There are essentially two ways of cooking with fire – ‘the barbecue’ and everything else. The barbecue is more than just a piece of cooking equipment. It makes no difference whether it’s little more than a load of charcoal tipped into a wheelbarrow along with a whole packet of relighters from the garage, or a gigantic, gleaming stainless steel and cast-iron contraption that cost the same as a small car: barbecuing is an institution.
The important thing about a barbecue is that it involves a lot of meat, definitely some sausages and several marinades and sauces over which there will be much one-upmanship (particularly about their chilli content). Everything will be thoroughly charred, and will be accompanied by lots of clashing salads and probably a game of rounders. Food will be eaten as smoke wafts up your nostrils (this might be the beautifully, atmospheric scent of wood-smoke or the acrid fumes of melting plastic after you accidentally put the cutlery down on the grill).
When I talk about which wines to drink with barbecues, this is what I have in mind. It makes lots of sense to match all these bold flavours with a bold red. The South Africans are barbecue (OK, braai) experts, and I always find that the juice and power of big reds from the Cape work especially well. Try the rich structure of a Bordeaux blend: that’s a wine made from the grapes used in claret, based on merlot and cabernet sauvignon, perhaps with cabernet franc or petit verdot.
I love the warmth and generosity of Antony’s Yard 2014 Graham Beck South Africa (£8.99, Majestic). Alternatively, if you like really strong flavours, maybe pinotage is for you. This marmite of a grape was produced about a hundred years ago by crossing pinot noir with cinsault, and its flavours are extreme: think smoke and roasted coffee. It is more than capable of squaring up to charred meat and barbecue sauce.
Other options in the same vein include shiraz from Australia. Go for a wine from the Barossa Valley for a full, high-alcohol, blood transfusion of an experience. Or pick a more restrained incarnation of the grape from the Heathcote region for earthiness, growl and some of the peppery flavours you find in wines from the Rhône.
Another way to deal with all the shouty food flavours is to choose a wine that’s the exact opposite. Find a red that is svelte and sappy, with energy and a bit of bite. I’m thinking of grapes such as gamay (which is used to make beaujolais) or pinot noir. Chile produces bright, crunchy, cherryish pinot noir that fits this sort of occasion: try the Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir 2014 Chile (£7, Morrisons), or go a step up to the Cono Sur Reserva Pinot Noir 2014 (£10, Morrisons). Finally, as so often, rosé – any sort of rosé – is your friend. Just make sure that you’ve got enough of it chilling in the fridge.
Like this? Now read…
What do you normally drink with your barbecue? Tell us in the comments below…
Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta), is out now.