Best wines for juicy barbecued meat

John Wilson: Steak, lamb cutlets, kofte, sausages and burgers – what goes best?

That heady mix of charred protein and woodsmoke is one of the great smells of summer. As I write, the sun has returned and lockdown has been relaxed a little. Certainly if the sounds and smells in my neighbourhood are anything to go by, the barbecue season is in full swing.

There is no doubt that there are few things better than a large, juicy, grilled steak, moist on the inside and charred on the exterior, or a slowly roasted chicken, or some lamb kebabs cooked on a real barbecue.

At times we throw so many flavours at barbecued red meat – all those sweet, acidic, spicy marinades, rubs and smoke – that it can be difficult to find a wine match. Add in sides of coleslaw, salsas with chilli, and it gets even more complicated. I know why some people simply drink beer with barbecued food.

You can successfully match white, rosé and light reds to barbecued white meats, fish and vegetables, but today we look at classic red meats and the wines to go with them. Just remember to dial up the flavours, as barbecued food has more going on.


While more restrained wines such as Chianti Classico, Napa Cabernet and Rioja will go well with unadorned grilled red meats – think of Chianti and Bistecca alla Fiorenta, Rioja and lamb cutlets, Napa Cab and a very posh burger – once you start adding layers of flavour, you should look for something bigger and riper.

Robust red

This often means new world wines, the classics being Malbec from Argentina and Barossa Valley Shiraz, or possibly Pinotage from South Africa. But the Rhone valley in France, and various parts of Spain are a great source of full-bodied barbecue reds. Varieties such as Garnacha/Grenache and Monastrell/Mourvèdre all have the necessary oomph. With barbecued lightly spicy lamb kebabs or kofte, served with salads, try out a Mediterranean red from the Lebanon, Sicily or Greece. With pork sausages, I often go for a robust red wine from the Languedoc.

With July 4th not that far away, you might want to celebrate with one of three very fine Californian wines new to Whelehan’s Wines; the sleek, concentrated  Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (€38), the very seductive sweet-fruited Failla Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (€45) and lastly, a very delicious classic cassis-laden Napa Cabernet, the Frog’s Leap Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (€65). The Zifandel and Cabernet would do very nicely with barbecued beef or lamb; the Pinot would go nicely with smoky chicken or pork on skewers.

Whatever red wine you serve, make sure to keep the bottles out of the sun so they don’t heat up. Warm wine, wherever it comes from, won’t win you any friends.

Ribera del Duero 2018, Téofilo Reyes 
14% ,€12.70
Medium to full-bodied with swarthy ripe dark cherry fruits and subtle vanilla. Would be good with roast lamb or pork, but this is big enough to take on steak, burgers or ribs too. The smokiness would go well with the light oak flavours. 
From Dunnes Stores,

Grenache au Cube 2017, Catalunya, Spain, France, Lafage
15%, €19.95
A blend of Grenache from the Languedoc, Catalunya and Spain. Supple and rounded with broad mouth-filling ultra-ripe dark fruits. Try it with smoked brisket or barbecued ribs. 
From Thomas's of Foxrock, (01) 289 4101; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4,; Martin's Off Licence, Dublin 3,; Swans on the Green, Naas; Shiel's, Malahide,

Les Chemins 2017, Ch La Baronne, Corbières (Organic)
14%, €22.85
A very stylish, big, powerful, chewy, savoury wine packed with ripe dark fruit, cloves and liquorice. Perfect with herby, garlicky barbecued lamb.
From Wines Direct, Mullingar; and Arnott's, Dublin 1,

Avignonesi Rosso 2018 Bagnum, Toscano (Organic)
13.5%,€34 for a 1.5 litre bag (with tap)
Made from 50 per cent Sangiovese and 50 per cent Merlot, this is an unoaked medium-bodied wine with ripe plum and black cherry fruits, and an attractive spiciness. Perfect with a juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina or any other unadorned rare steak. 
From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne,; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, Galway,; 64wine, Glasthule,;; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth,; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6,