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Food & Drink

Barbecue Reds

Smokin’ hot tips for summer sippin’

Not all that long ago the term barbecue red didn’t even exist. Today, the list of wines that qualify appears endless, which makes pairing suggestions for a charbroiled hamburger to a T-bone steak hot off the grill, or anything in between, pretty much a snap.

The first duty of any barbecue red is to be affordable. This complements the casual nature of most barbecues and allows the host plenty of flexibility when it comes to stocking enough wine to deal with guest lists that frequently expand at the last minute.

The style of wine required is not as clear-cut, but there are some caveats. On the one hand, you need a wine fruity enough to breakdown the tannin, or at the very least that won’t accentuate its mouth-drying effects. On the other, it should be full-bodied and flavourful enough to withstand the multitude of sauces and strong smoky tastes associated with most barbecue.

Red wine with fish has become an acceptable match, too, but it requires a bit more attention to detail. It’s the acidity in red wine that makes the match work but only if the fish is not too oily. Lighter tannins and high fruit content work best here.

Wineries seldom characterize their wines as "barbecue reds" lest we think of them as not serious. Well, I’ve got news for them. Everyone is looking for that great barbecue red, (translation: an inexpensive, sturdy, fun-drinking wine) that will stand up to most anything that has been grilled.

In this context, I wanted to present some ideas that might pull you away from your usual tipple. If you really want to have some fun why not brown bag your offerings before dinner and allow everybody a chance to taste the wines "blind".

There’s nothing like a blind tasting to strip away preconceived notions anyone has about certain labels. It’s guaranteed to heighten the tasting experience and elevate the conversation. Most of all have fun and enjoy the summer, which, for most of us here in Canada, is all too short.

What follows are some favourite varietals you can have fun tasting blind before and during the barbecue – and consume later with dinner.


The signature soft, black wines of Argentina and a few next door in Chile are made with malbec. Its slightly wild, fruity flavours are best tamed by beef – steak, ribs or hamburgers will do. All you need to do is add the wine.

Viu Manent Malbec 2003/2004, Valle del Colchagua, Chile

Super smooth with ripe black cherry, black plum, savoury, grilled mushroom and licorice/mocha flavours. Super suave and balanced with great varietal fruit. $13

Finca Los Primos Malbec 2003/2004, Mendoza, Argentina

Smoky, peppery, black cherry jam, mushroom and licorice root flavours. Well balanced if a bit warm. Excellent value with great intensity. $10

Alamos Malbec 2003, Mendoza, Argentina

Big black cherry jam, black raspberry, smoky, peppery, vanilla flavours and a tobacco, chocolate finish. Just enough tannins to tame a steak. $19

Pinot noir:

Sideways has had a massive impact on the market both selling more pinot noir and attracting more listings to choose from. Soft fruity New World types are your best bets with barbecue chicken or salmon dishes.

Kenwood Pinot Noir 2003, Russian River, Sonoma County, California

Black raspberry, strawberry jam, peppery, spicy vanilla, orange rind flavours with some licorice and forest floor. Juicy, warm finish and ready to consume. $24

LinCourt Pinot Noir 2002 Santa Barbara County, Central Coast, California

Absolutely delicious and highly affordable pinot noir. Cherries earth and truffles seem to disappear into a sweet lush, fruity red with mouth filling textures. $23

Shingle Peak Pinot Noir 2004, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand

Fun berry-laden pinot that is well worth drinking. The winery suggests that it’s a "superb match with grilled lamb chops, too." $21

Cabernet sauvignon:

A firmness marks most cabernet in the mouth, but the structure and acidity can be elegant when it’s balanced with bright plum and black cherry flavours. Its youthful tannin is easily tamed by a richly marbled steak.

Angus The Bull Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Australia

The Bull is a blend of cool Victoria fruit. Freshly fragrant and spicy, it mixes bell pepper notes with blueberry/cassis fruit. The perfect hamburger red. $22

Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner's Reserve 2001, California

The palate is supple, dry with more cassis flavours and a black olive, licorice, blackberry finish. Excellent concentration and lovely mid-palate weight. $25

Bommarito Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 Napa Valley, California

Plums, vanilla, cherries and all in a super ripe easy-sipping package. There’s about 20 per cent merlot in the blend perhaps, contributing to its suave demeanour. Wow. $29


: The appeal of merlot is mostly about texture. It’s round and soft or, as Jancis Robinson would say, "it’s cabernet without the pain." There’s also the popular juicy black cherry fruit flavours. Rich soft fruity works for chicken or pork, and maybe even for some simple fish dishes.

Valdivieso Merlot 2003, Region del Valle Central, Chile

Its super soft, as merlot should be, with juicy, fruity, spicy black cherry fruit. Mint, tobacco and orange rind mark the finish. Hard to beat for the price. $14

Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot 2000, Columbia Valley, Washington

Peppery, black cherry, licorice and smoky vanilla flavours persist across the palate and throughout its smooth finish. Excellent value. $17

Rosemount Merlot 2002, South Eastern Australia

Very soft, supple, easy sipping style with earthy, chocolate mocha, cherry, minty, spice flavours. Well balanced. $17


: In many ways the new syrah/shiraz love affair is the next step in palate building, for the new-to-red-wine drinker, after merlot. In fact, some would suggest the rich, round fruity nature of the syrah or shiraz offers everything merlot promises but often fails to deliver.

Casillero del Diablo Shiraz 2004, Region del Valle Central, Chile

Ripe cherry, blackberry fruit dominates the palate with chocolate, gamey, spicy, licorice flavours. Continued fine effort at an excellent price. $13

Sunburnt Moose (Joose) Shiraz 2003, Australia

Cedar, peppery, licorice, mineral, blackberry, smoky vanilla flavours with some acidity on the finish. Best with grilled or barbecued meats. $19

Oxford Landing Shiraz 2003, South Australia

Soft, round, supple style with black berry jam, plum, cedar, pudding and spice flavours. Nice fruit flavours and rich, with just a touch of acid. Good value. $14

Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine, log onto