When I started to conceptualize what has become a two-part column on pairing wine with barbecue, in all its forms, I decided to play a little game of word association.
It went like this: hamburgers, sangiovese; turkey burgers, gamay; ribs, syrah; steak, zinfandel; chicken, viognier and riesling; sausage, it depends.
Starting in the burger section, Chianti, which is made mostly from sangiovese, is a high-acid wine with an astringent texture that cuts through the fat of chopped beef. At the same time, its cherry and tobacco notes match up with rare to medium-rare burgers — from what I understand, very few true carnivores like them too well-done.
Look for Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi 2007 ($15). It is made by Felsina, one of the best producers of Chianti Classico, but it sits on less costly real estate.
Turkey goes well with gamay whether it is Thanksgiving or not. A bright, fruity wine from Beaujolais or elsewhere will make your turkey burger even juicier, especially if you mix fresh herbs into the meat.
Trenel Macon Rouge 2010 ($15) is an unusual treat, as it is a gamay from southern Burgundy that can’t be beat for the money.
Syrah’s chalky-feeling tannins create a good rub with the texture of rib meat. From a flavor profile, syrah, especially those from cooler climates, have a smoky spice quality that complements pork. A syrah-based wine such as L’Olivier de la Reze Minervois 2010 ($14) will do just fine here.
Steak and cabernet sauvignon always go hand in hand, but when grilled I think the heightened fruit of zinfandel makes a zestier pairing. You want to make sure there is enough tannin. Leaner cuts such as sirloin will be better with a moderately tannic zin such as Clos de Cal’s 2009 vintage ($15). Rib eye, meanwhile, requires sturdier tannins. Here, we’re going to go slightly higher in price, $20, for the s from the Applegate Valley in Oregon. Trust me, it is worth it.
Chicken really should be split into white and dark meat when pairing wine. White meat is very low in fat, meaning you don’t need to worry about acidity quite as much. A white Rhone blend with viognier should have enough body without overwhelming white meat, and its stone fruit, tangerine and banana qualities would be super with a citrus marinade. La Bastide Saint Dominique 2010 ($14), which is 50 percent viognier, is the wine to get.
If dark meat is your thing, try a dry riesling from Austria or France’s Alsace. Austrian and Alsatian versions have more body than their German counterparts. Allimant-Laugner Riesling 2010 ($14) from Alsace is simple but has all the components — acid, fruit and terroir — to make a great marriage with chicken legs.
Since there are so many different types of sausages, many wines can match. Chicken apple sausage goes well with Alsatian wines, especially a dry Muscat or gewurztraminer. Lamb sausages are great with many earthy red wines from Portugal and Spain, especially those that are made with tempranillo. Grenache-based wines from Spain or France can match just as well. The Germans will tell you that pork sausage is made for riesling, or beer, and who am I to argue?
This week was obviously all about meat, red and white. Next week, you can look forward to reading about grilled seafood and vegetables with wine. Until then, drink well.
- Note: Some of the wines mentioned are available at K&L Wine Merchants, Paul Marcus, Que Syrah, Rose Bowl Florist, Ruby Wine, Vintage Berkeley, William Cross Wine Merchant and The Wine Club SF.
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.