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Food and wine were meant to go together. In my big Italian
family, no gathering was complete without plenty of both. Winter
feasts were easy for the food and wine lovers among us - a
hearty red table wine is the perfect foil for most southern
Italian dishes. A pitcher of table wine drawn from the cask in
the basement was the typical accompaniment to our everyday
Red, white or rose, Italian table wines are meant to be imbibed
in the casual atmosphere of a family dinner. They are light
enough to be enjoyed even by the casual food and wine
enthusiast, and robust enough to complement the full-flavored
richness of smoked and barbecued food. Which leads us to the
subject of this little soliloquy - mixing and matching food and
wine for the barbecue. My own tastes run to Italian jug wines,
and if it was up to me, I'd tell you to just go out and buy a
jug of Chianti and a jug of Lambrusco. It's what I grew up with,
and I happen to love the little sparkle that a good Lambrusco
(yes, they do exist!) adds to food.
In the interests of presenting a fair and educated view,
however, I decided to check with an expert. Austin Liquor has
been voted Best Liquor Store in Worcester for the past 5 years,
mostly on the strength of its weekly wine tasting. A Friday
night tradition in Worcester since the late 1970s, each tasting
offers food and wine based around one or two specific vintages.
I was directed to Richard Beams, Austin Liquor's resident wine
expert, and directed my question to him: "What food and wine
combination would you recommend for a summer barbecue?"
I did get my recommendations - but I also got a wonderful
overview of Rich's philosophy of choosing wines, especially for
fun or everyday occasions.
"I don't think it's necessary for people to spend more than $12
for a bottle of wine for an everyday dinner," he told me. "For a
special occasion like an anniversary dinner, sure, you can spend
$20 or more for a bottle. A barbecue is a fun occasion, though.
For a barbecue you can get really good quality wine for under
That may come as a surprise to those of us who have been
intimidated into believing that the only true quality wines come
with corks and high price tags.
Said Rich to that: "I like wine to be fun. It should be fun. Too
many people try to snob it up and break down the flavors so far
that it's not fun anymore. I advise people to find something
they like and enjoy it. I like to steer people to the less
expensive wines that are excellent quality."
So what does Rich recommend to go with the food at a summer
"I like to recommend a nice, light Riesling, " he told me.
"Something crisp and fresh."
In fact, he told me, several of their recent wine tasting
afternoons have featured barbecued food and wine that
complements it. He recommended several wines that he feels are
'fun wines' with good value.
Flaio Primitivo (Salento, Italy) Primitivo is a grape varietal
grown in the heel of Italy's boot. It's very similar to a good
California Zinfandel - in Rich's words it's "almost an exact
copy". It retails for about $7 a bottle and is a great
accompaniment for burgers and ribs.
Bonny Doon Big House Red (California) Bonny Doon has a lot of
fun with their wines, according to Rich, and he does believe
that wine should be fun. Big House Red is a blend of 7 or 8
grapes. According to Bonny Doon's own web site, those varietals
include syrah, petite sirah, Grenache, barbera and malbec. It
retails for about $12 a bottle and its robust licorice and
raspberry-accented bouquet stands up to the spiciest barbecued
Monte Antico (Tuscany, Italy) - "very similar to a Chianti
Sangiovese," said Rich. At $12 a bottle, it's got great fruit,
balances a barbecue, holds up well, and has a very Italian
looking label." To quote Monte Antico's own press, this wine is
"Dark ruby in color, its bouquet of leather, earth, herbs, black
cherries, licorice and plums is confirmed on the medium to
full-bodied palate - round, spicy, elegant, attractively fruity
and extremely versatile with any fare from pasta or risotto, to
meat, fowl and cheese."
Rich's final recommendation was another 'fun' wine, one that he
says is a great 'food wine'. The top in his book is:
Three Thieves 2002 Zinfandel was voted #8 as one of the Hottest
Small Brands of 2005. The wine comes in a 1 liter jug with a
screw top, and is marketed as a 'fun thing', says Rich, but the
wine inside is a full bodied red zinfandel that goes great with
burgers or eggplant parmagiana.
"The wine is excellent, and it's about $11," Rich added. He also
added the following advice for would-be wine fanciers. "You
don't have to spend a lot to find excellent quality wines. If
you find something that you like, make a note. You can go into a
store and tell someone there that you liked 'this brand' and
they'll steer you to other similar wines for you to try."
Final analysis? Good food and wine that's fun are the
cornerstone of a great summer barbecue. Skip the fancy labels,
vintages and price tags and pick out a wine that you like. Who
cares what the noses think as long as your nose is tickled pink?
About the author:
Chris Robertson is an author of Majon
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