Wine Guy Explains Wine Things: BBQ and the Search for Smoky Animality ... Plus, How to Avoid Drunken Magnanimity
SQUID INK: It's time to fire up the Weber and make some hamburgers. What kind of wine should I have on hand?
LOU: A medium-rare, charcoal-grilled hamburger will have a bit of smoke from the hardwood charcoal, wrapped up in an atavistic interplay of fat and sweet animality, so you have that to work with when pondering a good wine match. In addition, if it's hot out, I don't want to drink my wine warm, and I cannot understand why people drink room-temp wines when room temp is 80 degrees or above.
What's a wine lover to do on a boiling BBQ day, then?
Think of wine as a refreshing beverage! So, a red that likes being served cool is a good place to start. In warm-weather drinking, "full-bodied" means all you'll taste is the wine, so no Petite Sirah or a massive old-vines Zin, though you often see people recommending such wines with grilled or barbecued food. And this isn't the time to pull out that first-growth Bordeaux you've been saving for a special occasion -- hide those bottles so that you don't grab such a wine in a moment of drunken magnanimity. Really? You want a wine that goes to 11 with that mess of smokey-spicy pulled pork? You're not going to enjoy the pork or the wine. If you're dead set on drinking a wine that has some stuffing, pick a balanced wine that's not too oaken, like White Rock's Cabernet Sauvignon -- but again, serve that on the cool side, too.
What about a simple regional Burgundy?
You're typically not going to get a ton of fruit at that price point -- you're going to get minerality and acidity, instead. So, I'd go with something that has some fruit and is also lowish in tannin, like a good cru Beaujolais, served cool. I like it at 55 degrees. What about a Morgon from Foillard? His Cotes du Py is terrific. From our own shores, if you can find it in Los Angeles, Mike Dashe's "l'enfant Terrible" would be a wonderful wine to pair with grilled burgers.
What's "l'enfant Terrible"?
It's a Zin he makes that's vinified like a good Beaujolais. An elegant and not over-extracted Pinot Noir would be great, such as Steve McIntyre's Monterey Pinot. Then, there are also wines that have animality in them because of the wild-yeast fermentation, like Clos Roche Blanche's Touraine "Cot." I do not say this lightly but there's a fabulous nero d'avola made by Arianna Occhipinti, a winegrower from another dimension.
Italy, I assume, has other examples?
There are any number of Italian country wines I could recommend that have a bit of animality and smoke to them, like a good Langhe Nebbiolo such as Parusso's (I do not think a complex, ethereal, aged Barolo is really appropriate for burgers), or if you like, a Ruche from Piemonte or perhaps a Lagrein from the Alto Adige.
A less orthodox approach would be to pair a white wine or even a sparkling wine with the burgers. For whites, I'd grab Lou Preston's "Madame Preston"; for sparkling, a clean, fresh Crémant d'Alsace that itself functions almost like a beer. One I like very much is Huber-Bleger's Rose of Pinot Noir.
Moving on to ribs.
Memphis style are my favorite. I love the dry rub sprinkled on at the end. With pork ribs, if they're smoked and sauced, depending on the heat, I want something to cut through the fat and the spices. But i'm not looking for something with a lot of character -- that's going to distract me from my carnivorous gluttony ... you're deep into the ribs, and come up for a refreshment. I'm thinking an Austrian white wine, non-Gruner or Riesling, would be great -- Mantlerhof Roter Veltliner, or Wimmerr-Czerny Traminer or a lighter-bodied Austrian red, like Spatrot Gebeshuber's Rot Klassik, served cool. Or, how about a Slovenian wine, like Santomas, Big Red, 2006, made from a grape called Refošk. There's tons of acidity there; you won't even notice it with the pork fat.
Any notes of caution?
So many times people slop on the barbecue sauce, a sure wine killer if there is one. If you're going to go the high-sauce route, drink beer or perhaps a rose with a bit of residual sugar. If you're feeling flush, Camille Saves Champagne rose, if not, the Kalmuck rose from Gritsch.
I pity the people out there who don't drink wine.
You know what'd be great? Bordelet's dry pear cider made from 300-year-old trees.
Lou Amdur, of Lou: A Wine Bar, submits himself to Squid Ink's interrogation once a week. You can also find Lou most Tuesday through Saturday nights in person at Lou, 724 N.Vine St., L.A., (323) 962-6369 or www.louonvine.com.
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