, Bud, Miller, etc. Better yet, get your lips around a bottle of good German or Czech lager to sip, especially with milder flavors like pulled pork, barbecued pig, catfish and such.
But with the bold and brawny smoked flavors of barbecue—and I’m talking here about barbecue, not grilling—I find it fun to tinker around with different wines, especially reds. As I always advise when it comes to food-and-wine pairings of any sort, drink what you like with whatever you want to eat. Unless you’re being paid to find perfect matches, like a restaurant sommelier, why not have some fun trying out wines with foods that might not seem obvious?
Malbec with barbecued beef brisket or spareribs, for example. I like Malbec with barbecue in part because it’s generally easy on the wallet. Sure, you could spend $110 on an exquisite bottle of Malbec like Achaval-Ferrer 2004 Finca Altamira. But why bother? After all, you’re probably going to be eating barbecue with Wonder Bread buns and mayo-drenched potato salad, so save the expensive stuff for a more refined meal. Barbecue is about anything but pretense.
There are plenty of bottles of good South American Malbec available for under $20 (like Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve, La Posta Paulucci or Bodegas Salentein) and some for under $10 (such as Los Cardos, Trumpete and Terrazas de los Andes). It’s no coincidence that Malbec should pair so well with beef. After all it is Argentina’s signature grape, where some of the world’s best beef is also raised and eaten. But Malbec isn’t for the faint of heart, and neither is great barbecue. Malbec is rich, inky, potent, tannic, and its natural smokiness makes it a good choice for smoked meats. For an interesting comparison, pick up a bottle of Clos La Coutale Cahors ($14) to sample with your barbecued brisket. Cahors is the much-overlooked French wine also made from Malbec: a dark and stormy drink. And for you macho types—or if you’re just cheap—give Bonny Doon’s Heart of Darkness ($7) a spin with barbecue. It’s made from France’s Tannat grape, and will put hair on your chest.
Barbecued pork and poultry is likely to be cloaked in a smoky, spicy, sweet barbecue sauce. And since the meat itself is less hearty and rich than beef and game, you might want to back off on the tannins and earthly flavors that you find with Malbec and Cahors. An all-American Zinfandel is usually a good choice, with its ripe, jammy fruit flavors. But I also recommend an inexpensive Côtes du Rhone (made from Syrah) with barbecue, particularly barbecued chicken or turkey. Côtes du Rhone from Guigal ($15), Kermit Lynch ($14) and Perrin ($12) are all safe bets. Then again, a glass of lemonade with pit-roasted pig is pretty darned good, too.