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Better Than Beer? Pros Explain Why Wine Pairs Best with BBQ

Food, sides and wine at Feges BBQ / Photo by
Julie Soefer

Erin Smith, chef/owner of Feges BBQ in Houston, Texas, takes her wine education seriously. Before she and her pitmaster husband, Patrick Feges, opened their two-location barbecue restaurant, Smith spent a year working at a Houston wine bar called Camerata at Paulie’s under the tutelage of Master Sommelier David Keck. This experience shapes how she approaches meals at Feges today.

Smith is one of several barbecue professionals who are increasingly passionate about wine pairings. While smoked meats and traditional sides are often paired with whiskeys, lagers, ales and pilsners, these chefs and sommeliers believe wine also has a place at the table.  

Most of the wines featured on the list at Feges BBQ, such as Piedrasassi Santa Rita Hills Syrah and Stolpman Vineyards La Cuadrilla, were chosen for their ability to be paired with an array of barbecue dishes, like brisket and pulled pork. While this makes many pairings at Feges BBQ a choose-your-own-adventure experience, Smith recommends some especially evocative and interesting combinations.

Feges’s ribs with Lambrusco and BBQ and with a selection of German wines / Photos by Abbie Arnold and Erin Smith

For instance, she suggests pairing creamy, slightly spicy Alabama white sauce—great over half chicken—with Armenian sparkling wine like Keush’s Origins bottling, a blend of Voskehat and Khatouni.  

“The sauce has a bit of horseradish in it, so it has some heat and spice to it,” says Smith. “The wine is grown at a really high elevation, and I think it’s a great pairing to cut through the richness of the sauce. I always go high acid, and a little bit of residual sugar doesn’t hurt either.”

The restaurant’s sweet-glazed pork ribs form a great marriage with Argentinian Cabernet Franc.

Erin Smith, chef/co-owner/wine director of Feges BBQ / Photo by Julie Soefer

“Our pork ribs are sweet, so I wanted to compliment them and actually sort of tone down the glaze,” she says. “It’s definitely an unusual pairing, and I think it might puzzle some people, but you have to try it. It’s surprising.”

Adam Perry Lang, author of three books about barbecue and chef/owner of APL Restaurant, a contemporary steakhouse in Hollywood, California, typically bases his wine pairings on the smoked meat itself. While he appreciates the importance of barbecue sauces, he believes this approach allows the wine to effectively act as the sauce.