Check out almost any glossy food publication in spring or summer and you’ll be treated to a grill king’s fantasyland. The things foodies are throwing on the Weber nowadays – it boggles the mind. Grilled bacon. Avocado caprese crostini. Grilled celery salad. Vanilla French toast. Pound cake with sour-cherry syrup. In short, pretty much everything but lemonade, though I’m told you can scorch a few lemons first for a smoky essence.
I recently purchased a new and much larger grill. So, I consulted Google for new ideas of things to incinerate. It was hunger-inducing. I stopped for many minutes on a British GQ recipe for barbecued lamb kidney and sweetbread skewers. Maybe I’ll make them. If I do, I probably will be dining alone because that sort of dish is the food equivalent of Romanian feteasca neagra wine, a room clearer in North America.
My impetus for getting a new grill was to elevate my pizza game. Dough needs indirect heat, and a barbecue master therefore requires plenty of space. The hot, ignited half of the grill is off-limits. Like a lot of people today, I also like to grill romaine and radicchio. Veggies are nice but they are space hogs, especially if you have to keep them safely away from the flank steaks for the sake of vegan guests.
The moral of all this is to acknowledge that grilling means many things to many people, or at least to many urban magazine food editors. There is, therefore, no such thing as a perfect “barbecue wine”; any grape or style could have a rightful seat at the table depending on what’s under that Weber’s lid.
And yet there is. Fantasies aside, most people who grill tend to grill the easy, old-timey carnivorous stuff most of the time. Namely: barbecued ribs, steaks, chops, hot dogs, well-charred chicken and simple burgers.
So, the wines below of course do not go with everything that can conceivably be cooked on an open flame in the outdoors. But I would suggest they do pair reasonably well with the main repertoire of most backyard spatula slingers who might look comfortable in an apron that reads “I Just Burned 600 Calories” or “Relish Today, Ketchup Tomorrow” or “Danger: Man Cooking.”
These are dry reds but they deliver concentrated, jammy fruit that complements the smoky char. Of course, many reds, including a lot of fat, overly ripe and overoaked fruit bombs, can do that job. But the choices here are distinguished also by a zippy, palate-cleansing acidity as well as some savoury relief. You’ll need those elements if you’re going to have any intention of moving on to grilled pound cake with sour-cherry syrup.
Chapoutier Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2015, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $26.95
Better known for wines from its home neighbourhood of the Rhône Valley, Chapoutier also produces marvellous reds and whites from other French districts, including the southern Roussillon. Here’s a superb example, big like something from the sunny New World, at 15.5-per-cent alcohol, yet decidedly earthy and savoury in a distinctly European way. Ripe with cherry-sauce thickness, it’s pleasantly sticky and subtly redolent also of chocolate, licorice, grilled herbs and game, with an aromatic breeze of dried-out forest. Available at the above price in Ontario, various prices in select British Columbia and Alberta private stores, $26.50 in Quebec, $32.49 in Nova Scotia.
Kaiken Ultra Las Rocas Malbec 2015, Argentina
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $19.95
Chunky and dense, this is one creamy, dark-chocolate bar of a red, studded with plums and infused with tobacco and toasty oak. Plus, there’s a refreshingly spicy lift on the finish. Perfect for juicy T-bone. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices at select private wine shops in British Columbia, $20.85 in Quebec.
The Black Chook Shiraz Viognier 2016, Australia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
Here’s a fine shiraz from the McLaren Vale and Padthaway districts that embraces France’s Côte-Rôtie formula with 4-per-cent white viognier in the blend – for aromatic lift. This is full and luscious, with a blackberry-jam essence that shakes hands and makes friends with breezy mint, licorice and a hint of tobacco. Fresh acidity gives the wine palate-cleansing versatility at the table, though – while inconsistent with the rooster on the label – it would be particularly right for steak or lamb dishes of all sorts, whether chops, sausages or a slow-roasted leg. Available in Ontario at the above price, $19.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
The Chocolate Block 2016, South Africa
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $39.95
The name might cause this to be mistaken for one of those newly trendy, corporate-contrived California red blends, the subtly sweet kind with images of desserts on their labels. It’s more serious than that, though, a syrah-led, five-grape blend made by the fine producer Boekenhoutskloof. Maybe you’ll detect a note of chocolate, maybe not. One could argue that there are more prominent notes in the 2016 of raspberry jam, hot asphalt (as on a newly paved desert highway), licorice, smoking rubber and spices. Imagine an exceptionally ripe northern Rhône syrah. Pair it with meaty meats, including sticky ribs on the barbecue. Available in Ontario at the above price, $39.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $46.96 in Saskatchewan, $43 in Manitoba, $39.10 in Quebec, $40.69 in Newfoundland.
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel 2015, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $18.95
A grenache-syrah-carignan red blend from the Côtes du Roussillon, with sunny, ripe fruit suggesting strawberry-raspberry jam infused with notes of licorice and herbs. There’s gentle firmness in the tannic backbone, with well-tuned acidity on the finish. Available in Ontario at the above price, $31.99 at Everything Wine stores and other shops in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $20.90 in Manitoba, $17.10 in Quebec, $21.99 in New Brunswick, $22.29 in Nova Scotia, $23 in Newfoundland.
Hillside Syrah 2015, British Columbia
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $26
Full-bodied. Ripe. Supple. This is soft for a syrah yet not quite comparable to an Australian shiraz; it’s more Rhône-like, in fact. The flavours hint at baked plum and blackberry, with sweet density lifted by pepper, licorice and a game-like essence. Produced from 14-year-old vines that are starting to come into their own. Available direct through hillsidewinery.ca.
Gancedo Xestal Mencia 2010, Spain
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Mencia is the grape (underappreciated but on the rise). Bierzo is the region, in northwest Spain. This is mencia with depth and maturity, pressed from the concentrated fruit of low-yielding vines aged 60 to 100 years (which is ancient in the grape world). Perfect old-vine ripeness here, showing a succulent plum-like core, spice, bright acidity and gently chalky tannins for solid structure. Very much alive. For a properly aged eight-year European red of this quality, it’s a bargain. Grilled beef? Jerk chicken? Sweet ribs? Right on. Available in Ontario.
Vicente Faria Animus Douro Red 2015, Portugal
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $11.95
Here’s a steal. If you like your reds round, smooth, boldly fruity and bargain-priced, Vicente Faria has a wine for you. It’s a blend of tinta roriz (a.k.a. tempranillo), touriga nacional and touriga franca, three of the star grapes of Portugal’s port-producing Douro Valley. Though this is dry, there’s a wagonload of jammy, baked fruit redolent of blackberry-blueberry crumble, plus a subtle undercurrent of savouriness. Great for lamb, steak, duck and game meats. Available in Ontario at the above price, $13.49 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $17.40 in Saskatchewan, $12.50 in Quebec, $14.49 in New Brunswick, $13.99 in Nova Scotia.