Above: beef and pork ribs were superb at Roegels Barbecue Co., one in the new wave of independent bbq joints in Houston.
A few weeks ago, Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist J.C. Reid (a good friend of ours) published a story, “Barbecue and wine: The final frontier,” about a recent visit to Napa where he was pleasantly surprised to find a solid and intelligent barbecue restaurant with a 400+ lot wine list.
The restaurant is called “Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ.” Almost sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?
“The Bounty Hunter menu,” he wrote, “offers no less than five wine ‘flights’ or pairing combinations to go with the ‘Smokin’ BBQ Platter’ which features heaping portions of pulled pork, sliced brisket and pork ribs.”
(You can read his complete review here. And he regularly posts subscription-free links to his column on his personal blog. For my money, Chris — as he is known to friends — is the leading bbq writer in the country today and he often travels beyond Houston and Texas for his column.)
His story about Bounty Hunter, the growing interest in bbq across the U.S., and how it’s opened up a new dimension in wine pairing echoes something he wrote a few weeks earlier.
In “Have we reached peak barbecue?” he noted that “more than any other time in American history, barbecue — and specifically Texas barbecue — is truly a cultural phenomenon. And it’s not limited to the U.S. — as I’ve reported, Texas barbecue joints are opening in cities such as Paris, Berlin and Rome.”
“I’ve come to call this cultural and media frenzy over smoked meat ‘peak barbecue.'”
Over the last five years, I’m sure he would agree, Houston, a city previously not known for its bbq, has become one of the epicenters of the bbq renaissance. Today, smokers like Killen’s and Cork Screw in Houston regularly appear in “best bbq” listicles published throughout America.
Above: the smoky, bacon fat character of the Syrah in this wine by Denner worked well with the Roegels spread. This cult Paso Robles wine had nice acidity and restrained, elegant wood. I liked it. But at 15.6 percent alcohol (holy cow!), you couldn’t really call the wine balanced.
On Saturday, he invited us to an informal wine tasting at Roegels in Houston, one of the city’s latest entries in the new wave of bbq here. There were roughly 15 people in attendance and a handful (including me) brought wines to share.
When I saw the bottles lined up, it struck me: aside from a bottle of Champagne (that worked brilliantly with the meal), I was the only person who brought wines other than red (I brought a southern France rosé made from Mourvèdre, a macerated white from Campania, and a Negroamaro).
As Texas bbq culture continues to
seep gush into gastronomic hegemony, it was only natural that wine-loving Americans would want to pair their favorite bottles with a new favorite cuisine.
And Americans still love big, bold red wine like the Denner, above.
Above: reading the back label for the Denner, it’s clear that the people who make it put a lot heart into delivering an outstanding expression of Syrah. At roughly $50 a pop, it’s indicative — in my view — of where American wine tastes continue to focus.
For many people, big and bold is the only way to go with bbq, a cuisine based on intense aromas and flavors (my clothes and hair smelled so strongly of smoke after we visited Roegels that I took a shower after we came home from our meal; not unusual when you visit a genuine bbq joint like Roegels, which I enjoyed immensely).
I always prefer leaner, lower-alcohol, and higher-acidity wines with bbq. I like the way they work as a counterpoint to the fattiness and heavy and often overwhelming flavor of the smoked meats. When I pair with bbq, I look for freshness and present but balanced fruit. Sparkling wine is ideal, I find, especially because of the generally judicious alcohol (the heavy saltiness of the Texas rub makes you thirsty and so you tend to drink more wine when eating bbq).
But as Saturday’s gathering reveled, my taste in this case falls outside today’s canon for pairing with Texas-style smoked meats.
The Bounty Hunter’s wine director likes to pair “Pinot” [Noir] from Napa and Zinfandel, wrote Chris in his review. When Tracie P and I packed up the kids on Saturday, there was still a half bottle left of the rosé I had brought.
Few bbq joints serve alcohol and many of them encourage byob. I remember a surprised manager at Cooper’s in the Texas Hill Country who said he’d never heard of anyone bringing a bottle of wine (as opposed to beer) to the restaurant.
“As long as it’s not whiskey,” he said, “I guess it’s okay.”
That was seven years ago, when I first moved to Texas.
On Sunday, the owners at Roegels didn’t even raise an eyebrow when patrons arrived with ice chests filled with expensive, big and bold California wine.
We sure have come a long way, baby. But we still have a long way to go…