Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring is Here...So Bring Out The Barbecue

There is this unmistakable feeling in the air, the temperatures are rising every day, and we have probably seen more than a few robins hopping around our yards. Personally, I cannot wait until the thermostat reaches the high teens because that is when the sandals will come out and the winter boots will go away…and I know that all of the guys in my life cannot wait to set the barbecue up and grill that first hamburger, steak or rack of ribs.

The natural instinct when it comes to barbecued foods is to pair it with beer or hard liquor and those are great but have you ever thought about giving it a try with a glass of wine? Well, let’s start with what your favourite food is to put on a barbecue – are you a ribs person, steak, seafood, fish or do you like to go towards the more exotic? When I asked the question “What food are you looking forward to putting on the barbecue this summer?” on Twitter a couple of weeks ago I got a wide variety of responses – lamb chops, salmon, chicken and veggie kabobs, gourmet burgers, ribs, pork chops, steaks and foil wrapped fish were tops on the list.

So, what wine would you pair with any of these food dishes? A lot of that decision depends on what you are doing to the food before and while it is on the grill. Here are a few of my favourite food examples and wines you may want to try out with them…

Lamb Chops with Lemon, Olive Oil & Rosemary:

Lamb in itself can be a rather rich meat so you do not need a large cut to fill you up. To keep this dish light and tasty, marinating it with Lemon, olive oil and Rosemary for a couple of hours makes this a great alternative to red sauces. The lemon in the marinade also makes it easy to pair with crisp, fresh white wines and for my personal preference, the lemony tang in the palate of Rosehall Run Vineyards 2007 Sullyzwicker VQA is a perfect match for this dish. Sullyzwicker is a blend of three white wine grapes – Ehrenfelser, Riesling and Muscat Ottonel – with slight residual sweetness that comes in at 10.8% alcohol per volume and a price of $16.95 that you simply cannot beat. The wine itself has flavours of mango and a variety of citrus fruits and you can feel it lingering for quite a while.

Pork Chops and Peaches and Pinot:

This recommendation came from one of my wine friends on Twitter and it was such a natural fit that I decided to run with it. The Pinot in the title refers to Pinot Noir and even though some people may question pairing a red wine with white meat like Pork, it is the lightness of Pinot Noir that makes it a perfect choice for white meat and peaches. There are a few Ontario wineries that focus primarily on Pinot Noir and when it came to pairing it with peaches, my choice came down to Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Pinot Noir. Although peach is not a common component to the flavour profile of a Pinot Noir – and it is not in this wines flavour profile either – the fruity flavours of cherries and herbs do compliment the flavours we will be adding to the pork chops. Flat Rock Cellars bottles all of their wines under screwcap so this wine stays light and fresh with good acidity and great balance with a medium finish allowing it to linger slightly while you enjoy your barbecued pork chops. At only $20.15 a bottle, be sure to pick up some of this wine as you will make a lot of use of it over the months to come.

Grilled Salmon with Lemon & Dill:

There is nothing better – to me, at least – than a salmon fillet on the barbecue and the classic combination of lemon and dill makes it one of the simplest and most satisfying meals one can enjoy on a hot summer night. When having a meal that is this light feeling, you would not want to overpower it with anything heavy in your wine glass so the key was to find something light but that would also compliment the lemon and dill flavours that you are grilling the salmon with. After going through many excellent possibilities amongst the Ontario wineries, the one that seemed to jump out as the clear choice is Henry of Pelham Family Estate Winery’s Cuvee Catherine Brut. The initial flavours may not seem to lend itself to that light and crisp description I gave before but if you wait, just ten seconds or so, the very detectable taste of lemon will come shining through and pair perfectly with the lemon and dill you are using on the salmon. By the way, pair this with some salad greens and a light vinaigrette dressing for the perfect meal.

Striploin Steak with Hawaiian Alae Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper:

If you are a red meat lover, you know there is nothing better than a steak hot off the barbecue. Normally I will marinate a steak for several hours in a combination of red wine and herbs before slapping it on a hot grill but a friend of mine suggested trying the combination of Hawaiian Alae Sea Salt and cracked Black Pepper to change things up a bit and I have to say it is a wonderful combination. As I said, I normally marinate a steak in red wine and herbs so whatever wine I use in the marinade is the wine that will end up in my glass. By doing it with sea salt and black pepper, I had free reign over what wine to choose but when I tried Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery 2008 Baco Noir, my search was over. Here is the review I did on the wine just a couple of weeks ago – you will quickly see why it was the perfect choice for a hearty steak dinner.

“Blacker than SIN – that’s the only way to describe the colour – and the aromas and flavours are equally sinful. Abundant blackberry followed by a hint of bing cherry, blueberry and raspberry on the nose – talk about a fruit bomb. The texture is silky and slightly chewy with that familiar blackberry coming through, good acidity in the mid palate, slight blueberry, a very faint hit of mint and slight pepper on the finish. This would be great with duck, steak, game meats, roasts – anything you would put a Zinfandel or a Shiraz with would work with this wine.”

