Put Down That Beer!

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Wines to pair with barbecue We walked, Natali, our Yorkie Phin and I, down Prospect Park West after a sunny and relaxing day watching kite flyers and picnickers. As we cleared the corner and started toward 7th, where our car was parked, a familiar smell wafted through the air; a smell that I had almost forgotten existed, having been born in the Midwest and moved to New York. "That's a smoker," I said, licking my lips. "I think it's a fireplace," corrected my wife. "Nope," I smiled, nodding. "That's definitely a smoker." I tipped my imaginary hat to the person or persons illegally smoking meat in their backyard and officially clicked my internal clock from winter to summer. While you can, obviously, smoke meat at any time of year, there is something unmistakably summery about the smell of barbecue. And now, with so many decent barbecue joints here in the city, there's no reason to leave it to the Midwest and the South. Now, for a wine to match! "Wine," you say. "Wouldn't you rather have a beer with your ribs?" Actually, no. I have never understood why beer is so inexorably linked to barbecue. Barbecue is heavy, so what sense does it make to drink something that is, itself, also heavy? In addition to the fullness factor, there are so many red wines that have flavor notes that are so perfectly matched to those in barbecue that it seems a crime not to pair them together. So let me offer you a couple of wines to pair with a couple different types of regional barbecue (all available at many different places throughout the five boroughs). Let's start with a Kansas City-style burnt ends sandwich. This is a smoky beef brisket sandwich slathered in piquant sauce. I can think of no better match up for this behemoth than the Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2010 ($28.99 at Beacon Wines and Spirits, 2120 Broadway, at 74th St, 212-877-0028). It starts with ripe plum fruit notes and finishes bold with pepper, clove and cinnamon flavors that do battle nicely with any piece of smoked beef you can throw its way. If you are feasting on the very different, but equally tasty, North Carolina-style pulled pork, you are eating a sauce that is not tomato-based but is, instead, vinegar-based. While vinegar can be a bit of a challenge to match wine with, a perfect flavor pairing for this lighter style of barbecue would be the Willm Riesling Reserve 2011 ($11.95 at Sherry-Lehmann, 505 Park Ave., at 59th Street, 212-838-7500). You heard me right: I am recommending a white wine with barbecued pork. While Alsatian-style rieslings tend to be a touch less sweet than their German cousins, this particular wine still maintains a touch of residual sugar on the finish. The sweetness will counter the spiciness of the marinade, but the natural acidity of the riesling grape will actually cancel out the overly sour qualities of the vinegar in the sandwich. The pork will taste richer and the smokiness of the sandwich will become the main event. In St. Louis, it is pork ribs braised in a sweeter sauce that are then returned to the grill that take center stage. I am going to recommend something that may sound crazy, but if you try it, you too will be a convert. Fonseca Ruby Port ($18.99 at PJ Wine, 4898 Broadway, betw. 204th and 207th streets, 212-567-5500) is an unusual but mind-blowing match-up for these sticky, caramelized ribs. The sweetness from both the port and the ribs will cancel each other out, and you will taste the subtler flavors of the smoky meat and the fruitiness of the port in a way that is impossible should you taste the two independent of one another. Let us also remember that port is a red wine and, like all red wine, has tannins. The tannins will cut through the fattiness of the ribs and make them even more succulent than they were before. So the next time you hit your favorite barbecue joint here in the city or elsewhere, check out the wine list before you fill up on suds! Follow Josh on Twitter: @joshperilo.

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