The outdoor barbecue is an American cooking tradition that dates back to the 1500s. The low and slow method of cooking meats over indirect heat developed cultural twists as the technique spread from native tribes to colonists and across the country. Different immigrant groups introduced new spices, preparations and meat varieties, which has resulted in a spectrum of sweet and savory rubs and sauces featuring unique profiles that pair perfectly with select wines.
For those passionate about barbecue cooking, pairing barbecue sauce with wine is a surprisingly fun and unexpected alternative to beer or boozy cocktails. The pairings below showcase the slow-cooked flavors of American history, as well as traditions from family-owned wineries, such as Peju.
Spiced mustard sauces
These sauces are typically less sweet than tomato-based sauces—more peppery like a good Dijon mustard. Mustard barbecue sauce usually contains vinegar notes and a bit of pungent heat. This style of sauce was introduced by German and French immigrants along the South Carolina coast and is perfect with pork ribs, brisket or wild boar. Look for a wine with rich, berry flavors to help cut through the sauce’s acid and stand up to the vinegar. A zinfandel will pair best with this sauce. A ripe syrah is another sublime pairing—the peppery and spicy varietal qualities make it an excellent accompaniment to rich, smoky meats.
Sweet tomato sauces
As barbecue traveled west toward the Mississippi River, Memphis residents had an abundance of native goods to add to barbecue sauce recipes including sweet molasses. Today, most tomato-based sauces include elements of honey, brown sugar or molasses, which add deep flavors to slow-cooked beef ribs, brisket and chicken. To marry these sweet sauce flavors with wine, look for a bright, crisp rosé. In addition to refreshing the palate, the higher acidity will do wonders to complement a sweeter sauce. As a bonus, these wines also compliment traditional barbecue side dishes such as fruit and fresh pasta salad.
Blended dry rubs
Another popular barbecue preparation is the dry rub, which includes a medley of spices such as cayenne, paprika, brown sugar, mustard seed, chili powder and garlic salt. In lieu of wet ingredients, rubs often taste spicier and require a wine that’s cool, refreshing and bright, usually with a higher acidity. Low to medium tannin wines work best, as wines with a lot of tannins can accentuate bitterness, as well as overpower the spice rub. Complement a blended spice rub with a blended wine. Try a red wine blend or a red and white blend. Look for blends with floral, citrus and berry flavors. If you can find a blend that is served chilled, like Tess, that’s even better—especially on a warm summer day.
Pairing wine with a variety of traditional barbecue rubs and sauces is easy with a little planning and preparation—more importantly, it’s a delicious way to celebrate with family and friends.
Add your own twist to American barbecue and uncork a bottle of wine at your next summer cookout.
Enjoy all the varieties that Peju, a family-owned winery in Napa Valley, California, has to offer. We invite you to explore our website for more information about experiencing our wines and events.