As the window on summer begins to close, I’m craving barbecue. I guess I’m wanting my fill before it gets too cool to grill. And with barbecue cravings come Zinfandel cravings – it is most definitely a wine for all manner of smoky, grilled, charred meats.
Maybe that’s why I think of Zinfandel as sort of rootin’ tootin’. Its flavors are as big and bold as the Wild West, with bright acid, juicy and often jammy fruit, sometimes-high alcohol, and even some spice. Besides all-American barbecue, Zin pairs beautifully with Italian foods, especially the tomato-based dishes of the south. It also works with mildly spicy foods, and braised, grilled, and salty cured meats.
I first fell in love with Zinfandel when my husband was on a Zin-and-pepperoni-pizza kick. Makes sense, right? Pepperoni pizza is tomato-based, mildly spicy, and full of salty cured meat – a perfect Zinfandel pairing times three!
A few thoughts about pairing with Zinfndel:
1. It has medium to high tannins – those compounds in a wine that can give you that dry-mouth sensation. So it’s a good idea to have some form of richness, meatiness, and/or heaviness in a recipe you pair with it. That richness will match up to the tannins and, at the most, soften your experience of them. At the least, it’ll keep the tannins from seeming more so.
2. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to have some bitter elements in a food paired with Zinfandel. Tannins are slightly bitter and, contrary to logic, bitterness in a food will mitigate your experience of bitterness in a wine paired with it. I know it’s a little funny to recommend adding bitterness to foods because we generally think of bitterness as unpleasant. But mild bitterness – as in citrus zest, olives, bitter greens, and charring from grilling – can be nice.
3. Because Zinfandel is relatively bright, it’ll help if your food is similarly bright and/or slightly salty.
4. Lastly, while Zinfandel can handle somewhat spicy food, beware of more than medium heat. Sometimes Zinfandel can be somewhat high in alcohol and that, combined with a lot of spice, can create too much of a burn.
Bottom line, generally speaking, if it’s rich and robust – like the Spice-Rubbed Pork Chops with Grilled Tomato Sauce from my book, pictured above – it’ll work with Zinfandel.
(Other dishes paired with Zinfandel in “100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love” include Eggplant Parmesan; Chicken Rolls with Prosciutto, Fontina, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes; Chorizo Sloppy Joes; Zinfandel Chicken Marbella; Garlicky Pepperoni Pizza with Fresh Basil (pictured right); and Tipsy Tri-Tip.)
Wishing you a Zinfandelicious barbecue before the summer is through.