Kansas City is known for many things, but to me, the most important is barbecue. While there is always debate about who the true king of the smoker is, my loyalty lies with Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue.
There is a problem, though. After I sidle through the cafeteria-style line to the register with my burnt ends of brisket on white bread, I inevitably fall into that common barbecue trap. I order a beer. It’s not that I don’t enjoy sipping on a frosty Boulevard Wheat Beer whenever I’m in the KC area. It’s that by the time I’ve finished two-thirds of my sandwich, I’ve inevitably drained my mug of suds and am ready to burst.
I have never understood why beer is inexorably linked to grilled or smoked foods. Barbecue is heavy, so what sense does it make to drink something that is, itself, also heavy? Even a “light” beer will still sit heavier in your gullet than a glass of the darkest, densest red wine. In addition to the fullness factor, there are so many red wines that have flavor notes that are so perfectly matched to barbecue that it seems a crime not to pair them together. Being that it is the season of the grill and smoker, I submit that the next time you partake in the ‘cue try a little vino instead of a six-pack.
Let’s start with that burnt ends sandwich. A KC barbecue staple, this shredded and slathered beef sandwich is smoky, heavy and piquant. I can think of no better match up for this behemoth than the Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2007 ($26.99 @ Beacon Wines and Spirits, 2120 Broadway at 74th St., 212-877-0028). A good, spicy Zin is a great match up for barbecue, but the Seghesio is in a class by itself. It starts with ripe plum fruit notes and finishes bold with pepper, clove and cinnamon flavors that do battle nicely with any piece of smoked beef you can throw its way.
If you are feasting on the very different, but equally tasty, North Carolina-style pulled pork, you are eating a sauce that is based on vinegar, rather than tomato. While vinegar can be a bit of a challenge to match wine with, a perfect flavor pairing for this lighter style of barbecue would be the Willm Riesling Reserve 2007 ($10.95 @ Sherry-Lehman, 505 Park Ave. at 59th St., 212-838-7500). Yes, a white wine with barbecued pork. While Alsatian-style Rieslings tend to be a touch less sweet than their German cousins, this particular wine still maintains a bit of residual sugar on the finish. The sweetness will counter the spiciness of the marinade, but the natural acidity of the Riesling grape will actually cancel out the overly sour qualities of the vinegar in the sandwich. The pork will taste richer and the smokiness of the sandwich will become the main event.
In St. Louis, pork ribs are braised in a sweeter sauce, then returned to the grill. I am going to recommend something that may sound crazy, but if you try it, you too will be a convert. Fonseca Ruby Port ($16.99 @ PJ Wine and Spirits, 4898 Broadway, betw. 204th and 207th streets, 212-567-5500) is an unusual, but mind-blowing match up for these sticky, caramelized ribs. The sweetness from the port and ribs cancel each other out, and you will taste the subtler flavors of the smoky meat and the fruitiness of the port in a way that is impossible when tasting the two independently. Let us also remember that port is a red wine and, like all red wine, it has tannins. The tannins will cut through the fattiness of the ribs and make them even more succulent than they were before.
I have yet to find out Arthur Bryant’s BYOB policy, but rest assured that the next trip I take to Kansas City, I’ll be armed with my own refreshment.
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