You need to try malbec with BBQ

Doesn’t the above picture make you hungry?  I’m back in Texas to help with the Prostart Summer Institute but I had to stop and get BBQ.  Even though I’m a chef and BBQ geek, I always love to learn more about all aspects of cooking.  As I was eating this fantastic spread, I was thinking of the next article and what I would love to share.  It hit me – Red wines paired with BBQ.  Especially Malbec which is a unique grape that you may not have heard of.

Some History

Malbec started as a blending grape in Bordeaux.  Its rich color and deep tannic qualities add structure and body to wines.  Add in the dusting of cocoa and plum flavors create another dimension to a finished wine.

In the mid 1860’s, Malbec among other grapes were used as part of the blend for Bordeaux reds.  It’s still used today for some of the blends.  However, during this time, France was hit by a little pest known as Phylloxera.  This is a pest that sucks sap out of rootstocks and in turn, kills the root.  This spread like wildfire throughout Europe killing off vineyards and decimating the wine industry.

While this was occurring, it was thought that other areas of the world may be more suitable for planting grapes.  Hence, cutting were taken and transferred to Chile and Argentina to attempt to start vineyards in these areas.  Malbec shined in these areas and produces a fantastic wine that’s also a great value.

So why BBQ?

I’ve lived in Texas for almost 20 years and I have to say that people are passionate about their BBQ.  Travel to cities like Lockhart, TX and you will understand first hand the influence of BBQ on towns and families.  It’s almost a rite of passage to have a smoker and learn to use it correctly.  When I moved away from Texas, I had only enough room for either my lawnmower or my offset smoker.  The people that purchased my house thanked me for the lawnmower.

While living in Austin, I attended an event that showcased Chilean and Argentinian wines.  The food served with it was BBQ from several vendors in the area.  I can say that even up to this point in my career, that this was the best wine tasting event I’ve been to.  The food was simple classic Texas BBQ.  However, paired with the different Malbecs was perfection.  To this day, I’ve been to great events but never a pairing like this one.

Why you ask?  Malbec and BBQ were made for each other.  Let’s look at the grape characteristics.


Malbec has high tannin levels from the thicker skins and seed ratio.  Tannin, as I discussed in earlier articles, gives you that pucker factor on your palate.  However, red meats change the impact of tannins.  The red color in meats known as myoglobin will reduce tannin levels in wines.  The rarer the meat, the more myoglobin is available to reduce the tannins.  This is why a rare steak can be paired with a tannic wine and both the meat and wine taste better together.  Malbec has high tannins that are reduced by the myoglobin and the natural smoke that comes from BBQ.

Aromas & Flavors

Malbec is considered to have notes of dark red fruits such as cherries, plums and blackberries.  It’s also known to have hints of chocolate, raisins, pomegranate, and tobacco.  If you look at the fruits above, you tend to find some or all of these in various BBQ sauces.  This leads to a perfect pairing.  Add in the smoke from the wood used which can have some of the fruit flavor (cherrywood for example) and you have another dimension.  Periodically, I’ve cold smoked for a short period some meats with a cigar allowing some tobacco notes to come through.


When I look at smoking any product, I know that the smoke is adding a level of body to the finished dish.  Smoke is naturally heavy.  Cooking any product surrounded by heat and smoke will impart some of the flavors but in this case, body as well.  Think about it this way.  Red meats are naturally heavy.  However, if I smoke shrimp for a short time, I’m adding ‘weight’ to the dish from the smoke.

Malbecs typically are full bodied wines.  Adding smoke to your food allows the dishes to move towards becoming full body (if they are not already like red meats).

Acidity and Alcohol

Malbecs typically have medium acid levels and higher levels of alcohol (around 14%).  This works well with BBQ dishes.  The brisket, ribs, and sausage that I ordered are fatty.  Even though they are cooked properly, you have to have a certain amount of fat in BBQ to maintain its texture and mouthfeel.  The sausage for example, probably has fat levels around 20% before cooking.  Why you ask?  If you make your sausage very lean such as 5% fat, they would dry out and have a tough mealy texture to them.  I even ordered the fatty area of the brisket since it has more flavor and tends not to be overcooked as much.

Malbec’s acid and alcohol levels help to rinse the palate clean and refresh it. 

Final Thoughts

If you have never tried a Malbec, please do.  If you have already, it’s time to go back and give another one a taste.  For a great wine that averages around $25 for a bottle, I think it’s worth it.  I know that most people in the summer want to drink roses and whites with the warmer temperatures.  However, a good red wine paired with food is amazing.  Especially Malbecs.

As I sit here recovering from meat sweats, I’m thinking about trying the Malbec in the picture above to see how it pairs.  Please note that I made a great attempt at finishing all of the BBQ but 2 lb. of meat by myself was a bit too much.  However, I did keep the leftovers so time to open this bottle and give you a run down soon.

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