At $20.20 a bottle, this wine is reasonably priced and a great value. It can only be ordered through the winery and this is still a winery with a small production level as they have only been open for two years so I would make a phone call to the winery or visit them quickly to get your hands on this wine.

Chicken & Veggie Kabobs:

This is one of my favourite things to cook on a barbecue. A couple of kabobs filled with chicken, red onion, sweet peppers, zucchini and cherry tomatoes, add a nice garden salad to the plate and a glass of wine – this is great for a weeknight dinner in the middle of the summer. Just a touch of seasoning on the kabobs and a light vinaigrette dressing on the salad and you have the perfect opportunity to pair this food with a wide variety of wines. How about a nice, dry Rose wine in your glass? You wouldn’t want a sickly sweet Blush wine but Ontario makes some great European style Rose wines that have a kick of spice, lots of fruity flavours and bone dry acidity. Take a look at Thirteenth Street Winery and you find a Cabernet Rose made of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc that would compliment this meal perfectly. The flavours are mostly berry fruit, red pepper and spice but there is an interesting little hint of anise in the finish that makes you stand up and take notice of this wine. If Strawberries are still in season when you try this meal, slice up a few to put into your salad to make an even more seamless pairing than what already naturally exists between the kabobs and the wine. Only $16.20 a bottle, contact the winery to get your hands on this summer sipper.

Gourmet Burgers:

It is a bit of a treat but nothing beats a good, homemade burger topped with your favourite toppings. There are so many options on what to put in and on top of your burger these days that it would be impossible to pair everything with it but here are a few suggestions on what to put on your food and what to put in your glass.

My best friend’s suggestion for her favourite burger was ground sirloin topped with chopped portabello mushrooms, red onions and crumbled blue cheese. For burger toppings like this, you want a wine that is not overpowering but that is still hearty enough to stand up to the power that mushrooms, onions and blue cheese invariably bring. To compliment this burger, after much deliberation, I chose Colio Estate Wines 2006 Merlot VQA. The aromas of this wine are black fruit, blueberries and a hint of chocolate, which continue on to the palate where there is a distinctive earthy component joining them. It is that earthy component which makes it a perfect pairing for mushrooms and, hence, for this burger.

Now, for myself, I love a good bacon cheeseburger with a spicy cheese, like Black River Cheeses Hot Pepper Mozzarella. With cheese that has a kick you need a wine that has an equal amount of kick to make the pairing seamless. Since we do not have anyone making a Red Zinfandel here in Ontario (yet), our next choice falls to Shiraz and, in this province, a good spicy can always be found at Creekside Estate Wines. Creekside Estate Wines specializes in Shiraz so there are a few to choose from but for a spicy bacon cheeseburger, I recommend their 2007 Broken Press Shiraz. In Australia, where one of their winemakers hails from, and in the Northern Rhone area of France, it is quite common to add a small amount of Viognier, which is a white grape, into Shiraz. The result is a slightly floral, perfumy component to the berry fruit and spice elements common in Shiraz that seem to develop and linger endlessly. The price on this wine is $39.95 a bottle and is available at the winery or online through their website. By the way, if you happen to have any cranberry relish kicking around, adding a touch of this to the burger will really enhance the food and wine pairing – give it a try.

So far we have stuck with meat dishes but the barbecue can be a great place for vegetarians as well. How about a veggie burger piled high with hot peppers – what wine would you want to serve with that? Well, since we already have a spicy red for our last burger, and this burger is made up of veggies, which a red wine may overpower, how about we try out the spiciest wine in the white wine forum – Gewurztraminer. As soon as Gewurztraminer was decided on I knew exactly where to go for the perfect wine – Prince Edward County! With our steak we went to Lacey Estates Vineyard and Winery and that is where we find ourselves again because their Gewurztraminer is one of the best I have tried in a long time – an opinion some other wine writers share with me given the amount of press this wine is receiving. Check out the review their 2009 Gewurztraminer recently received:

“There’s something captivating about a wine that is the colour of gold – it has almost the same appeal as a deep ruby red wine – and this wine definitely holds you captive as you look at it in the glass. It takes a bit of swirl for the aromas to come through but when they do you are hit with the unmistakable lychee and rose aromas so commonly associated with true Alsatian Gewurztraminers. The lychee and rose continue on to the palate where they are joined with a major hit of spice, perfect acidity and amazing balance. My first instinct is to want to pair this with Thai food because it is such a classic pairing but – on second thought – Blackened Salmon with rice and asparagus would be just as great.”

As with their Baco Noir, the Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery 2009 Gewurztraminer is available through the winery, at a great price of $22.20 per bottle. Call or email the winery today to place your order or visit them on the weekends – daily hours will begin in mid May but if you want to get your hands on this wine, I’d get some now before it disappears.

