Wine Pairing

Spring 2007 CSANews Issue 62  |  Posted date : Jun 06, 2007.Back to list

Grilling and Wine
The beginning of spring is heralded by the return of the robin, the blooming of the forsythia and the uncovering and cleaning of the barbecue.

While sometimes working with fish or chicken, I prefer to grill and indulge in a huge rack of ribs. Baby back pork and beef ribs offer a good layer of flesh and fat, making them ideal for sauces that caramelize when grilled. The old cheese cliché, to wit – no fat, no flavour – certainly works for ribs. Sauces define grilling. The endless array of sauce recipes that complement pork and beef ribs also makes them ideal for wine partnerships.

If weather permits, you may want to dine outside. If so, be sure to choose an economy wine – one that is delicious, yet inexpensive. Why invest in a fine vintage when you won¹t be able to appreciate its subtle aromas? The wine must compete with the strong smell of barbecue smoke and the wind. However, if you plan on dining indoors, there is every reason to invest in a wine with more character.
Many people assume that a big red wine is the best match for heavy meats. But white wine and rosé can work extremely well with pork and beef ribs. The key is to consider both the tastes in the sauces and those in the wine and how they complement or offset each other.

If you are coating pork ribs in a sweet, fruit-based sauce such as a jalapeno peach sauce, choose a white wine with a hint of sweetness. While this sweetness would clash with the bitterness (tannin) in a big, full-bodied red wine, it is ideal to pair with the hint of sweetness in an off-dry white wine.

Let's look at a spicy horseradish sauce made of sour cream, prepared horseradish, mayonnaise, wine vinegar and dried mustard for pork ribs. Sour cream and mayonnaise possess fattiness. Horseradish sauce is spicy. So this concoction requires a big, luscious, full-bodied white wine to stand up to the fattiness of sour cream and mayonnaise. Yet, the wine should also have a hint of sweetness to offset the spiciness of horseradish. When shopping, check for the wine's sugar code or ask the wine merchant to provide this information. Choose wines such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer with a sugar code of one or two. Keep in mind that the hotter and spicier your sauce, the more sweetness is required in the wine. Hot and spicy fruit-based sauces need wines with a sugar code of about three.

Cantonese sweet-and-sour soy sauce made of pineapple, light soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, cornstarch and ketchup is a great sauce on pork ribs to pair with an off-dry rosé. This wine will have enough acidity (sourness) to pair with the saltiness of soy sauce and to offset the sourness of vinegar. Yet, the wine's hint of sweetness balances the sweetness of pineapple. Both the sauce and wine have sweet-and-sour sensations that balance each other. California's white Zinfandel is worth considering. If you are like me and prefer dry wines, you may wrinkle your nose at this recommendation. Try the combination anyway. You may well be surprised at how much you enjoy a sweet wine when served with sweet and/or hot and spicy food.

What about traditional barbecue sauce? Ketchup is often the base ingredient of many barbecue sauce recipes. It is high in sugar and so works nicely with an off-dry rosé – such as white Zinfandel – possessing a hint of sweetness.

Big, full-flavoured red wines work well with ribs, too. Be careful to stay away from sauces with too much sweetness. If you prefer fruit-based sauces on your grilling ribs, such as a raspberry preserve, consider using diabetic versions. Diabetic jams and preserves provide that delicious berry flavour without all of the cloying sweetness. Be careful when working with any sauce containing either a low or high level of sugar. Sugar burns easily and will cause the sauce to taste bitter. So, wait until your ribs are almost cooked and baste with your sugar-based sauce about 10 minutes before the end of grilling. Apply the sauce every few minutes in layers to slowly build up the glaze.
Some pre-made sauces contain sweetness in the form of various ingredients. Read the label. If one of these ingredients (as listed below) is revealed at the beginning of the ingredient list, the sauce may be too sweet to pair with a dry red or white wine. Here are some of the ingredients to watch for:

- White sugar
- Brown sugar
- Honey
- Molasses: light, dark, blackstrap
- Corn syrup: light, dark
- Fructose
- Jam and preserves
- Spreadable fruit
- Fruit
- Fruit juice and concentrate
- Catsup and prepared barbecue sauce

Ribs coated in preserves marry well with red wines offering forward fruit character and soft bitterness (tannin.) Heavy red wines with big bitterness clash with even a hint of sweetness in sauces. So stick to wines such as an Australian Shiraz or Grenache or Californian Zinfandel. Merlot is also a good choice.

If you plan on serving the same sauce at the dinner table, be sure to remove some of the sauce before you begin basting the raw meat with it.

See Pic 2 for a chart to make grilling and sipping easy.

Shari Darling is a syndicated radio and newspaper columnist – The Sophisticated Wino. She has written several articles and books on food and wine, the latest of which is entitled Harmony On The Palate. Harmony celebrates breakthrough principles in pairing wine with food, along with simple recipes and matching wine notes.

Shari is a member of the Wine Writer's Circle of Canada and the creator of the "Icewine Flavour Wheel" and "The Canadian Wine Wheel," learning tools used to educate food and wine lovers about Canadian wine.
For more information on Shari's books and wheels, please visit her e-shop online at: