It's not about the meat; it's about what you put on the meat.
The typical barbecue and wine pairing rules usually focus only on the type of food being grilled, and completely overlook the dominant flavour in the finished dish—whatever you're slathering on that piece of beef, chicken or vegetable. Pair a bold, dry red (the usual suggestion for grilled red meat) with a plate of ribs smothered in sticky sweet teriyaki sauce and you're in for an unpleasant surprise: the sugar in the sauce will make the wine taste like bitter vinegar.
With this in mind, here are the guidelines you should actually follow with regards to pairing wine with your next barbecue feast.
Red meat: sweet
Stick to light, fruity reds that are low in tannins. (Tannins cause your mouth to dry out, just like what happens when you drink really over-steeped black tea.) Beaujolais and other wines made from the Gamay grape are good, as is very fruity Pinot Noir—look for ones from California, Chile and New Zealand. If you just can't get your lips around those lighter reds, you could try a sparkling red wine or Californian Zinfandel—they have extremely ripe, jammy fruit flavours.
It might sound crazy, but sweet dessert wines can also be really tasty when paired with sweet barbecued meats—something like a ruby port or other fortified red wine.
Red meat: savoury, herb and/or peppery
This is the type of dish with which you can break out the dry, robust reds: a black pepper steak is magic with a peppery red from the Rhone Valley, or a similar blend like Australian Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre. Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also great choices. For fatty cuts of meat like burgers or ribs, look for something with ripe red fruit flavours: Chilean Carmenere, Californian Merlot, or Spanish Tempranillo.
Red or white meat: spicy
Spice and alcohol do not mix: the combination of a dry, high-alcohol red wine mixed with spicy sauce is a form of gastronomical masochism. But if you just can't have your barbecued meat without slathering it in Frank's Red Hot, steer clear of any and all dry wines, red or white, and choose something a little sweet—sugar and spice definitely do mix. Die-hard wine pairing traditionalists may cringe when they read this, but even red meats taste all right paired with sweet white wines, if the meat is really tongue-searing spicy. Look for the words “late harvest” on the label; common late-harvest wines are made from Riesling, Semillon and Muscat, though a late-harvest or dessert wine made from red grapes will probably pair better with red meat; try to find one made from Cabernet Franc.
White meat and seafood: sweet
This is an easier combination as sweet white wines are easy to find. Try an off-dry German Riesling or French Gewurztraminer, or a sweet sparkling white—look for the words “sec,” “demic-sec,” or “dulce” on the label; the most common type in local stores is Italian Spumante. An off-dry rosé wine is also a good choice and plenty of examples can be found from New World countries.
White meat and seafood: savoury
Dry white wines pair wonderfully with white meat or seafood flavoured with citrus, herbs and other savoury seasonings. Lemon-based sauces are great with dry, unoaked whites that are high in acidity, like French Chablis (or another unoaked, cool climate Chardonnay), Spanish Albariño or Italian Pinot Grigio. Herbed dishes are lovely with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc and dry sparkling whites.
Dry whites will pair with most grilled vegetables, and will also go with the non-grilled items on the table like salads. Choose something fairly innocuous like white blends from France, Canada or Italy, or a dry sparkling white like Spanish Cava. For veggie burgers, go a little heavier—rosé is a good choice, as it straddles the line between red and white wine so they have fruity berry flavours with light tannins, but are still light and refreshing.
A couple last tips: pop your reds in the fridge for about half an hour before you serve them—in warmer weather they can get too warm and then all you'll get is booze burn; and if you use wine in the sauce or marinade, that same wine should pair nicely with the finished meal. V
Red Wine Chipotle barbecue sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
¼ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper powder
1/3 cup dry red wine – Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or Zinfandel, or something else similarly robust
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ cup ketchup or crushed tomato
In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the oil for two minutes, or until garlic becomes fragrant but not browned. Add cumin and chipotle pepper and stir for a few seconds, then add red wine and brown sugar. Simmer for two minutes, then add soy sauce, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer another two minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool before using.
Orange & Honey White Wine Sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
1 cup dry white wine – unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, or something else citrusy
3 tbsp honey
½ cup orange segments, chopped into bite-sized pieces
In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the oil for two minutes, or until garlic becomes fragrant but not browned. Add white wine and heat, then stir in the honey. Simmer for five minutes. Add the orange pieces and simmer another five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before using.