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From my persective, wine is food. It's best enjoyed in context with other food. As its simplest, it's just another element or flavor on the plate. - John Ash, chef and cookbook author

With the days warming up, the May tasting theme of Arnaud's wine club was barbecue and wine where each wine was tasted with a matching barbecued appetizer.

Barbecue and Wine

The word barbecue has an interesting origin. Although one could think that the word comes from the French barbe à queue signifying the whole pig being roasted from the beard to the tail, it seems that the true origin of the word is West Indian. The Arawakan Indians, living on the West Indian island of Hispaniola in the seventeenth century, were using a wooden structure upon which fish and game were hung for smoking or drying. They were calling it barbacòa, a term itself derived from the Spanish barbicoa meaning the stick with four legs. Later on, the word started to be applied to cooking meat rather than drying it. Today, barbecue is an integral part of the American way of life and often the preferred way of cooking and entertaining.

Barbecue is a great opportunity to pair fish, poultry and meat with wine. The spices from the marinade, the smoky flavors and the caramelization of the juices offer additional flavors that work well with aromatic white wines and young, fruity and spicy red wines. That evening, we tasted two white wines partnered with seafood and fish and four red wines with a variety of grilled meat. The recipes were carefully chosen, in order to provide an optimal pairing between the food and the wines.

The white wines and the fish

Our first white wine was a Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino, a transitional region between the cool and wet Pacific Northwest and the Mediterranean climate of California. The zesty, crip and citrussy character of Sauvignon Blanc generally fares well with aromatic food and appetizers. Here, the 2002 Wattle Creek Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino was paired with shrimps in a garlic, dill and olive oil marinade. With a nose of citrus and grapefruit and notes of honey, a dry and medium-bodied palate and a lively finish, the wine worked perfectly well with the dish.

Our second white wine was a Riesling from Alsace. Riesling, in its dry version, produces distinguished wines with citrus, white blossom and mineral aromas that are extremely food-friendly. They complement well a variety of dish from fish and seafood to spicy oriental food. The 2001 Jean-Philippe et François Becker Riesling Grand Cru Froehn was paired with Asian style ahi tuna marinated in ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and orange juice. The wine had lemon and green apple aromas on the nose. On the palate, it was bone-dry and very mineral. It complemented well the fatness and spiciness of the tuna, although I found it a little bit austere, coming just after the Sauvignon Blanc.

The red wines and the meat

The first red wine was a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, one of the best place in the Pacific Northwest to grow Pinot Noir. With its soft tannins and fruity character, Pinot Noir works well with fish, poultry and white meat. The 2003 Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was paired with some tasty barbecued chicken wings marinated in beer. The wine offered a nose of sweet and sour cherries, a medium-bodied palate with some vanilla notes and a peppery finish.

Our second red wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon produces full-bodied, tannic wines that go well with red fatty meat like beef or lamb. The 2003 Kirkham Peak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley was nicely paired with grilled beef kebab with onion and bell peppers. It displayed blackberry aromas on the nose with a hint of licorice. On the palate, it was medium-bodied and well-balanced with a smooth finish.

Our next wine was a Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre blend from the Barossa Valley, a region most renowned for its opulent styles of Shiraz. Grenache, Syrah/Shiraz and Mourèdre (sometimes called GSM) is a Southern Rhône blend getting increasingly popular in Australia. It produces full-bodied, spicy wines that complement well full-flavored meat like lamb. The 2002 Torbreck The Steading Barossa Valley was paired with juicy grilled lamb chops rubbed with herbes de Provence and olive oil. With an attractive nose showing a lot of berry flavors, the wine had a rich and full-bodied mouthfeel followed by a long, spicy finish. This delicious wine was my favorite of the evening.

The last wine was a Zinfandel from the renowned Geyserville Vineyard, a field blend of Zinfandel, Carignan, Petite Sirah and Mataro, with some of the vines over 100-years old. Zinfandel produces big, fruity, sometimes high-alcohol wines that work well with full-flavored dishes. The 2002 Ridge Zinfandel Geyserville displayed a rich peppery nose, a full-bodied palate with ripe and sweet fruits aromas and a long, powerful aftertaste. This powerful wine was cleverly paired with a selection of grilled sausages.

Catherine Granger & Arnaud Cabanel
See our other tasting reports.