Sole packed in a foil packet w/ Veggies:

When it comes to grilled fish, there are so many options. There is the all traditional Salmon but, for a change, why not try Sole, wrapped in aluminum foil packets with a combination of carrots, celery, red onion, lemon, olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper? The key with this dish is to make the wine light and crisp…the same way the veggies and other flavours are and, although there are many possible wines to choose from, my choice for this dish is the Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery 2008 Lepp Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. Peninsula Ridge specializes in Sauvignon Blanc with their white wines and they have a few specific vineyard Sauvignon Blanc’s to choose from but the Lepp Vineyards wine for the 2008 vintage had more of the flavours and aromas that are in the meal than any of the others. Aromas of “yellow apple, hay and watermelon with a touch of fresh cedar. The palate is nice and crisp, medium weight with flavours of white grapefruit and mineral.” It is the flavours of citrus and mineral which compliment the fish best while the aromas are simply a pleasant beginning to an enjoyable meal. Available directly at the winery or online at the price of $18.95.

Baby Back Ribs:

When it comes right down to it, ribs can actually be one of the most difficult meats to pair wine with. Ribs on their own, before they start marinating or have any rubs on them, essentially, have no distinct flavour to them. What you put on the ribs – in terms of rubs or sauces or both – is where the flavours come from and since there are so many available options out there, it is difficult to give an exact pairing. Now, before we go any further, I have to tell you that, when it comes to ribs, this is not exactly my area of expertise. My father was very anti-pork in our house (he got sick off of the stuff when he was young) so ribs was not something we ever really had growing up. Thankfully, that is no longer the case but I still wanted an experts advice for this section so I went to our local expert – Darryl Koster at Buster Rhinos BBQ. If any of you are on Twitter, you can follow him @BusterRhinosBBQ or check out his website: Darryl explained to me that there are a lot of factors when it comes to the ribs – if you put a rub, what spices you use, what sauces you use, precooking, grilling, smoking, indirect heat or direct heat (which Darryl does not recommend). Now, in my house, when we do cook ribs, the ribs are precooked in the oven and then added to the grill later on when the sauce is added. While cooking in the oven, there is only a rub, the temperature is low and they cook for as long as possible without allowing them to dry out. You can go even lower than 325F and cook them for longer than two hours but, when precooking, that seems to be the norm amongst the people I spoke to. For myself, in terms of a rub, I like to keep it simple – salt, pepper, some Paprika for colour and fresh Thyme or Rosemary. Once the ribs are precooked, there are a bunch of sauces I like to choose from, depending on who is eating the ribs and even what the day feels like. Here are three possibilities on rib sauces that I like:

Beer Berry BBQ Sauce

2 bottles Beer (your favourite - ale works best)
1 pint Blueberries
1/4 cup Butter, melted
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Honey
1/4 cup Hot Sauce
2 tbsp Barbecue Sauce (your favourite)

You can completely adjust the heat level on this sauce – I know, ¼ cup of hot sauce sounds a bit much to me too – by reducing the amount of hot sauce. Personally, I use something closer to five or six dashes of hot sauce rather than ¼ cup.

Cherry Zinfandel Sauce

1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 tbsp Garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups Red Zinfandel wine
1 cup Ketchup
2/3 cup Dried cherries
3 tbsp Cider Vinegar
3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
3 tbsp Brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Ginger, chopped
1 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Anise seed
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
3 tbsp Lemon juice

Now, when it comes to wines to pair with this, these can be difficult but only if you want to make it difficult. Both of these sauces have major fruit components so you want a wine that has a lot of fruity characteristics to it. With the second sauce, the easy choice is to use the same wine that you put in the sauce and, in all probability, that is what I would do. Since there are no wineries in Ontario that make a Red Zinfandel wine, we need to look to California to find a great pairing. Luckily, the LCBO has a little more than fifty Red Zinfandel’s to choose from at a variety of prices. Here are just a few that are my favourites:

7 Deadly Zins 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2007
Michael David Vineyards Cline Cellars
Vintages #59311 Vintages #719211
$24.95 each $17.95 each

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfadel
Ravenswood Winery
Vintages #606632
$17.95 each

However, in keeping with the trend in this article, let’s find an Ontario red wine that will match well with the berry flavours of the sauces. Berry fruit and cherries are two common flavours in most Gamay Noir wines but there is a tendency to make Gamay really light in structure and mouthfeel so you need one that has a little more oomph than a typical Gamay. In Ontario, there is one wine that epitomizes that description – Chateau des Charmes St David’s Bench Gamay Droit. Any vintage of this wine will do but the combination of berry fruit and cherries, with a kick of tart cranberries and this slight hit of earthiness gives it the perfect structure to hold up to something as strong as the sauces we are putting on our ribs. This wine is available through the winery itself but also at your local LCBO at a price of $16.95 per bottle. Now, if you are one who prefers to cook your ribs completely on the grill, just follow the same principles and try these wines out with them.

Here’s hoping that you find some great wines to pair with what goes on your grill. It doesn’t always have to be beer and hard liquor when you set up the barbecue – there are many great Ontario wines that can pair with your grilling favourites. Happy grilling and happy wine pairing…cheers.
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