Since this month’s recipe is for side dishes, I was able to choose the main course and the perfect wine to pair with the meal. Since I got to choose, naturally I chose a classic summertime meal with one of my favorite food and wine pairing combinations… barbeque and Zinfandel. I know that got the attention of some readers, but let’s explore a little further and see if we can’t get most of those reading this column to kick their salivary glands into gear. Not just barbeque and Zinfandel, but smoked, tender and juicy pork shoulder dripping into Hawaiian bread rolls, crowned with a crisp, tangy and spicy slaw, a judicious coat of barbeque sauce warmed just enough to make its inherent sweetness dance across the tongue, and all washed down with a sip of the luxuriously jammy, spicy complexity and depth that is Sonoma County Zinfandel. My apologies to any who may just have experienced embarrassment due to public drooling.
There are several variables that can be tweaked with this combination to satisfy various factions along the spicy and sweet spectrums. The garlic and onions and chili can be increased in the Coleslaw recipe for those that like it spicy, or the carrots and agave can be adjusted to crank up the sweet. The rubs and sauces used on the pork can similarly lean one way or the other. If serving a group, I would recommend a “down the middle” approach, then providing well-identified sauces with which individuals can target their specific taste buds.
Zinfandel typically exhibits ample fruit flavors with moderate tannins, moderate acidity and often a nice spiciness on the finish. The fruit flavors such as plum, strawberry, blackberry and raspberry go very well with the smokiness of the meat and also layer well with the vinegar in the slaw and can help to tone down spiciness in the slaw and certain sauces. The alcohol and spice flavors in the wine can help to cut through molasses and brown sugar content in many commercially produced barbeque sauces.
We are very fortunate here in Sonoma County to live where some of the highest quality Zinfandel on the planet is grown and produced. The weather conditions in parts of our county are ideal for getting Zinfandel grapes perfectly ripe while developing beautiful layers of complex flavors and structure. Locally, look for wines made with Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Valley or Russian River Valley grapes. Some other nice examples can be found in Zinfandels made with Napa Valley, Mendocino County, Lake County and certain Sierra Foothills grapes. The key is to grow the grapes in an environment with enough heat to get them ripe, but with enough tempering of that heat (such as fog, wind and elevation) so that the ripening happens gradually over the season rather than in a quick burst. Grab a couple of Zinfandels from different producers, fire up the smoker and mix up some fresh slaw, then sit back and enjoy this classic pairing while debating which of the wines best complements the food. Cheers!
Jeff James is the founder and co-owner, with his wife Judy, of Stony Point Vineyard and James Family Cellars. Their Cotati vineyard and winery have consistently produced award-winning wines. Jeff can be reached at info@JamesFamilyCellars.com or 707-548-2294. Visit their website at www.JamesFamilyCellars.com