Do they have barbecues in Heaven? Hmmm, with all those flames and cholesterol it sounds like a pastime for much further below. But if somewhere up there a barbeque were conducted – one perfect day, in a cloudless infinity – here are some hints on what the Choir of Angels would likely be quaffing.
Since they have eternity to do it we figure they’d get bored of their wines, so we’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices. Sorry Cotes du Rhone drinkers – we still love you, but…
Three of our favourite barbecue wine styles:
Never thought of serving sweeter style Riesling at a barbecue? Why ever not! With refreshing acidity to match the sweetness, it is an absolute delight as an afternoon aperitif. (Close call, mental note: never use the words ‘afternoon delight’ for a wine). Also, the sweetness will handle spicy foods and richer flavours, which puts you in good stead for most combinations. But more importantly, nothing cuts fatty meat or matches pork so well as Riesling. And with sausages being, as it were, the ‘meat in the sandwich’ of most barbeques, it seems that Riesling has finally found a role in every Kiwi home. Moreover…(please wait while we position our soap box)…a sweeter German style Riesling is also naturally low in alcohol! Lower in fact than many artificially reduced products. For example the legendary Dr L Riesling from Loosen is rich and complex, harmonious and effortlessly delicious alone or with food – but only 8.5 percent alcohol. Host responsibility prevents us from saying that you could drive after drinking a glass of such a wine, but you must take our point: Riesling adds convenience to… well, general magnificence.
And you don’t need to look as far as Germany for wines like this. Imported wine makes you look fancy, yes, but Kiwi producers have long since made gorgeous off-dry and sweet Riesling, some of which is arguably as complex and certainly as fresh and low in alcohol. Masters such as Astrolabe, Auburn, Riverby Estate and Framingham jump to mind. But really, in this style it’s hard to go wrong (well, depending where you buy it…).
As we know, Italian wines are made for food. But some can be so dry and complex they need to be enjoyed at the dinner table. Not so with Montepulciano however, a delicious grape based in the warmer mid-section of Italy, famously Abruzzo. For $20 something a well-chosen ‘Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’ can be refined and complex while retaining what makes it a great wine for the classy barbecue – a vibrant expression of dark fruits and spice. Apart from going beautifully with grilled meat, this moderate roundness and fruitiness marks it out from other Italians as a varietal the New World palate can rely on. Because Kiwi drinkers expect a bit of fruit – let’s face it. And that’s why a well-chosen Italian Montepulciano offers the perfect balance of classiness with a generous, easy-going appeal that’s crucial for lubricating small-talk around the barbeque. Impress your guests while serving something they like – perfect!
And if a guest tells you they’ve been to Montepulciano and loved the local wines, nod politely and treat them like the most knowledgeable and traveled people at the party. But don’t spoil the moment by pointing out their mistake – an often confused fact – that the central Italian grape bears no relation to the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, where mainly Tuscan Sangiovese is served.
There are some very good Montepulciano wines made in New Zealand. But due to the Kiwi palate mentioned above, these tend to be a little richer – with slightly sweeter/riper fruit and less of those stalky, mineral and savoury elements so effortlessly present in good Europeans. Montepulciano is also a rare grape in New Zealand, and the price can be as high as the quality. So for this purpose we would go European – and from a discriminating importer. Like Caro’s, for example.
Gallons of Pinot gets drunk at a barbecue, right? But what about Pinot’s close cousin, Gamay Noir. Gamay is better known as Burgundy’s little brother, Beaujolais. Unfortunately most people know Beaujolais in a regrettable manifestation, one with high market exposure but very low merit as a wine: i.e. ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’. But behind this baby-and-bathwater marketing misadventure lies a region of lime and granite-rich appellations that has spent a millennia making deeply serious wines to age and appreciate, just like Burgundy. The only difference being their wines are far cheaper.
Alright, the other difference is they are made not with Pinot but with Gamay Noir. People always talk about Gamay Noir like it is somehow less than Pinot – less complex, less complete and less dimensional. But you could flip this on its head: Gamay’s so wonderful because it knows exactly what it is! While Pinot flings itself about trying to be all things to all people – from Shiraz-drinkers’ wines in Central Otago to Burgundy-drinkers wines in Waipara and Marlborough – Gamay Noir suffers from none of that identity crisis. No matter where it lives it just chugs along, happily making pretty, poised, red berry and cherry aromatic reds with florals and minerals and a natural ability to put smile on your dial.
And at a barbecue it is generally rude not to smile. Even if it is a little weird to finally open up only when you get a whiff of a glass of Gamay (a condition that our less socially-confident staff-members may have suffered in their youth). But just to clarify why Gamay is such a great barbecue grape, let us consider again, for a moment, pork. A white meat, it requires a non-invasive red with berry and cherry flavours. Tick! Often spiced, pork requires a light-bodied, juicy red to avoid alcoholic heat clashing with chilli. Tick! Often fatty or oily, pork needs a refreshing red that cuts and cleans the palate. Double and triple tick! For the same reasons, the gentle fruit and freshness of Gamay is as good as it gets with fish and chicken, while most will still have the spine and spice to stand up to lamb or beef. And on top of all that there’s the smile factor for shy people.
Very few Gamay are made in New Zealand – Te Mata consistently make one available, whereas Rippon’s is like hen’s teeth. There may be others – hopefully so. But, strangely for a grape that should do so well here, we mainly rely on imports. Beaujolais-Villages is a humble catch-all name for wines from across the region, but most that make it into New Zealand are perfectly delicious. Stepping up to ‘Cru’ wines, Fleurie is a good one to start with – its silky and floral nature means it can usually be cracked and poured straight out of the Caro’s carry bag or box. But even slightly less up-front Crus like Morgon still offer a drinker possessing a drier palate such an exceptionally fresh, bright, floral, mineral and subtly umami wine experience that the comparison with Pinot Noir and Burgundy doesn’t seem to be about completeness of complexity at all – but merely accessibility. That is, with its charming sense of, as it were, ‘complex simplicity’, the inexpensive Beaujolais is more accessible in every way.
So there are a few heavenly wines for your summer barbecue. We didn’t want them to be too freaky – because most people’s guests need something different, but not too different – something easy to match that everyone will enjoy. We hope they work for you. But if you have a special question or special menu, just drop us a line any time…