This barbecue season reconnect with wood and try wood chips instead of charcoal. If you get the chimney lighting system, wood chips can be just as easy as self-lighting charcoal with a lot fewer chemicals. The added benefit is flavor, which can make wine pairings even more interesting. With charcoal you are limited to pairing smoke and burnt charcoal, while using real wood chips you can pull in some of the different wood notes that many wines inherently have. Different trees make the barbecue taste differently: mesquite has a stronger bite than hickory, which has a beautiful richness, while apple wood has a sweet character and pecan is actually nutty. Now you can pair your wine to your wood, so to speak.
Here is a quick riff on grilled hot dogs, starting with Boars Head bratwursts, available locally at Publix. We used hickory wood, though apple wood would be an excellent option. To give this meal a different, fresh flavor make your own refrigerator pickles. It’s easier than you think. Use a base of ½ cup cider vinegar and ½ cup seasoned rice wine vinegar (my favorite secret ingredient). Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and one tablespoon of salt (if you don’t use the seasoned rice wine vinegar then up the sugar and salt) and stir. I add in a bunch of fresh chopped dill and a few sprigs of mint. Slice two cucumbers very thin and add to the liquid mixture in a sealable container. These pickles will be ready to eat in a few hours, but to speed up the process you can microwave the liquid a little before adding the cukes and then refrigerate. I adore these fresh, cold pickles and I was never much of a traditional pickle lover.
Instead of white cheddar use some French goat cheese, or chevre, which brings great flavor to the brats and plays off the herbal components of the fresh pickles. I get the largest hot dog buns I can find (these are brats after all), slather the bottom with Dijon mustard and then add the chevre. Plop on the wood chip grilled brats and top with your homemade pickles and voila! Now you have a gourmet hot dog.
People tend to want one pairing option, as if there is only one choice. There is always more than one choice, and some of that decision-making depends on the likes and dislikes of the chef and/or guests. I originally thought of Germany, because these are bratwursts, but most locally available German wines will be sweeter than most people want. I’m also incorporating French chevre, which is most often paired with Sauvignon Blanc. This is why I like to think outside of the box and a recent favorite wine came to mind: Jules Taylor 2011 Gruner Veltliner.
The grape originates in Austria (which plays off the Germanic aspect of this meal) but has a lovely floral character coupled with bright mineral acidity. This option, from New Zealand, has a little more ripe citrus fruit and slightly less minerality than an Austrian “Gruvy”. On the nose I get white peach with a hint of nectarine, mineral notes on the mid-palate and a finish that has a hint of warm spice and citrus. The acid cuts the fattiness of the brats yet still harmonizes with the chevre, which likes the citrus tartness and has its own mineral components to maintain the melody. The minerality of the wine not only works with the chevre but also works with the dill and mint in the fresh pickles. Playing off two of the dish’s components makes for a guaranteed pleasing pairing. Available locally at your neighborhood ABC Fine Wines and Spirits for $15, Jules Taylor’s “Gruvy” won’t break your bank yet still provides loads of complex flavors.
If you can’t find this wine, then a dry German Riesling would also work. If you had to go red, and I tend to go red most of the time, then think a lighter red with some nice red fruit acidity like an Italian Barbera, for example the 2011 Pavia Blina Barbera d’Asti. This Barbera is fermented in stainless steel to keep its ripe fruit flavors. Think Bing cherries and red currants, yet it still has its own mineral acidity without being too tannic or too heavy. For $12 this wine is a steal, and also available at your local ABC Fine Wines and Spirits. To play off of the wood flavor components of the grilling think of a woody red grape like Tempranillo (often described as cedary) and the 2008 Sabor Real Tinto de Toro Joven has that woodiness without being too tannic for the brats and chevre. Remember to match up flavors you like, and that when you use real wood, you can get far more than smoke as an added flavor component, giving you more to pair with your wine. Happy grilling!