Cathal McBride: Barbecue season is upon us so it’s time to beef up your wine choices
Choose red wines to go with meats cooked and charred over open fires, to complement the smoky, juicy and succulently rich tastes
There are three certainties in life – death, taxes and Irish people using any vessel possible to cook food on an open flame if the sun comes out. When Benjamin Franklin coined his famous phrase, I don’t think he had ever seen the primal look in an Irishman’s eyes after spotting the last packet of burgers on a supermarket shelf.
The barbecue season is now upon us. With it comes to an opportunity to flex your grilling muscles and also find the best wines to serve. A barbecue should be seen as an extension of your kitchen, and with it the endless array of dishes that can be prepared there. When lighting the coals, however, our focus generally veers towards meats – steaks, burgers, sausages and chicken.
Red wines offer the best qualities to complement such deliciously charred foods. They allow for the smoky, juicy and succulently rich taste, with similarly flavoured wines such as shiraz/syrah, pinotage and full-bodied, fruit-forward primitivos working particularly well.
A classic Australian shiraz such as the O’Leary Walker, 2018 (available from Thomas Woodberrys, €26.95) is a fine starting point. It has deeply rich, dark berry fruit on the nose with waves of spice at the end. Powerful as it might be, there’s a subtlety here plus a nectar-like soft finish as the wine develops. Balanced with finely tuned tannins, this vintage offers great style and the potential to hold well for several years. It’s a perfect accompaniment for any meat from the grill.
For me, the fruitiness of primitivo enhances the natural sweetness of pork. The Lirica Primitivo di Manduria, 2019 (available from Whelehans Wines, €20) floats to the top of the barrel. Usually primitivo offers base notes of rich fruit, but here the nose enraptures with profound mocha and earthy balsamic aromas. Containing integrated alcohol, the palate offers a blend of juicy fruit and ginger, silky tannins plus a rounded structure for a well balanced wine. If primitivo is your thing, then this is up there with the best – and if you opt for it or the Passo del Cardinale featured below, you’re in for a treat.
Ignore blended wines at your peril. Made with a mix of touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and alicante bouschet, the Evaristo Vinho Regional Lisboa Tinto, 2020 (available from Blackrock Cellar, Red Nose Wine, Barnhill Stores, Pinto Wines, The Hen & Hog, Bradleys Off Licence and J.J. O’Driscoll Superstore, €14.99), provides all the gripping tannic structure and concentrated fruit elements you need. It’s not entirely complex in terms of nuanced flavours, but a good-value choice for a party wine.
When it comes to full-bodied French reds, the Rhône Valley usually gets the plaudits. Languedoc, however, is an underrated region for providing similarly bold vintages and the Domaine de la Dourbie has a clear identity. Their Marius Rouge, 2020 (available from Mitchell & Son, €19.95) is a blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah with cherries, plums and spice on the nose. There’s a tingling of peppercorn notes and a marked freshness. The palate is decidedly rich, but with clean fruit and a long finish of liquorice plus cinnamon. Perfect for the barbecue.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of temperature when serving your reds. A quick fridge chill for all these wines, even the more full-bodied ones, will balance their structures and increase your enjoyment.
THREE TO TRY, BUY AND PUT BY
Passo del Cardinale, Primitivo di Manduria, Puglia, Italy, 2020 (ABV 14 per cent), 92
This has an enveloping bouquet abound with lashings of juicy blackcurrant and rich berry fruit, all encased in elongated warming spice aromas plus woody herbs. It’s full-bodied, with a good strong balance from ample acidity. The tannins are smooth and precise, leading into a nice finish with tinges of mocha. This would be ideal paired with some slow-cooked sticky pork or beef short ribs.
Available from Blackrock Cellar (blackrockcellar.com), Deveney’s of Dundrum (deveneys.ie), Higgins Off Licence (higginsofflicence.ie), Mitchell & Son (mitchellandson.com) and Pinto Wines (pintowines.ie), €19.95
Amalaya Gran Corte, Calchaquí Valley, Argentina, 2020 (ABV 14.5 per cent), 92
From the Calchaquí Valley, where a high altitude supports rich and full-bodied wines, this is a polished blend of malbec, cabernet franc and tannat. A seductive ruby in the glass, its nose is alluringly rich with concentrated fruits, a flicker of prunes and a touch of vanilla spice from the barrels. The smoothness of red berry fruit is rounded by integrated tannins. This would be excellent with grilled steaks or burgers.
Available from Barnhill Stores (barnhillstores.ie), Baggot Street Wines (baggotstreetwines.com), Clontarf Wines (clontarfwines.ie), Power & Co Fine Wines (powerfinewines.com), World Wide Wines (worldwidewines.ie) and Wineonline.ie, €25.99
Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2019 (ABV 13.5 per cent), 93
With an underpinning of intense cassis, the nose here is a melange of bramble fruits, wild undergrowth, nettle freshness and graphite. There’s also the faintest whisper of mocha smokiness. Its palate has a deep berry and blackcurrant warmth, balanced by the freshness of tart raspberry acidity. This is a fine example of fruit-forward elegance with a touch of rustic crunch. Try it with some barbecued lamb chops or mushroom skewers.
Available from Mitchell & Son (mitchellandson.com), McCambridge’s of Galway (mccambridges.com), O’Briens Off Licences (obrienswines.ie), The Vintry (vintry.ie), On the Grapevine (onthegrapevine.ie), The Wine Centre (thewinecentre.ie), Reddy’s Off Licence (reddysofflicence.ie) and The Wicklow Wine Company (wicklowwineco.ie), €49.60