The popularity of the Aperol Spritz aside, white wine spritzers are still considered the most unpleasant drinks of the summer. But its cooling powers should not be underestimated, especially in the face of a hot barbecue.
Lloyd Brothers winemaker Gonzalo Sánchez always opts for refreshing drinks when he’s grilling at his home in McLaren Vale, South Australia.
“In Argentina, we always add sparkling water and ice to our wine when we cook a barbecue,” he says. “Here in Australia some people make fun of me for drinking white wine soda, but if I’m cooking in front of the fire, I don’t want strong wine. I want a refreshing drink.”
Sanchez has even been known to add cold soda water to red wine. “It has to be a simple red, without too much oak or tannins.”
Associations of beer with barbecue and red wine with red meat have long dominated what pours into Australia’s backyards during the summer. But the way we eat and drink is changing, and there’s a whole rainbow of drinks that can be served with grilled food.
For a barbecue I will always choose wines that are balanced and interesting. Drinking is like music in that choices are determined by mood, company, or environment.
James Hopkins, who hosts events and wine tastings through The Fruitful Pursuit, lets the temperature determine his decision-making when cooking (and drinking) outdoors.
“I can’t imagine anyone drinking anything with a lot of alcohol in it,” he says. “In hot weather like this, wine choices are more about cooling down and quenching thirst.”
In February, Hopkins will launch a Peruvian street food pop-up in Adelaide, Sii Papi, which he created with his cousin Rodrigo Barua, a bar manager at Osteria Oggi restaurant. The grilled food offering is based on its Peruvian heritage.
“Anticuchos are our key feature,” says Hopkins. “You’ll find it in fancy restaurants in Peru, as well as on the streets.”
Originating in pre-Columbian times, anticuchos are an ancient Peruvian dish traditionally made from lesser-used cuts, such as beef heart. Hopkins and Barua use kangaroo steak as a more affordable, sustainable alternative to beef heart in a marinade that includes plenty of black pepper. “We marinate overnight, then put it on skewers and over a charcoal pit. It’s incredibly succulent.”
In the glass, he recommends petillant naturel (French for “naturally sparkling”), or whites and rosés if they’re tart and structured to handle a bit of spice.
Yarra Valley winemaker Jayden Ong serves a menu of mostly grilled items, from scallops to zucchini, at his cellar bar in Healesville.
“I think great products cooked simply over charcoal are one of the best ways to enjoy a glass of wine,” he says. That’s how he cooks for his friends back home, whether it’s broad beans, leeks or firmer types of lettuce that arrive on the grill.
The sommelier and restaurateur turned winemaker honed the appreciation for flavor around the world. “My time in Asia influenced the notion of balance and texture in food more. This in turn has influenced the way I view flavor and texture in my wine.
“For a barbecue I always choose wines with vibrancy. They have to be balanced and interesting. Drinking is like music in that choices are determined by mood, company or environment.”
Meanwhile, back at Sánchez’s flat, the winemaker suggests slowing down. An Argentinian barbecue typically unfolds over many plates and features many cuts of meat, allowing plenty of time for conversation.
Tapas (often fish) are served with an appetizer such as pisco or vermouth, followed by grilled offal such as veal, lamb, veal or pork gizzards. “I usually pair it with white wine like picpoul or riesling to remove the fat.”
With beef ribs, Sánchez recommends a medium-bodied wine. “Maybe a blend of malbec and cabernet sauvignon. The tannin in the cabernet really helps break down the fat.”
Chorizo or sausage calls for a light red such as grenache or pinot noir, chicken legs for chardonnay, while pork belly calls for nebbiolo.
Fat content drives most of your pairing decisions. “The only time I drink a full-bodied, oaky wine, like a large shiraz, at a barbecue is with lamb because it often has a lot of fat. A cabernet-shiraz blend is my favorite wine to drink with lamb It might work too with a tomahawk [rib-eye] fillet.”
But Sánchez insists that barbecue doesn’t have to be fancy. “Don’t overcomplicate it, though I encourage people to be more adventurous with the cuts of meat. Slow down the whole process to really appreciate the flavors on your plate and in your glass.”
Wines suitable for barbecue. Photo: Supplied
Three BBQ-friendly wines to try
The Other Right 2021 Bright Young Thing White, Adelaide Hills, $38
James Hopkins of The Fruitful Pursuit refers to this as the grand cru of Australian natural wines. Winemaker Alex Schulkin (wine scientist by day) is a master of the art and this is a stunning example of pet-nat done right. Embrace the sediment and the citrus effervescence. theotherrightwines.com
Jayden Ong 2020 Moonlit Forest ‘SC’ Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsula, $34
Of all its ranges, Jayden Ong’s Moonlit Forest wines in contact with the skin are the most suitable for a barbecue. They are textural, layered and nuanced, and this fragrant unfiltered pinot gris soars out of the glass. jaydenong.com
Devil’s Lair 2019 Margaret River Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $49.99
A fully accessible cabernet that simultaneously manages to tick the light and serious boxes. Beautifully made and exquisitely balanced, there’s still enough tannin to cleanse your palate as you eat beef short ribs. Wow wine. devils-lair.com.au